Soldier taxi driver fixing Russian tanks at the Kherson front

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Ilya is going to be born in three months and his father does not want his first child to come so that he will be in the line of war. With the turn the war has taken in the last few hours, the wind of luck is blowing in their favor. Yaroslav, 28, has been posted for a month in the Kherson region, where Russian troops have ordered a withdrawal and in whose capital the Ukrainian flag returned to be flown this Friday. “We think they’re scared. So we’re happy. We can see it clearly, that’s why they’re running so fast. They pee in their pants”, he assures, Thursday night at EL Pass. Along with portraying a smile during a video call.

The young man works in a squad as a truck driver who is responsible for recovering material, tanks and other vehicles left behind by the enemy so that they can be reused by the Ukrainian military. It is a task that has gained importance during the conflict in which Russia, with everything it has left behind, has become Ukraine’s main arms supplier.

Yaroslav is one of thousands of Ukrainians who enlisted in his country’s army as soon as the Russian offensive began on February 24. Within a few weeks, he stopped being a taxi driver on the streets of Kharkov and became a soldier stationed on the main front in Ukraine today. “I wanted to get into the process of victory quickly, so the war would end quickly and we could live in peace,” he says. He is not authorized to reveal the place from which he is negotiating, but he assures that it is not far from the city of Kherson, where a few hours later, throughout Friday, the first Ukrainian troops managed to enter .

“I drive my truck to leave behind broken or damaged Russian equipment and vehicles in the front-row position, which we call ground zero,” he says. “I take them to a parking lot and there they get ready. Then we used all that material again against the Russians. While my colleagues do repair work of vehicles and tanks, I keep bringing more and more”, he adds. Yaroslav explains that they take advantage of everything, that they have orders to collect even material that is not useful in principle because some piece may always come in handy.

Some of these precious relics, the Yaroslavl details, have been used in recent hours to march towards Kherson and recover cities such as Snihurivka, an important logistics point for the Russians, from invaders. Soldiers state that, in some cases, they have participated in the evacuation of civilians who transport them to the nearest medical services. Furthermore, neither he nor his allies have ever been part of an operation in which Russian soldiers are detained as prisoners of war.

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Thus, with all the materials it left, the Russian army has inadvertently become the main supplier of weapons to the Ukrainian troops. Until a month ago, the Kremlin’s armament included in the Ukrainian arsenal included: 421 tanks, 445 armored infantry vehicles, 192 armored combat vehicles and 44 multiple missile launchers. Ukraine’s General Staff declined to confirm EL PAS whether these data, first published by a US newspaper Washington Post, they agree with reality. Yaroslav complains, however, about the lack of organization that sometimes prevails in operations to withdraw this weapon; On one occasion he had to take it 250 km away. Except in cases when he had to sleep in a truck, he usually spent the nights indoors and with heating on, never in a ditch.

Yaroslav with Russian weapons that he has recovered for the Ukrainian army.

As a first-class soldier, displaced in a war zone, Yaroslav’s salary is 115,000 hryvnia (about 3,010 euros) per month. This is more than double the 45,000 hryvnia (about 1,175 euros) that someone of their rank would receive from the front. When asked about the reaction of his family and especially his wife Anastasia, who is six months pregnant, the soldier laughed. “They told me I shouldn’t have done that. They didn’t want me to go into the military. They preferred that I continue at home with my volunteer work or something,” he says.

“My wife is one of the people who have tried my hardest to change my mind,” he says. At the moment, he is focused on moving to Kherson, although he plans to request a transfer to Kharkov so that he can be closer before Ilya, the couple’s first child, is born. “I feel like I have to be close to my wife; I feel responsible and she needs my support.” Therefore, even throughout the offensive, he tries to talk to Anastasia every day: “as soon as I get a chance”. Yaroslav was on duty on Wednesday-Thursday night, when Russia had just announced it was withdrawing from Kherson, the only regional capital it managed to invade since its invasion earlier this year. Moscow concealed its decision, as on previous occasions, under a tactical retreat. But on the ground it represents another failure in its attempt to capture the neighboring country.

The Ukrainian military has taken a progressive turn when, in 2014, Moscow, backed by pro-independence militias, declared war on Kyiv in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Eight years ago, Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea with some ease. Now, it was not so easy for the attacker, as Ukraine is surrounded by trainers, weapons and money from abroad; That is to say, military reinforcements have been important. However, the Russian offensive that began last February was a stomp on the Kremlin’s war accelerator that forced Ukraine to react on the fly. Therefore, forests and parks were turned into training camps and weapons were distributed among the population. In addition, martial law prohibits men between the ages of 18 and 65 from leaving the country, with few exceptions; They should be aware of possible call ups.

However, thousands of people, women and men, did not wait to be called. This is the case of Yaroslav, who, without any military experience, went proprio motu, Initially, he joined a group of friends and acquaintances as a volunteer in Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city and located about thirty kilometers from the Russian border. But he wanted more. So he jumped into the army. The first months of his training were spent in the Zhytomyr region in the center of the country. He was then sent southeast to the Krivy Rig region, the city from which President Volodymyr Zelensky is from. And there they offered him the possibility of going to the United Kingdom in a more specialized preparation lasting five weeks. Despite the fact that he is a newcomer, supported by the succession of victories that accompanied him, Yaroslav puffed out his chest: “We are better on the ground and many of us have specials from Canadian and British allies. training.”

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