In eastern Ukraine, bitter fighting has been going on for months over the small town of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian soldiers Andriy and Borisych are among the defenders of the town in the Donetsk province, which has now been largely destroyed. In a candle-lit bunker hewn into the frozen earth, the men reported to the US broadcaster CNN about the attacks by the Russian mercenary group Wagner on their positions.

“We fought for about ten hours straight. And it wasn’t just waves, it was non-stop. It was like they didn’t stop coming,” Andriy recalled a gun battle against a barrage of Wagner fighters. The AK-47 assault rifles of the Ukrainian soldiers got so hot from the constant shooting that they had to constantly replace them. “There were about 20 soldiers on our side and maybe 200 on their side,” Andriy estimated.

The attack was a scary and surreal experience, the soldier said. “Our machine gunner went almost insane from shooting at them, and he said, ‘I know I hit him, but he doesn’t fall down’. And then after a while, if maybe he lost too much blood, then he just falls over.”

Andriy compared the fight to scenes from a zombie movie. “They climb over the bodies of their friends and step on them,” he said. “It looks like it’s very, very likely they’ll be on drugs before the attack.”

Andriy’s claims cannot be independently verified. But they coincide with the reports of other Bachmut defenders: “With night vision goggles we can see them coming towards us like zombies,” the Ukrainian soldier Jura described the attacks of the Wagner mercenaries in the Finnish newspaper Iltalehti in November. “They just come at us, in big groups. When we start shooting, they don’t even try to take cover. They just walk like in a slow-motion movie.”

Jura also suspects that the attackers are under the influence of drugs. “Nobody else behaves like that. They don’t duck, they don’t throw themselves on the ground, they don’t do anything when we shoot.”

Irina Rybakova, a spokeswoman for the 93rd Ukrainian brigade, reported similarly to the US armed forces-sponsored website “Caravanserei” last November: “It’s a common phenomenon that Wagnerists just walk into bullets and die,” Rybakova said. “I think they took something. Our people said they were under the influence of some drugs.”

The tactics of the Wagner group, according to CNN, is to let loose on the Ukrainian positions in a first wave, mainly recruits coming directly from Russian prisons. These attackers knew little about military tactics and were poorly equipped, the broadcaster reports, citing a document from the Ukrainian military intelligence service. Most just hoped that if they survived their six-month assignment, they could go home and not have to go back to a cell. Anyone who retreats without an order or without being wounded will be executed on the spot.

“They make sure that the group – let’s say ten soldiers – goes 30 meters, then they start digging in to hold their position,” Andriy describes the procedure. Another group follow and advance another 30 meters. “In this way, Wagner is trying to move forward step by step, while in the meantime they are losing a lot of people.” Only when the first wave was exhausted or eliminated would more experienced fighters attack, often from the flanks, to overrun the Ukrainian positions.

According to Andriy and Borisych, this almost happened. “The problem was that they walked around us. And so they surrounded us. They came from the other side. We didn’t expect them to come from there,” reports Andriy. “We had already fired to the last shell, so we threw whatever grenades we had left and it was just me and a couple of guys who stayed behind. We were helpless in that situation.”

But the soldiers were lucky. After holding off the attackers until the last moment, the two recount, the Wagner troops retreated by the end of the day.

Quellen: CNN I, CNN II, Iltalehti, “Caravanserei”