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On Ukraine frontline, old friends and a Soviet artillery gun

#Ukraine #frontline #friends #Soviet #artillery #gun

They have known each other for years and remain inseparable even on the frontline in Ukraine, defending their country together “like brothers”.

Stationed near the frontline hotspot of Bakhmut, six men operate an old Soviet anti-aircraft gun that they say belongs in a museum, not on the battlefield.

Initially used for anti-aircraft defence, their S-60 gun now serves as an artillery piece.

“The artillery guns you see here are museum pieces,” says 37-year-old Volodymyr, who declined to give his surname, as powerful explosions and artillery fire echo in the distance. 

“They were stored as scrap metal,” adds Volodymyr, who commands an artillery unit of 36 soldiers and several S-60 guns.

The S-60 is a 57 mm anti-aircraft gun deployed in the Soviet army in 1950. 

“We repaired them, refurbished them and we are using them to protect our native Ukraine,” Volodymyr says. 

The S-60 is fired from the back of a decades-old Kraz truck, which is marked with a large white cross.

“At the beginning, we didn’t have a lot of resources,” Volodymyr says.

“We bought trucks ourselves with donations from people we knew, volunteers and NGOs.”

– A lot in common –

Sitting on small iron seats in the back of the truck, one soldier lays the gun while the other prepares to fire. Once the target is locked, the shooter fires a round with the stroke of a pedal.  

A ball of fire and smoke escapes out of the barrel, hissing towards its target a few kilometres away. The truck shakes with each fired shot.

“The recoil of the barrel is not very important,” says the shooter who goes by the call sign “Tsil”, which means target.   

“I feel it more with my hands than with my feet. You have to hold it tight.”

Most of the men met in 2014, the year a popular uprising in Kyiv ousted a pro-Kremlin president and brought pro-Western leaders to power in Ukraine.

Volodymyr says the friends have a lot in common.

“We even went on vacation together,” he adds. 

The men sport mismatched khaki outfits, deep wrinkles and greying beards.

The oldest among them is 61-year-old Valeriy, with piercing black eyes and a thick salt and pepper beard. 

– ‘Anything can happen’ –

“We support each other, we replace each other when necessary and if we argue, we learn to do it in a productive way,” Valeriy says as he takes sips of coffee from an old aluminium mug during a break. 

“So we don’t have quarrels and we are like brothers here,” he says, adding that he tries to help the younger men.

“I support with my words so that others are less afraid.” 

Days are neither difficult nor easy, he says. 

“This is life, this is war, not a training camp. Anything can happen. But we think our commander is lucky, he’s like our guardian angel,” he adds.

The shots follow each other in quick succession, sometimes two or four in a row. 

Working near the pointer-shooter duo, the loader throws empty ammunition boxes on the ground nearby.

During a break, a drone starts flying above their positions. Soldiers fire shots into the clear blue sky.  

“It’s a Russian drone,” Volodymyr says, ordering his men to pack up and leave the area.

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#Ukraine #frontline #friends #Soviet #artillery #gun

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