‘Are There Even Any Left?’ 100 Days of Battle in Ukraine For an Elite Russian Unit

On a distant plain on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border the morning of Feb. 24, a whole lot of paratroopers from Russia’s thirty first Guards Air Assault Brigade boarded helicopters they thought had been certain for a coaching floor in western Belarus. 

However as soon as the models had been airborne, senior officers turned to the lads to inform them that they had been really at battle with Ukraine. 

As an alternative of Grodno, they entered Ukrainian airspace on their option to Hostomel airport close to the capital metropolis of Kyiv. 

“The troops had been f*****g shocked, individuals turned grey, particularly contemplating we took hearth within the air,” stated Nikita Ponomarev, a paratrooper later captured by the Ukrainians. 

Within the 100 days for the reason that shock assault on Hostomel, Russia’s battle on Ukraine has shifted from this model of fast maneuvering to the grinding artillery duels and the creeping Russian advances now going down within the east of the nation. 

Likewise, the thirty first Guards Air Assault Brigade – an elite airborne regiment based mostly within the southern Russian metropolis of Ulyanovsk – has criss-crossed Ukraine as Moscow’s targets had been re-formulated within the face of Ukrainian resistance.

To inform the story of the battle to date, The Moscow Instances reconstructed the actions of the thirty first Brigade over 100 days of brutal preventing in Ukraine that has killed hundreds and displaced thousands and thousands.

The thirty first, which beforehand fought within the Second Chechen Battle and the 2008 Russo-Georgian battle, has suffered heavy casualties in Ukraine, and skilled lots of the wider logistical and morale issues which have exemplified an typically incompetent Russian marketing campaign. 

The brigade’s paratroopers had been amongst a number of the first Russian troopers to see motion in Ukraine after they fastroped onto the tarmac in Hostomel on Feb. 24 and fanned out throughout runways, hangars and airport buildings. 

Ukraine supplied a spirited protection of Hostomel regardless of the dimensions of the Russian assault, in the end stopping Moscow’s forces from capturing the airfield. 

A deep thrust behind enemy traces is typical of airborne forces within the early days of a battle, in line with army analyst Rob Lee. “They’re used to grab air fields, and actually vital terrain options and targets,” Lee advised The Moscow Instances. 

If the assault had been profitable, Russia would seemingly have used Hostomel’s lengthy runway to fly in further models and provides on big Il-76 transport plane. 

Nevertheless it turned out to be a foul miscalculation. 

Whereas the specter of Ukrainian air protection programs prevented Russian transport plane from flying into Hostomel, Russian floor forces dug in across the airfield and waited for reinforcements that they thought can be introduced overland from Belarus

A report by CNN on the primary day of the invasion appeared to point out thirty first models carrying bins of ammunition and sporting white arm bands, fortifying the airport’s perimeter. 

However a lot of what we all know concerning the dynamics of the Russian assault on Hostomel comes from an interview with captured thirty first Brigade paratrooper Ponomarev, who was subsequently interviewed by a outstanding Ukrainian blogger who posts movies with Russian prisoners. 

Further gear and reinforcements had been speculated to arrive inside 24 hours, in line with Ponomarev, however took considerably longer. 

“After three days, it was nonetheless solely us,” he stated. 

Even because the airport remained unsecured, Russian tanks and armored autos flooded into northern Ukraine, heading for Kyiv. In a dramatic tackle on Feb. 25, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky warned Russia would quickly “try to storm the capital.” 

There was an ominous feeling within the air at Hostomel the following morning, Ponomarev recalled. Instantly, Ukrainian artillery slammed into the buildings. The barrage lasted two hours, killing dozens of troopers and destroying massive quantities of apparatus. “There was nothing left — not even a turret,” Ponomarev stated. “Virtually no person survived that day.”

Russia has been reticent about releasing official casualty figures, or confirming deaths to kin, from the beginning of the battle, making it unimaginable to know what number of males from the thirty first Brigade died within the preventing at Hostomel airport. 

Nevertheless, Ponomarev estimated at the very least 60 troopers had been killed. 

A complete of 34 paratroopers from the thirty first Brigade died between Feb. 25 and March 7, in line with a report Wednesday by impartial media outlet Mediazona. 

A kind of killed at Hostomel was more likely to have been Sergeant Ilnur Sibgatullin, 31, from Nizhnekamsk, a small metropolis within the republic of Tatarstan. At Sibgatullin’s funeral in his hometown six days after the beginning of the invasion, his former instructor described him as a “sort boy, who makes your soul rejoice.”

Ultimately, Russian commanders determined to withdraw from the airfield.

Video footage reportedly from Feb. 27 reveals Russian models piling into vans in an obvious evacuation

Stationed within the Volga River metropolis of Ulyanovsk since 1993, the thirty first is likely one of the Russian army’s few elite activity forces. In keeping with estimates about Russian army unit power by analyst Lee, the thirty first seemingly dedicated about 2,000 males to the preventing in Ukraine.  

