Ukraine War Day #336: A Soldier’s Life On the Ugledar Front

Dear Readers:

Our next story also features some cats, but it’s mostly about the lives of ordinary Russian soldiers on the Ugledar front, currently one of the most important battle fronts raging in this war. Readers will recall that the town’s name Ugle-dar means “gift of coal”, just like Sole-dar means “gift of salt”. I kind of like the way these people think, in the Donbass. They know that every good and useful thing on this planet is a gift to mankind. If you’re religious, you believe that God gave us these useful things to work with, like coal or salt. If you don’t believe in God, you can still look with awe at Nature herself, and the planet, and try to feel more humble, as a human being. I mean, where would we be if we didn’t have these precious gifts from Nature?

But enough mysticism, let’s get on with our story. The reporter is Dmitry Steshin, and these are his words:

We Still Didn’t Have a Real Winter Yet

“Be sure to wait until twilight to drive, not till after 5:00 PM. It’s very dangerous to drive when it’s still light out.”

Russian war correspondent Dmitry Steshin

But my car is not so much driving as slipping and sliding through the mud. […] We still haven’t had a real winter yet. I had asked the soldiers: “Are you expecting snow?” Their answer surprised me.

“No, but we’re okay with that. Snow is over-rated.” And they proceed to explain to me all the military minus-es of snow, for example, how the tracks can give away your position, and the contrasts of light and dark, and so on. It’s better when everything is grey and muddy. And you even get used to the mud eventually.

They gaze with envy at my brand new boots with the lined insoles, it’s a fancy brand called DO-20 ordered from an upscale Moscow department store. [Steshin tells the soldiers an amusing story how his wife ordered the boots for him, but the merchant shipped them to the wrong Donetsk, there is a a city called Donetsk in the Rostov Oblast of Russia. He eventually got the boots, but they had to be shipped to him in a truck and ended up costing twice as much as the original price.]

They Couldn’t Guide It Down, But They Shot It Down

The battalion HQ is underground, of course. The antennae snake out in various directions into the distance, as far away as possible so as not to give away our location. The entrance is concealed with thick, heavy blankets, they keep out the cold and also shield us from enemy heat-detectors. I drink a cup of coffee with one of the officers. He narrates to me an almost legendary story about an old copter-drone belonging to the battalion. It had massive wings, and it had already survived hundreds of flights. The Ukrainians tried to hack it using some electronic device, they wanted to guide it down and turn it to their side. They didn’t succeed, Russian drones are too crafty to fall for that trick; so then they just shot it down. “I don’t think it was a Buk they used, to shoot it down. More likely it was an Osa (“Wasp”). They certainly don’t conserve their rockets…”

We get into a conversation about our children, how tough it is for the fathers when they are away for so long, then they return home for a visit, and the kids don’t even recognize them.

“They Shot Us Up With Boots”

Behind us, in the bunker, my old pal with call-sign Les (“Forest”) is dozing off. Les and I became acquainted during the storming of AzovSteel in Mariupol. I was embedded with his storm group, participated in the clearing of the underground tunnels. It was during that time I formed some unforgettable impressions, I saw how a brick wall starts to bend like a wave when artillery hits nearby. Les had just come from a 20-day seclusion, he had been sitting under siege in a freezing 9-storey building on the outskirts of Mariupol. He was so frozen, he felt he could never get warm again. And then suddenly the warm summer heat, and then sitting in a ditch near the highway, under machine-gun fire. And now here he is again, near Ugledar. I remember, last autumn, we listened together to Putin’s speech on that day when Donbass was officially incorporated into Russia. What I am saying is that we know each other pretty well. And Les is still the same smiling guy, but now it’s the smile of a Commander. When one is a commander, one can shout and stomp his feet; or one can smile – the result is the same. Les is the type who smiles when he issues his orders, that goes without saying.

Sapog (“Boot”) is the nickname for a certain type of anti-tank grenade launcher, used by both sides. Les instructs me with his signature smile: “The road is calm, but around 200 meters in they tried to nail me several times from a Boot. But they missed. In general, the Boot is a very good weapon, I would compare it with the legendary Cannon-45. It’s just that not everybody likes the Boot or wants to work with it.”

“Why not?”

It’s called “Sgushchonka”, Russians do love them some sweetened condensed milk!

“The Ukrops don’t like the Boot either. In fact, they hate it, because anybody standing near a working Boot is bait for artillery.”

“Do they have aviation here?”

“Very rarely. They use the copters (drones) to toss 60-mm mines at us. We call them Polish girls, because they used to be manufactured in Poland, but now the Ukrainians make them themselves.”

Les finishes his instructions: “As soon as the car stops, we immediately jump out. Don’t wait even one second, just run behind me without looking back.”

We are almost at our destination when a soldier appears out of the darkness: “Guys, there is a Ukrainian tank down the road.”

Les tells me: “Doesn’t matter, we’re here, anyhow.” He glances at me, then leaps out of the car.

The Magical Word Condensed Milk

This new bunker we are visiting, is the definition of luxury itself. It’s nice and warm. And, unlike the HQ bunker, even the floor, for some reason, is warm. The stove is a trophy [captured from the enemy]. Its handles are made from “Grad” ammunition packaging. We are greeted by our host who goes by the call-sign “Tankist”. At the sound of human voices a herd of cats slowly emerge from hiding to greet the new guests.

“Tankist” shaves himself with an electric razor while sitting on the couch beneath a portrait of a very hirsute Karl Marx.

