Fighting Wagner was like a ‘zombie movie’, says Ukrainian soldier

Ukraine (CNN) Near Bagmud — Southwest of the city Bagmuth, Ukrainian soldiers Andriy and Borysich live in a candlelit bunker under the frozen ground. For weeks they have faced the imposition of hundreds of fighters from the Russian private military contractor Wagner into the Ukrainian security forces.

Disguised in a ski mask, Andrey describes the interminable firefight when they are ambushed by Wagner’s militia.

“We were fighting for 10 hours straight. It wasn’t waves, it was non-stop. So it was like they just kept coming.”

Andrey says their AK-47 rifles have gotten so hot from constant firing that they have to keep replacing them.

“We had about 20 players on our side. Let’s say 200 on your side,” he says.

Wagner’s way of war was to send the first wave of raids consisting of recruits directly from Russian prisons. They know little about military tactics and are poorly equipped. Most hope to move home instead of moving to a cell if they keep their six-month contract.

“They form a group, 10 players, reach 30 meters, and then they start digging to take the place,” Andrey says of Wagner.

Another group follows, he says, and demands 30 meters. “This is how, step by step, (Wagner) tries to move forward, while losing a lot of people in the process.”

Only when the first wave was exhausted or reduced did Wagner send in more experienced fighters, often from the flanks, in an attempt to overrun the Ukrainian positions.

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Andriy says facing the attack was a terrifying and surreal experience.

“Our machine gunner almost went crazy because he was shooting at them. And he said, I know I shot him, but he’s not going down. After a while, when he’s bleeding, he’s going down. .”

Andre compares the war to a scene from a zombie movie. “They climb over the dead bodies of their friends and trample on them,” he says.

“It seems more likely that they had some drugs before the attack,” he says, which CNN was unable to independently verify.

Andrey and others in their unit shelter in a bunker southwest of Bagmut in eastern Ukraine on January 31, 2023. Credit: Matthias Somm/CNN

Even after the first waves were withdrawn, the offensive continued, with Ukrainian defenders claiming they had run out of ammunition and were surrounded.

“The problem was that they surrounded us. That’s how they surrounded us. They came from the other side. We didn’t expect them to come from there.”

“We were shooting down to the last bullet, so we threw all the grenades we had, which left me and a few guys behind. We were defenseless in that situation.”

They are lucky. Wagner withdrew at the end of the day, with the Ukrainian militia waiting until the last moment.

Andrey’s account of Wagner’s approach matches a Ukrainian intelligence report obtained by CNN last week.

According to the report, if Wagner’s forces were able to take a stand, artillery support would allow them to dig trenches and consolidate their gains. According to Ukrainian intercepts, coordination between Wagner and the Russian military was largely non-existent.

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CNN contacted Wagner Group chairman Yevgeny Prigozhin this week about allegations of misconduct in the company’s ranks.

Prigogine responded in a sarcastic tone through his press service, calling CNN an “open enemy” before asserting that Wagner was “an exemplary military organization that complies with all the necessary laws and regulations” of modern warfare.

As he spoke to CNN, the fields above Andrei’s bunker echoed with almost constant shelling. The screech of exiting cannons is followed seconds later by a distant rumble a few miles away.

Small arms fire erupts as Ukrainian soldiers spot what they believe to be a Russian drone and try to shoot it down.

Wagner Ukraine

Andri says the unit has survived a recent attack by Wagner’s troops. Credit: Matthias Somm/CNN

Andrei’s unit claims to have captured a Wagner fighter plane, a tragic story as his tactics are primitive and brutal.

According to the interrogation record of the man, the man is an engineer but he has been selling drugs to earn some money. He offered to join Wagner, which would clear his criminal record so his daughter could pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer.

“When did you realize you were just meat?” Andrei asks him.

“On the first combat mission. They took us to the front on December 28th. They sent us last night.”

“How many people were in the group?”

“Ten,” he replies.

Andrei says he told the engineer: “Obviously, you know you will be killed (in war). But you are afraid to fight for your freedom in your country.”

“He said: ‘Yes, it’s true. We are afraid of Putin.’

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Andrey compares Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who long ago was the country’s leading comedian.

“Our advantage is, yes, we do, we can actually pick the guy [los rusos] They call them clowns. But as we see, right now, this guy is really the leader of the free world, right now, on our planet.”

Andrey, from the southwestern city of Odessa, joined within days of the Russian invasion and says he will resist no matter how many more fighters are sent to attack their positions.

“Most of my boys are volunteers. They had (a) good career, they had (a) good job, they had a good salary, but they came to fight for their country. That makes a big difference,” he says.

“This is a war for freedom. It’s not even a war between Ukraine and Russia. It’s a war between a regime and a democracy.”

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