At the front in Shyrokyne with the Azov regiment – photo report

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2015/06/15 • Stories from the Front

Article by: Noah Brooks

An exclusive photo report from the frontline in Shyrokyne by the US photographer Noah Brooks, modernwarcollective.com who traveled to the frontline in Shyrokyne.

After a 100 hour journey from the USA I finally arrived in Mariupol. The city was preparing for an attack by Russian and DNR forces from the east and the north. Red tide. Bulldozers were digging trenches, and dragging cement barriers into place to fortify the city. Soldiers carrying Kalashnikovs were everywhere.

Tensions were high, but life carried on as usual. A wedding party posed for photos on the street, kids played in the playgrounds and in fountains, men fished from small bridges near the factory, families fed the pigeons outside the drama theatre. But just a few miles to the east, Russian and DNR militants were carving a hard path with heavy weapons, and now they were on the city's doorstep.

Mariupol

Mariupol is a strategic city for the DNR/Russian forces because it's port and factories will offer the start of a real economy for the self proclaimed people's republics. Occupying Mariupol would also create a land bridge from Russian occupied Crimea and the Russian mainland. Supplying Crimea is costly and time consuming. Although the city briefly fell into separatists hands in early summer 2014, volunteer groups quickly took the city back on 13 June 2014 and it has remained in Ukrainian hands ever since. 

My first few days in Mariupol were spent meandering around town, sitting in my hotel, and trying find someone who can take me to the front. I had press accreditation from the Security Service of Ukraine, but they gave me the run around when it came to obtaining required ID, so I had to bypass the government checkpoints and find my own way in.

The city itself has been hit by Russian-separatist artillery strikes on the outskirts. This gas station is one of the objects that have been damaged in the attacks.

Concert on the beach

I spent my first few days in Mariupol Networking to find rides to the front line, and looking for photos in the mean time. The local press secretary invited me to a private concert on the beach for a group of soldiers. The beach was heavily fortified with trenches dug in and weapons hidden in the sand. The sound of shelling in Shyrokyne could be heard over the music throughout the entire concert.

Shyrokyne

I had established a good relationship with Regiment Azov on my previous trips, and after a few days of endless phone calls and emails, I was able to meet up with them at their base and hitch a ride to their forward most position in Shyrokyne, at the top of a hill just 200 yards from their enemy. On my first night in the trenches the guys had a barbeque with steak and apples

First night

The first night started off very quiet. It was a clear spring night, full of stars and a bright moon, which was our only light. It was dark on the hill, and even darker in the village down below where the separatists were.
After hours in the trenches, a soldier kept watch over enemy positions using night vision. Volunteers continue being the main source of hi-tech devices and army necessities as Ukraine's corrupt army system is resistant to change.

Night vigils

I stayed up late with a soldier who spoke English as he and some other guys kept watch with night vision goggles. It was eerily quiet, and every so often the dogs in the village below would start barking, telling us that something was moving down at the bottom of the hill.
The thought of our position being over run in the night was terrifying. I stayed up till 3 or 4 AM then tried to get some sleep.  The platoon commander was reading his Bible while his men slept.

Under constant attack

Heavy firefights broke out several times over the next couple days. It would be quiet for a while, then a shot would ring out, and fighting would ensue. The men are busy defending Ukrainian positions in case of an attack.
The sound of bullets and grenades flying over our heads was constant. The separatists are having a hard time taking more ground because their current forward position is located at the bottom of a hill, and to capture the hill they will suffer heavy losses. This soldier is having a smoke break after battle.

The front passes through Shyrokyne

The village of Shyrokyne is split in two, with the separatists down below, and the Ukrainians on the highlands. The OSCE monitoring mission had proposed to demilitarize Shyrokyne, causing protests from Mariupol civilians. The Azov regiment has also protested this proposal, saying that it will open the door for Russian-separatist forces to occupy Mariupol. So battles rage on.

The shelled school

The cease fire deal signed in February was not being recognized here. Most of Shyrokyne was destroyed, including the elementary school which had been ripped apart by the shelling.
Inside the school destroyed by separatist shelling.
There are seldom quiet moments on the front. This is one of them.

Resisting Putin's Red tide

Mariupol's location could not be any worse for the current situation. It could slowly become surrounded and many fear it will turn into the next Donetsk. The Azov regiment is the force keeping back the Red tide. Snipers like these monitor every move that the separatists might take down the hill.
The Ukrainians are in a better strategic position, on the highlands.
Many of Azov's soldiers have fallen in defending Mariupol, some of them quite young. Humor helps the soldiers cope with daily dangers. Watch two of Azov's soldiers troll the Russian-separatist forces, pretending to be two Americans, in this video. The myth of the US army orchestrating an attack on Russia is a common myth of Russian propaganda.
Will Putin's "red tide" continue to wash away more and more of Ukraine? Can Ukraine's volunteer army hold onto this symbolic city? I asked one of the guys what will happen if the city becomes surrounded and he just looked away and said... "It will be very bad."

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  • canuke

    Am I missing the main part of the article? All I see is an introduction. Thanks!

    • Dean Venture

      I had the same problem. Hit the right arrow on the picture. The story is broken up into captions for each photo.

      • canuke

        Thanks, Dean!

  • Being

    I vote for EU politicians to Rebuild ALL the damaged Ukraine infrastructure. They are so helpfull, actualy UN can put hands at that work too so Ukraine schools, hospitals, roads are properly done. Hopefully using hands instead of heads will work better.