Regardless of its preliminary losses, the thirty first was shortly thrown into the Russian floor offensive making an attempt an encirclement of Kyiv in early March. 

It was amongst models deployed to grab the close by city of Hostomel, in line with the Institute for the Research of Battle, a U.S. army assume tank. 

“Russia’s elite forces had been completely annihilated,” stated Nick Reynolds, a army analyst on the London-based RUSI assume tank, of the next city warfare as Ukraine desperately tried to halt the Russian advance. 

As many as 50 paratroopers from the thirty first had been killed in Hostomel, in accordance to Ukrainian intelligence. Photographs confirmed the our bodies of thirty first troopers strewn throughout pavements and in trenches, in addition to on prime of burning tanks. 

The thirty first Brigade’s losses within the preventing in Hostomel reportedly included senior officers Colonel Sergei Karasev and Main Alexei Osokin

Osokin was “top-of-the-line,” stated Radik Zalalov, a soldier with the thirty first being handled for wounds in a Belarusian hospital, in an alternate with The Moscow Instances on social media.  

Formally, Russia has reported 1,351 deaths of its troopers in Ukraine, lower than half the full reported by impartial media retailers citing open supply knowledge. In accordance to army analyst Michael Kofman, at the very least 10,000 Russian troopers have died in Ukraine. 

Of those army losses, about 19% had been from paratrooper models, reported the BBC. 

Utilizing native media studies and interviews with kin of the deceased, The Moscow Instances has recognized at the very least 38 members of the thirty first who’ve died in Ukraine, though the true determine is more likely to be considerably increased. 

After the Ukrainians efficiently blocked the Russian advance on Kyiv in March, the Kremlin opted for a tactical withdrawal and Russian troops – together with the thirty first – left northern Ukraine on April 1. 

The retreat allowed Russia to change its focus to jap Ukraine, the place it has since sought to encircle Ukrainian-held areas of the Donbas area by advancing north from separatist-held Donetsk and south from the northeastern Ukrainian metropolis of Izyum.

A few of the thirty first Brigade had been redeployed round Izyum, 120 kilometers south of Kharkiv, in line with a pal of 1 soldier within the brigade.  

The stays of the thirty first’s two battalion tactical teams fielded within the preventing round Kyiv had been seemingly amalgamated into one BTG within the east, in line with analyst Lee. 

Particulars concerning the actions of the thirty first within the third month of the battle are more durable to ascertain, however the pal of the thirty first Brigade soldier stated elements of the thirty first had been concerned within the Russian offensive on the strategic metropolis of Severodonetsk in late Might.

Over 80% of Severodonetsk is now beneath Russian management, Luhansk governor Sergei Haidai stated this week as the town appeared on the verge of falling.  

According to different studies from the frontline, the thirty first apparently suffered from low morale and insufficient provides of meals and gear after it was redeployed to jap Ukraine.

“Wages usually are not acquired. There isn’t any ingesting water, bathroom services or electrical energy within the camp. They [the troops] needed to chip in for a fuel generator,” Denis Tokarev, an ex-soldier from the thirty first who stays in contact with troopers in Ukraine, advised The Moscow Instances. “Residents of the [neighboring Russian] Belgorod area introduced them meals, water аnd provides.” 

Notably, the boxing federation in Ulyanovsk has been interesting to locals to donate provides to ship to the thirty first. One of many federation’s social media posts in April promised that the following batch of assist for the troops “will embody gear.”

In accordance to the Ukrainian army, 25 troopers of the thirty first even refused to redeploy to jap Ukraine. The Moscow Instances was unable to confirm this declare. 

Recent army graves in a cemetery in Ulyanovsk, Russia.

Again residence in Ulyanovsk, probably the most seen reminders of the losses sustained by the thirty first are the town’s cemeteries. Images shared in Might by Russia’s Committee for Troopers’ Moms confirmed at the very least 42 contemporary graves, stacked excessive with roses and carnations. 

Whereas opinion polls recommend help for Putin’s battle in Ukraine stays excessive amongst Russians, the deaths of the younger troopers from the thirty first has precipitated anguish – and a few questioning – amongst their associates and kin. 

Below a publish concerning the current loss of life of Captain Adam Khamkhoev from the thirty first one consumer wrote: “Why are Buryats, Dagestanis, Russians from the hinterland dying in Ukraine? The place are these from Moscow and St. Petersburg? It seems the unusual individuals go to the slaughter, and the wealthy — to espresso homes.”

And when the loss of life of Corporal Artyom Fedorov was reported final week, Olga Burmistrova, whose nephew died preventing for the thirty first in Ukraine, left a touch upon social media web site VK to pay her respects to the younger man. 

“One other from the thirty first,” Burmistrova wrote between rows of crying emojis. ”Are there even any left there?”

Supply hyperlink