- Old men in frontline units are not a sign of shortage of manpower in the Ukrainian army.
- The infantry brigade has seen very tragic days of losing some twenty men per day.
- Several solders of the OUN battalion wear a small Estonian flag on their uniform.
The oldest soldier of the OUN Battalion serving in Eastern Ukraine, with call sign Tikhon, asks the unit commander every day about when he can go to the frontline to fight the enemy.
“I have no time to wait, every day matters to me,” said Tikhon, who is one of the oldest Ukrainian soldiers in the war zone. “But the battalion commander does not allow me. Bien sûr, I can understand that this is for the younger men,” he adds and nudges his companion, a 65-year-old solder with call sign Kent. Both come from Western Ukraine and are veterans of the OUN Battalion; they have been fighting with some interruptions since the 2014 war in Donbass.
The battalion commander Alexey Kolupov (48) told Postimees that he does not want to send Tikhon to the frontline because of his age: “This is really for the younger it is very hard there right now.”
Tikhon who carries his assault rifle with the dash of a much younger man is therefore performing his duties in the battalion rear base which the Postimees reporters visited. The base is located approximately twenty kilometers behind the defense line. “No price is too high for freedom,” Tikhon told me before leaving to address his tasks.
The presence of old men in frontline units does not mean that the Ukrainian army experiences personnel shortage. Overwhelming majority of the OUN Battalion soldiers are between 20 et 50.
Alexey Kolupov, a second generation officer, commands the OUN Battalion (OUN stands for Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists), which began the war as a volunteer unit, but now belongs to the Ukrainian armed forces.
“Your mission for today is to cross the river and find out the location of the Moscals’ mortar battery, which is bombing our position. If possible, destroy it,” the battalion commander gave orders to a group of solders yesterday morning.
Together with a Ukrainian army infantry brigade, they defend a small wooded bridgehead on the left bank of the River Siverski Donets, 10–15 kilometers from the town of Izyum.
Besides the city of Syeverodonetsk, this is the only place on the East Ukrainian front where the Ukrainian forces hold a strongpoint on the left bank of the Siverski Donets. The town of Izyum in turn is an important command center of the Russian forces attacking the two largest Ukrainian-held cities of the Donetsk region – Slavyansk and Kramatorsk.
The Ukrainian forces in the section of the front visited by the Postimees reporters suffer from constant Russian artillery fire every day.
The OUN Battalion and the infantry brigade are somewhat spared by the forests in their section which complicates accurate artillery fire. Nevertheless the infantry brigade has seen some very tragic days when they lost approximately twenty men per day. The OUN Battalion had sixteen casualties a few days ago within a single afternoon. Russian artillery opened fire as they were crossing the Siverski Donets with inflatable boats. The sixteen men were fortunately only wounded and no one died, but most of the wounded will be out of action for some time.
Just like everywhere else along the East Ukrainian front, the troops in the Izyum forest have currently no strength for counterattack.
“Our mission is to hold them here and force as many Russian units as possible to fight against us so that they could not b sent to the main direction of Russian attack against Slavyansk and Kramatorsk,” said the OUN Battalion commander. “This is the direct way to these cities.”
Many OUN battalion soldiers wear a small blue-black-white flag on their uniform. This shows their gratitude to the Estonian NGO Pariisi Moto, which has given them a lot of support with vehicles, body armor and other equipment.