There is a lot of information available regarding the difficulties that the soldiers from the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) suffer when fighting on the frontline. On the other hand, there is very little information available concerning the difficulties that the Russians face while fighting on the frontline. However, thanks to something that took place recently dubbed the “Ogarkov Readings -2023” conference, information is now available about the conditions that Russian soldiers suffer while serving on the front lines. A military observer – Retired Colonel Mikhail Khodarenok, who works for the Russian publication Gazeta, was present at the session. The conference’s primary focus was on developing new military technology and the consequences these developments have for military operations. Khodarenok includes in-depth descriptions in his report of the conversations that took place during the meeting regarding the day-to-day activities of Russian soldiers and commanders who are taking part in the specialised military operation in Ukraine.
Under Continuous Rain and No Fire
Soldiers in combat operations on the Eastern Front recounted their experiences, and according to them, from October until April in Southern Ukraine, there is nearly continuous rain or sleet.
As a direct consequence of this, soldiers stationed in the trenches are drenched from head to toe, continuously, for an extended period; in addition, their clothing and sleeping bags are completely saturated. There is no possibility of getting dry. It is impossible to start a fire at the front (the area that is closest to the defensive line of the enemy), especially during the night, because the thermal imagers of the enemy would immediately detect it. In addition, the dry alcohol tablets provided as part of the soldiers’ daily rations were only capable of heating the water in their cups; they could not raise the water to a boil.
Mud is one of the main troubles that participants on the Eastern Front have identified. Ukrainian soil, referred to as “mulka,” is ubiquitous. It penetrates collars, sleeves, and footwear. The soldiers are required to dine and sleep in this mud. The frontline terrain primarily comprises dirt and shell craters. In Ukraine, the majority of fighting takes place in agricultural fields, which are essentially five-kilometer-square tracts surrounded by groves. Being out in the open in such terrain is life-threatening. Soldiers are restricted to fortifying themselves and concealing themselves within the groves.
It is virtually impossible to construct full-profile trenches and bunkers (dugouts) to shelter personnel in muddy conditions. Freshly excavated crevices and cavities are rapidly clogged with murky sludge. The most that can be achieved is to excavate foxhole-like spaces where frontline commanders and soldiers can seek refuge from artillery shelling and small arms fire, as well as sleep or live.
The forested regions comprising the Ukrainian groves are virtually unfit for constructing shelter structures such as bunkers. Moreover, any endeavour to build such refuges is promptly identified by the adversary and renders the builder a target of hostile fire.
Threats from Enemy UAVs and Boring Menu
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) belonging to the enemy perpetually soar above the frontlines, frequently dodging Russian anti-drone rifles and small arms fire.
The UAF maintains exceptional surveillance over movements not only along the frontier but also considerably beyond it. Every troop movement, even the smallest of two or three soldiers, immediately provokes enemy fire. The UAF possesses an extensive array of surveillance and observation equipment, which includes night vision devices of every variety.
For instance, to move material assets to the frontlines, two to three personnel are dispatched in total darkness. While on the move, flashlights are not used. Alternatively, the group would be promptly identified and engaged in combat. Food and supplies are frequently transported to the frontlines via pickup trucks rather than hefty all-terrain vehicles. After collecting supplies, the group typically returns in total darkness.
Food is abundant in supply along the frontlines, but the personnel are tired of the monotonous nature of the meals. Long weeks of consuming dry provisions, generally of acceptable quality, can cause soldiers to be weary of canned meat and buckwheat or rice porridge.
Officers in higher ranks are aware of these issues and make every effort to enhance the living conditions of frontline personnel. Nevertheless, certain aspects, including the terrain and the muck, are unchanging. Units and detachments could be relocated to the rear more frequently for rest and recovery as one possible solution. Individuals must ultimately dry off, tidy up, shave, and consume hot soup.
Visuals recorded from the Ukrainian side depict mud-filled trenches up to the knees. Additionally, the Russians have obtained intercepted communications from Ukrainian personnel regarding the critical shortage of supplies, including first aid for the wounded. Russian media reported at the onset of the conflict that Russian soldiers made lighthearted jokes regarding the presence of microwave ovens in the armoured vehicles seized from the Ukrainian forces. At the same time, the Ukrainians made lighthearted remarks regarding the Russians’ purported pilferage of domestic appliances such as washing machines, microwave ovens, and other items; however, the distinction lay in the chips purportedly intended for Russian missiles and other defence equipment.
The terrain is ruthlessly identical on both sides, and it will continue until peace is restored.