On their barrage, the Ukrainian soldiers are in good spirits: their artillery has so far prevented Russian tanks from entering Kyiv from the east. And they hope that the enemy, who is struggling to conquer the cities, will end up getting bogged down.
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Camouflage and Kalashnikov in hand, the soldier “Topaz” observes the northern highway on Friday, at the exit of the eastern suburbs of Kyiv. With his comrades, he holds the last roadblock before the front line, where the explosions of heavy weapons echo regularly in the plain battered by an icy wind.
“Today, the morale of the troops is at its highest”, underlines the muscular forties in camouflage uniform, the headset plugged into the radio. “The day before yesterday, we pushed back the Russian tanks” a few hundred meters higher, he smiles between two exchanges of fire between the two camps.
The video of the feat, captured by a Ukrainian army drone and broadcast on social networks, shows a column of about twenty Russian vehicles, including several tanks, moving on the highway towards the south.
The attack took place at the level of the village of Skybyn, a few kilometers from the entrance to Brovary, the main suburb east of Kyiv. A sudden rain of shells and rockets fell on the Russian convoy. She blows up the lead tank first, then another vehicle behind.
“We shot them with tanks and rocket launchers,” confirms “Topaz”.
The Russian convoy suddenly turns around and gets out of the village as best it can. “They left to hide in the villages next door,” notes “Topaz”.
According to several Ukrainian soldiers, at least “two Russian vehicles, including a tank, were destroyed”, which the video also suggests, and “a Russian tank commander was killed”.
On the Ukrainian side, “we had five wounded, including one in critical condition” when the Russian tanks responded to the ambush, notes soldier Illia Berezenko, 27, posted on another nearby roadblock.
Since the beginning of the invasion on February 24, Russian troops have conquered several strategic pockets, notably along the southern coast, in the east and in the north, and are at the northwestern and eastern gates of Kyiv.
But they seem to encounter difficulties when it comes to conquering large cities, such as Cherniguiv or Kharkiv (north), and in the suburbs of Kyiv to the northeast (Boutcha, Irpin) and to the east.
If the Russian bombings are numerous and deadly, raising fears that they will devastate cities as in the past in Chechnya or Syria, the land front, around Kyiv in particular, hardly seems to move these days according to many military observers.
East of Kyiv, Russian tanks arrived a few days ago in a few kilometers from Brovary, initially giving the impression of having descended 150 km from the north, where Moscow can count on its ally Belarus as a rear base for his troops.
But according to Ukrainian soldiers and several military experts, they actually came, via small roads and sparsely populated areas, from the east and from the Sumy region, 300 km away, bordering Russia.
At the beginning of the week, Russian tanks arrived a few kilometers from Brovary, settling in surrounding villages. Residents have counted more than 70 military vehicles, including about forty tanks, for about 300 soldiers.
It was this same column, or part of it, then moved towards Brovary and Kyiv, and was stopped Thursday at Skybyn, according to the Ukrainian military, who wondered: did the Russians seriously consider entering Kyiv? more than 3 million inhabitants before the invasion, and barricaded — with a few dozen tanks?
“I don’t know why they are doing this,” said Private Berezenko. “You must be crazy, or misinformed… Or else they just want to confuse us.”
The Skybyn episode reinforces the feeling of the Ukrainian soldiers that the Russians have overestimated their forces, in men and material, and underestimated those of their adversaries.
“They are forced to camp in villages with temperatures approaching -10° at night. They lack supplies, and have to loot the houses,” adds the Ukrainian soldier.
The Russians have, however, advanced enough to raise fears of an upcoming encirclement of Kyiv, where only the roads to the south remain clear and which is preparing for a “fierce defense”, according to the Ukrainian presidency.
The Russians can continue to destroy and bombard, but they do not have “enough men nor material to occupy the country”, estimates Illia Berezenko, who bets that their soldiers “not numerous enough and far from home, will end up wear out”.