Tankist explains: “Last fall we were overrun by mice. They brought us 16 mouse-traps, of which 10 just disappeared who knows where. At that point I took a walk around the village and mobilized all the stray cats I could find.”

“They didn’t try to dodge the draft?” I joke.

“On the contrary they were Watchers! [zhduny, literally “waiters”, the word used to describe “collaborationists” who are waiting for the Russian army]. They were expecting us! And they made short work of all the mice.”

I ask Tankist to talk into the camera, but he is shy and declines. I say to him: “Don’t turn away from fame. For example, I wrote a couple of stories about the reconnaissance scout Lisa (Fox), and somebody from Belorussia sent him 12 kilos of tins of condensed milk. A whole crate of it, just within days.”

The words “condensed milk” work like magic on the soldiers. [yalensis: These tins of very sweet candied milk are considered a real treat in Russia.] Tankist grabs his electric razor, sits down on the couch under the portrait of Karl Marx, and proceeds to shave himself. Marx, with his own wild and raging beard appears to watch him from behind with disapproval. [yalensis: To me, on the contrary, it seems like Marx is smiling benignly at the shenanigans of his ideological descendants!]

I proceed to unload the gifts I have brought for the guys. At the sight of the sausages, the feline tribe perks up and proceeds to surround me in a type of tactical encircilement. The most audacious of them leaps up onto my knees, purrs, looks me straight in the eye. But I don’t yield.

The gifts are passed from hand to hand: Socks knitted by the wife of Komsomolka Special Correspondent Lyosha Ovchinnikov (who has reported from the Donbass many times starting in 2014). The lads exclaim excitedly: “Home made!” And start reminiscing about days of yore when Babushka used to knit them socks.

Almost without noticing we cross over to a slippery theme: How people in “The Big Land” [Russia] regard the Donbass.

[to be continued]

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24 Responses to Ukraine War Day #336: A Soldier’s Life On the Ugledar Front

  1. the pair says:

    i have nothing against dogs but i have to say it’s handy that cats can stay inside 24/7, don’t make much noise and crap where you tell them to crap. all very handy when you’re trying to stay “off the radar”. just keep them away from the milk if you’re going to share an enclosed area.


  2. S Brennan says:

    Excellent Y, thanks for the translation !


    • yalensis says:

      You’re very welcome, S. I enjoyed reading/translating it, I like the way that Steshin writes, and I am pretty sure I did a better job at translating than a soul-less google computer app!


  3. S Brennan says:

    OT but good reading, M. K. BHADRAKUMAR at Indian-punchline offers up his always excellent analysis on the US/NATO war against Russia on former Russian lands.


  4. Very good! A rare glimpse into what life is like for the Russian soldiers, impossible to find in the utterly fictional psy op rubbish that passes as ‘news’, you know, CNN, NPR, Democracy Now!, WaPo, etc. Kudos!


  5. Liborio Guaso says:

    Due to an old bad habit, faced with a new crisis, the West has to go out to kill and now blacks and indigenous people have nothing to steal from them. Russia with so much wealth and little population is quite a temptation, the only drawback is that they are well armed and the memory of the previous attempt against German Nazism is horrifying.


  6. Daniel Rich says:

    It’s know that mice/rats avoid places that smell of cats. Time for the bear to start ‘rubbing’ all over the front lines and get the 404 stormtroopers on the run, back to momma.


  7. Bob Beck says:

    I just finished watching “Best in Hell” a Wagner production with high end computer graphics. Those soldiers had terrible experiences. It was Shakespearian in that the final scene all except two are dead.

    Isn’t there some famous construction of a wood burning stove made from howitzer shells for heating troops in the field?


    • yalensis says:

      I heard about that movie, “Best in Hell”. I have not seen it yet, but I plan to watch it, maybe over this weekend. I wouldn’t be able to watch it if it was real, but I read that it is not actually a documentary, they use actors to stage scenes.
      I also read that it is a fair portrayal and respectful of the Ukrainian soldiers as well, not a raw propaganda piece.
      People say that Prigozhin actually has a plan up his sleeve in making this movie, the idea is to reconcile the “brother Slavs” after the war and start some kind of healing process. In order to do this, they have to avoid demonizing ordinary Ukrainian soldiers. After Russia wins the war, they would attempt to separate ordinary “Slavic” Ukrainians from those infected with the Galician ideology. The healing process would consist of returning to the “Slavic brothers” meme, plus mutual respect and soldiers meeting each other to reminisce, without recriminations. They would try to come together in Christian forgiveness and love, whilst sublimating their hatred and turning it against NATO.

      It sounds like a crazy idea, but it might just work. I mean, what other choice will the Ukrainians have? They could go all bitter and revanchist, but that only gets you so far.


      • countrumford says:

        Yes there is no demonization or denigration of anyone and there is no glory. Like “All Quiet on the Western Front” one is left with sadness because all the death and destruction is totally unnecessary and futile. The object in contention the building is of value for less than a day. Military madness at it finest. The State Department and Treasury declare war on Russia and neglect to tell the American public. They send the Dollar into mortal combat untrained and unsupported. The level of stupidity is truly remarkable. This isn’t going to end well for USA or Ukraine IMO.


        • yalensis says:

          The USA was always going to lose its dollar-hegemony at some point. But they could have allowed themselves to decline gracefully and focus on their own internal needs, instead of burning everything behind them.


  8. KR says:

    This is fantastic, primary source material — may I quote this, citing your site?


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