20 elite Ukrainian soldiers are fighting as a special unit against Russian troops in Bakhmut. The BBC accompanied her on an assignment.
The Ukrainian armed forces are currently attempting to regain control of Bakhmut. The British broadcaster BBC has now published an impressive report detailing the experiences of a notorious team of elite soldiers from the city in the east of the country. The Ukrainian snipers have been fighting high-level Russian targets as a team for the past six months. They act silently and almost invisible in the dark of night. At the front they are known as the “Ghosts of Bakhmut”.
“When we started bringing terror to Bakhmut, we got the name ‘The Ghosts of Bakhmut’,” the commander of the 20-strong group called Ghost tells the BBC crew. He personally selected every single team member and emphasized that what counted for him was not the military experience, but the “humanity and patriotism” of his soldiers. He leads the journalists to what he calls the “edge of existence” – the group’s base on the outskirts of the city, already within range of Russian artillery. From there, the snipers set off in small teams after sunset.
“Only a fool would not be afraid”
According to the team, 524 Russian soldiers have already been killed. “76 of them belong to me”, says the leader Ghost. None of their own men have died so far, even though there have been many injuries. The team electronically records every shot through the sights of their rifles.
One of the group’s snipers, who calls himself Kuzia, explains: “It’s nothing to be proud of. We don’t kill people, we destroy the enemy.” Before the war he worked in a factory. He said he was never particularly fond of guns, but felt compelled to get his hands on them after the invasion of Russia. “Of course I’m scared – only a fool wouldn’t be scared,” Kuzia told the BBC.
The BBC reporter’s description of an operation by the men makes it clear how risky they are. That evening, the shooter is accompanied by an observer, as well as a driver and the BBC team. The driver takes the men in an armored Humvee as close to the front lines as possible. Before they set off, they cross themselves. Then the shooters get in the mood with a Ukrainian rap song. The song is also intended to drown out the sounds of shells falling while driving.
The BBC reporter reports how the driver rushes at high speed down the pothole roads, past minefields and wrecked Ukrainian armored vehicles. According to the Ukrainians, the route was being shelled by Russian artillery, so the headlights had to be off when driving.
“One Shot, One Target”
Then it suddenly goes fast: the group stops near a ruined house. They have to walk the last few kilometers to their destination. The team opens the doors. The driver shouts “God be with you” to them, then the duo disappears into the darkness. The driver, nicknamed Kusch, tells the journalists about his work that the group will not win the war or even recapture Bachmut. Nevertheless, the invisible “hunt” on the Russian soldiers has a psychological effect on the enemy.
Even when the sniper duo returns to the car, it remains dramatic. BBC reporter reports orange flash erupts in sky and makes loud pops. A piece of shrapnel rips apart the rear tire of their vehicle. It was a nerve-wracking limping back and forth back to base.
The target of the mission was a Russian machine gunner who fired on Ukrainian troops near the front line. “One shot, one aim”: sums up Kuzia the shooter.
The group commander waited at the base with another team member during the operation. There they are said to have nervously clung to their radios in order to find out news quickly. When the team returned, leader Ghost called his seven-year-old daughter and put her on loudspeakers. “I love you, dad” she exclaimed excitedly. It was a brief moment of normalcy. But then immediately disillusionment again: Ghost had already taught her how to unlock a gun. “Each journey may be our last, but we are doing a noble deed,” leader Ghost told the BBC.