By Dan Peleschuk
KYIV (Reuters) – Vivid helmet camera videos filmed by Ukrainian soldiers at the front line can give viewers a visceral feel of combat as Kyiv’s counteroffensive finally unfolds, even though experts warn against drawing strong conclusions about how the war is going.
Ukrainian officials have been tight-lipped about the long-awaited operation since it was launched in June, and independent news crews are generally barred from filming operations while they are under way.
The information vacuum has been partially filled by a steady stream of video filmed by soldiers themselves and often compiled, edited and released by their units.
Shot from cameras on helmets and vests and beamed to the world from the front lines, many of the images have a first-person intensity and immediacy virtually unseen in combat footage filmed by professional news crews in previous wars.
In one recent video edited and released by the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, troops poured out of an armoured personnel carrier near the eastern city of Bakhmut, unleashing a hail of gunfire as they advanced toward an enemy position.
The viewer is soon overwhelmed by chaos and violence as troops shriek commands at one another and hurl grenades and obscenities at the enemy.
An explosion erupts just metres away from the camera, sending debris flying and leaving troops disoriented. Later, an exhausted commander lets out an expletive at the camera after a Russian artillery strike on his unit’s position.
Such footage, especially if selective and curated, cannot answer important questions such as the enemy’s level of resistance, said Nick Reynolds, of the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London.
“However, what is clear is that some of the fighting is extremely hard.”
Reynolds added that the videos can also provide a feel for the artillery-scarred terrain Ukrainian troops are fighting on.
Reuters cannot independently verify the times or places where many of the images were filmed.
‘SO YOU ALL KNOW THE PRICE’
Troops releasing videos say that depicting the intensity of combat helps convey to the public their forces’ commitment, bolstering support. It could also help intimidate the enemy.
Oleh Sentsov, a prominent film director from Crimea who joined the Ukrainian military after being jailed for five years by Russia and freed in a prisoner swap, released video of himself on Sunday lying dazed following battle.
He described the intense close-quarters fighting his unit had just experienced.
“Why am I saying all this? So you know that we’ll win in this war regardless,” he said as explosions bellowed in the background. “But (also) so you all know the price we’re paying for it here.”
Ukrainian forces have managed to make incremental gains in the south and east, probing Russian defences. Russia has dug extensive, layered fortifications, hoping to ensure its troops are better entrenched than when they were chased out of territory last year.
For troops on the ground, progress is sometimes measured by the metre – now a popular refrain in Ukraine.
One video earlier this month, featuring a top field commander of the 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade leading his troops against a Russian position in southern Ukraine, has been viewed more than three million times.
During a moment of respite in a freshly captured trench before the next assault, Valerii Markus described how he was surrounded by dead enemy soldiers, and how the challenge ahead would be complicated by “very solid, very well-built” Russian defences.
“Unfortunately we’ll probably still be around for the stage when the corpses start to stink,” he said. “But in general, these negative nuances are a sign that we’re doing our duty successfully.”
(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk; Editing by Peter Graff)
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