Ukrainian soldier on why Russia now eyes Soledar instead of Bakhmut

8 January, 04:00 PM
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From Bakhmut, smoke can be seen rising over Soledar after Russian strikes on the city. January 5, 2023 (Photo:REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

From Bakhmut, smoke can be seen rising over Soledar after Russian strikes on the city. January 5, 2023 (Photo:REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

Soledar remains Ukrainian, and Russian reports about the alleged occupation of the city are fake, Ukaine’s Armed Forces say.

Ivan Varchenko, a serviceman of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told Radio NV what is happening on this frontline. He also explained why Russian priorities have changed, and why the invading forces are trying to take a town seven times smaller than Bakhmut.

— You are on the Bakhmut section of the front. What do you know about Soledar? It is from there that we receive a lot of disturbing news that the enemy has stepped up its game. What do you know?

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— We keep in touch with our colleagues who work directly from Soledar. The distance from Bakhmut to Soledar is less than 20 kilometers. Obviously, this is one section of a large front.

We understand that Russia is traditionally trying to get at least something now, given the fact that it is the New Year holidays, and it was not able to take any more or less noticeable object for the Russian people.

For example, they made a big deal out of Bakhmut, expecting that Bakhmut would be taken by the New Year. When they did not succeed, they are now furious, because instead of carrots promised to them for the New Year, they are waiting for serious sticks because "how come, with such a large army they could not take a small settlement", from which they made almost Stalingrad in their ideology of propaganda.

Today, it seems to Russia, to the Russian command, that they have the opportunity to capture at least some of the settlements located on the front line, so that they could report to Putin and thus receive a lesser punishment.

At the same time, it is known (and it is obvious that it is difficult) for our servicemen working on the Soledar axis, working in the town of Soledar. The town of Soledar is under the control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Defense Forces of Ukraine and, accordingly, the defense is firmly held.

Regardless of the plans of the Russians and regardless of how they advance and whether they have tactical success or not, we must understand that any advance of the Russians is already a pyrrhic victory. For example, near Bakhmut, which has 70,000 inhabitants, they’ve thrown in many more of their soldiers. And it is clear that any of their further actions only make this victory even more pyrrhic. That is, the resources invested, the forces and means spent absolutely do not justify all the tactical or operational goals that can be achieved, for example, when capturing some town.

Maxar Technologies showed Bakhmut in the summer and now:

Soledar has a population of 10,000. And there the Russians have already thrown in one-and-a-half times more soldiers than the total population of the town of Soledar.

But Soledar is still under Ukrainian control. It is clear that the Defense Forces of Ukraine will do everything to prevent our enemies from getting into any festive moods.

— Can we say that they became especially active during the holiday week? Can we say that they have sent some additional forces to the eastern axis? Do you observe this?

— We’re hardly talking about new forces. It is about maneuvering the forces and means that are available. New reinforcements, of course, are coming. We understand that hundreds of thousands of mobilized people, who (were called up in) the fall, have yet to appear in the Ukrainian fields. They were preparing for something. They were preparing to die in Ukraine. Accordingly, they will be sent to die in Ukraine.

Now we see a different situation. What we are witnessing today is agony, because their main tasks were due (to be completed) before the New Year. And it is clear that Russia has a relatively inexhaustible amount of “cannon fodder", but over time it gets harder to use it, because any additional mobilization brings additional conflicts in Russia itself.

As for the Russian tactics. I think they use the forces and means they have, actively moving them within the front line. In areas where it seems to them that there can be successes, they improve the situation.

But I still associate this post-New Year's activity with the fact that generals, commanders will have to go to Moscow and answer for what they achieved as the "second army of the world" in 2022. In order to minimize the punishment that they’ll get, they’re now throwing in all their forces.

And I can even give an example. Until the New Year, thousands of mobilized soldiers – including thousands from the Wagner PMC and criminals recruited in Russian prisons — probably took ... the main part in this section of the front. Today, the so-called elite units of the war criminals, such as assault units and airborne units, are being thrown into the crucible of the Ukrainian war.

We see by the fresh corpses that appear in front of our positions that these are the classic Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. And Russian generals today are not sparing this — so to speak — elite, hoping to mitigate the anger of their tsar. Therefore, there are no new forces in such numbers that would allow them to achieve some breakthroughs.

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— There was information from Western military experts about Soledar. They reported that allegedly Russian occupiers captured the salt mine and even some districts of the town. Can you refute or confirm this?

— Our Western journalists and media representatives largely use information from Russian media in particular. Of course, the front line can shift. Of course, there may be attacks, counterattacks, there may be various operations during the generally defensive battle in Soledar. And, of course, Russia, as always traditionally for itself, uses these fluctuations of the front line ("Kyiv in three days", "we are already in Odesa and Mykolaiv"), such spoiler news that Soledar has already been taken. And journalists may think that there is no smoke without fire, so "we will write that part of Soledar was taken." In fact, there are heavy, difficult battles in Soledar. Ukrainians are holding this city.

