Motivated but outgunned: Ukrainian soldiers discuss life on the southern front

A group of Ukrainian infantry soldiers stood in a warehouse in south-western Ukraine when they were shelled by Russian artillery. Serhiy was hit in the face with shrapnel. He and his recent best friend Hennadiy took a selfie clutching part of the shell which did not hit them.

Moments later, Russian tanks appeared on a hill opposite and fired across the village in front of them, including at the warehouse. Hennadiy and the rest of the group – all natives of the Zaporizhzhia region – were also hit by shrapnel and all of them suffered hearing damage.

“They had three tanks on the hill and they were just shooting down at us. We just had rifles,” said Hennadiy. “We had some equipment that the Americans and Poles gave us, but it wasn’t enough to fight.”

They said they escaped from the warehouse under plumes of smoke and walked to the next village, from where they were taken to the Zaporizhzhia military hospital.

Gennadiy and Serhiy’s selfie after coming under attack.
Gennadiy and Serhiy’s selfie after coming under attack. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian
The Guardian was granted access to the military hospital to speak to soldiers on the condition that reporters not identify specific locations of battles or publish the full names of soldiers interviewed.

“There are plenty of people motivated to fight,” said Serhiy, speaking from a hospital ward with the rest of the company who escaped from the warehouse. “But we are underarmed and desperately trying to hold the whole mass [of the Russian army].”

“There’s also just not enough time to train everyone who wants to fight,” added Dmytro, another member of the company, who was lying on a bed in the ward.

Ukraine has criticised the west for dripfeeding it arms, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealing almost daily because his country cannot manufacture the weapons or ammunition it needs to fight off the Russian invaders. Equipment demanded has ranged from fighter jets and tanks, which the west has been reluctant or slow to supply, through to artillery and armoured vehicles – and most simply of all guns and ammunition.

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