RUSSIA – This time last week, one of the Ukrainian army’s newest and most controversial brigades claimed to have swept Russian forces from a critical defensive position south of Bakhmut. Ukrainian troops defending the area around the Bakhmut ruins charged Russian fortifications on the western side of the Donets-Donbas Canal, which runs north-south through the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.
In a trench struggle reminiscent of World War I, the 3rd Assault Brigade would have chased the Russian 57th Motorized Rifle Brigade from its stronghold across the canal. The commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade, Colonel Andrii Biletskyi, released a video on or before Sunday proclaiming the brigade’s tactical success. The Ukrainians said they detained 10 Russians and killed 30 Russians. It is not known how many members of the 3rd Assault Brigade were killed or wounded.
Small video cameras were mounted on the helmets of some soldiers of the 3rd Assault Brigade and they went into battle with them. Their videos show squads of 3rd Brigade infantry charging into Russian lines amid fierce battle. The Ukrainians, working together despite the sound of gunfire and explosives, clear shelters from which Russian soldiers might be hiding.
Their methods are well known but difficult to master. Ukrainian infantrymen approach in small teams through the trench system, taking turns protecting each other as they fire around corners and throw grenades into the dugouts.
The Russian resistance fighters had a chance to surrender by the Ukrainians before being attacked with grenades. To free Ukrainian captives held in Russia, Kyiv is willing to exchange Russian detainees for some form of money. The 3rd Assault Brigade can be very sensitive to any potential exchange of prisoners. The Azov Regiment was the backbone of the brigade formed after the harsh siege of Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city on the Sea of Azov. Shortly after the widening of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in February 2022, Russian troops besieged Mariupol.
For three months, the Azov Regiment and its allies held off the Russians as they systematically destroyed the city, killing tens of thousands. In May 2022, when the Russians finally took Mariupol, they also took thousands of Ukrainian troops with them, including many Azov members.
Over the next year, Ukrainian authorities released some Mariupol veterans through a series of prisoner exchanges. However, it appears that several hundred are still being held in Russian gulags. Capturing a Russian could be the key to freedom for a founding member of the 3rd Assault Brigade.
There were instances when the Kremlin hesitated to release Azov war veterans. According to official Russian propaganda, all Ukrainian soldiers are Nazis, but the Azov fighters in particular. Because Putin’s dictatorship justifies its invasion of Ukraine as part of a campaign to “denazify” the country, they view the Azov captives as “proof” that Russia is “winning.”