— We also have information from the spokesman of the Eastern grouping of troops Serhiy Cherevatyi that on Jan. 7 alone from midnight to noon there were 76 attacks of the occupiers in the direction of Soledar. I understand that we are talking about both the eastern axis and the Bakhmut axis. What are they shelling with? Is there any logic behind it, or is it pure terrorism?

— Another logic that we can state is the logic of the Russian truce. As soon as the Russians talk about peace, it means get ready for a bigger war, get ready for treachery, get ready for lies and provocations on the part of the Russians, which, in fact, is confirmed by today's situation with hundreds and thousands of Russian strikes on all parts of the front.

What are they shelling with? They are shelling with traditional Russian artillery means, not sparing rounds now. We understand that 152-mm cannon artillery is also working there, 120-mm tanks (T-84-120 – ed.) are coming out, APCs, of course, which can escape from the fire of Ukrainian artillery. Accordingly, they are trying to put pressure on the entire front line by all means, cherishing the illusion that they will be able to achieve some success. We are trying and doing everything to prevent them from celebrating.

— What changes do you see in the enemy's tactics on the eastern axis?

— The enemy wants to survive. And this is probably the only motivation that keeps the entire Russian army going today, if I may say so. And trying to survive, of course, they are trying to improve, in particular technically – with observation, video surveillance, night vision devices.

But, at the same time, I understand that we should not practice facile optimism — we value our people very much. We have no right to underestimate the enemy, but we also have no right to overestimate it, to be frightened, imagining excellent prospects for the future of the Russian army.

We understand that despite all the titanic efforts that the Russians are making now to more or less effectively work in Ukraine, they are very much exhausted. They will not be able to meet the needs of the Russian army without the support of the civilized world, exclusively with Russian economic and technical capabilities.

And of course, (there’s no denying) the fact that they are ready to throw the elite of their army, which is technically equipped a little better than the so-called “chmobiks” (conscripts – ed.) and then the criminals recruited from Russian prisons to Wagner (mercenary company).

Russians, trying to survive, of course, will constantly improve their tactics over time. But it is nothing new, in fact — they read the same statutes of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union, which tells them how such tactics can be used by small units. Indeed, they do use them. Indeed, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, too, trying to destroy the enemy more effectively, adapt, read these tactics and, of course, use their forces and means to destroy the enemy and deter it. So this is nothing new.

— Do these so-called "militias" — representatives of terrorist organizations "DPR", "LPR" — play any role? Are there any remaining?

— Of course, they’re still here. We understand that the so-called First and Second Army Corps are largely formed from the residents of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, who happily embraced the "Russian world", and now a significant number of them, if not most of them, have already fallen fighting for this "Russian world". Probably, this is not what their wives, their mothers, and their children were expecting.

The harsh fact of the "Russian world" is that it destroys everything it touches. Actually, as it destroyed those ideas about some republics, about happiness in the Russian embrace, which were cherished by some of those who lived in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

Now, as we see, genocide was committed by throwing these Donetsk and Luhansk citizens into the crucible of war. The scorched land remains, women, old people and children remain in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

It is clear that this is the price paid by the population for their unwise and tragic choice. But they are there, and they are working.

I think that even when they are completely destroyed, everyone who had a Ukrainian passport before 2014, with a Ukrainian passport has lived there until now, even when the Ukrainians who will be thrown into the first line run out, they will still strengthen (the groups) and say that now the recruited criminals will be registered as residents of the "DPR", "LPR", for example, in Luhansk or Donetsk Oblast. If they manage it in time, of course.

Of course, Russia will keep the ideological meaning for these First and Second Army Corps that, allegedly, Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are actively fighting, although in fact they have destroyed both Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in their occupied parts, destroyed genetically everything that supported the "Russian world."

— After Ukraine liberates Donetsk and Luhansk, how do you personally imagine the reintegration of those citizens who live there? Can we say that it is possible, that it will be pain-free?

— It will be much less painless to return to the bosom of Ukraine than a painful stay in the Russian embrace. This is something that can be guaranteed. And nothing is more painful than the fact that relatives and friends were put down in the name of the implementation of crazy, bizarre ideas of the Russian emperor, the leader of the last empire in the world, a criminal empire. I think people will survive the return to civilized life much easier. But they will not get their relatives and friends back.

Of course, they will have incurable wounds and, perhaps, for some of them — absolutely incurable wounds. Some of them will be forced to continue to engage self-reflection: those who cooperate, those who actively helped the "Russian world" will be forced to seek refuge somewhere in other countries of the world that are ready to accept them. Some will stay and atone for their guilt in Ukrainian prisons. And a significant part, I think, will get used to the fact that Ukraine is a civilization much easier than they got used to this "Russian world,” which came to destroy and kill.

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