The Fort Worth Press - Truckers and gallows humour: Ragtag army in battle for Kherson

USD -
AED 3.672501
AFN 71.631438
ALL 95.179683
AMD 395.104736
ANG 1.797381
AOA 837.498008
ARS 869.237794
AUD 1.554195
AWG 1.8
AZN 1.701434
BAM 1.836854
BBD 2.013648
BDT 109.668421
BGN 1.83251
BHD 0.376867
BIF 2857.437455
BMD 1
BND 1.359167
BOB 6.919837
BRL 5.234097
BSD 0.997254
BTN 83.437693
BWP 13.783827
BYN 3.26325
BYR 19600
BZD 2.010274
CAD 1.377395
CDF 2790.000542
CHF 0.910901
CLF 0.035477
CLP 978.93054
CNY 7.238294
CNH 7.24577
COP 3892.15
CRC 499.695365
CUC 1
CUP 26.5
CVE 103.559035
CZK 23.680222
DJF 177.591556
DKK 6.99551
DOP 58.949243
DZD 134.767364
EGP 48.504975
ERN 15
ETB 56.74331
EUR 0.93758
FJD 2.2733
FKP 0.802762
GBP 0.80325
GEL 2.660158
GGP 0.802762
GHS 13.439585
GIP 0.802762
GMD 67.95006
GNF 8573.06225
GTQ 7.771668
GYD 209.210483
HKD 7.83024
HNL 24.710119
HRK 7.08016
HTG 132.186009
HUF 368.270061
IDR 16264
ILS 3.788405
IMP 0.802762
INR 83.59605
IQD 1306.393708
IRR 42062.502706
ISK 140.919985
JEP 0.802762
JMD 155.057507
JOD 0.708704
JPY 154.397497
KES 132.506959
KGS 89.005103
KHR 4033.444879
KMF 463.599363
KPW 900.00035
KRW 1381.515005
KWD 0.30814
KYD 0.83106
KZT 447.831426
LAK 21217.063637
LBP 89307.005868
LKR 301.172633
LRD 193.302457
LSL 19.097503
LTL 2.95274
LVL 0.60489
LYD 4.866755
MAD 10.142332
MDL 17.821188
MGA 4375.579989
MKD 57.733301
MMK 2094.241819
MNT 3450.000346
MOP 8.059525
MRU 39.674972
MUR 46.545857
MVR 15.450203
MWK 1728.672797
MXN 16.97042
MYR 4.7903
MZN 63.503078
NAD 19.020154
NGN 1140.639968
NIO 36.706879
NOK 11.013005
NPR 133.496743
NZD 1.69278
OMR 0.384948
PAB 0.999202
PEN 3.759609
PGK 3.78625
PHP 57.307502
PKR 277.616959
PLN 4.067412
PYG 7380.814008
QAR 3.640498
RON 4.664899
RSD 109.811985
RUB 94.149546
RWF 1285.490659
SAR 3.751136
SBD 8.475185
SCR 13.514704
SDG 585.999461
SEK 10.946365
SGD 1.361005
SHP 1.26345
SLE 22.847303
SLL 20969.503664
SOS 571.501412
SRD 34.7755
STD 20697.981008
SVC 8.725851
SYP 2512.53037
SZL 18.978656
THB 36.795966
TJS 10.916399
TMT 3.505
TND 3.162999
TOP 2.39395
TRY 32.484495
TTD 6.771463
TWD 32.353016
TZS 2577.917756
UAH 39.433649
UGX 3812.144578
UYU 38.872792
UZS 12680.000115
VEF 3622552.534434
VES 36.243564
VND 25405
VUV 118.722038
WST 2.803608
XAF 614.865536
XAG 0.035449
XAU 0.000422
XCD 2.70255
XDR 0.757759
XOF 614.865536
XPF 111.575035
YER 250.35005
ZAR 19.01195
ZMK 9001.19651
ZMW 25.206689
ZWL 321.999592
  • SLAC

    0.0050

    10.305

    +0.05%

  • GSK

    -0.3500

    39.6

    -0.88%

  • RBGPF

    1.1780

    52

    +2.27%

  • SCS

    -0.0200

    11.82

    -0.17%

  • CMSC

    0.0200

    23.92

    +0.08%

  • NGG

    1.0700

    64.59

    +1.66%

  • BTI

    0.2100

    28.59

    +0.73%

  • CMSD

    0.0500

    24.27

    +0.21%

  • RIO

    1.0900

    66.78

    +1.63%

  • RELX

    0.1700

    41.45

    +0.41%

  • AZN

    0.2650

    68.53

    +0.39%

  • BCC

    -1.1100

    137.8

    -0.81%

  • RYCEF

    0.0750

    5.015

    +1.5%

  • JRI

    0.1200

    10.98

    +1.09%

  • BCE

    0.0200

    32.24

    +0.06%

  • BP

    -0.2600

    38.37

    -0.68%

  • VOD

    0.0900

    8.28

    +1.09%

Truckers and gallows humour: Ragtag army in battle for Kherson
Truckers and gallows humour: Ragtag army in battle for Kherson / Photo: © AFP

Truckers and gallows humour: Ragtag army in battle for Kherson

The two old friends worked as truck drivers before picking up assault rifles. Their commander was an office manager.

Text size:

None of them expected to be sitting in a trench near an exposed road leading to Russian-occupied Kherson -- the new target of Ukraine's month-long counteroffensive.

All three would hate to admit that the next phase of a war posing the gravest threat to global security in generations depended on the fighting spirits of men like themselves.

And each one would dearly love to go home.

"The conditions here are not great," truck driver-turned-grunt soldier who goes by "Uncle" said after ending up on the front lines of the battle for Kherson.

"We go up this road under fire and come back down this road under fire," the 51-year-old grumbled with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

The wilted sunflower fields around him offered nowhere to hide from the Russian bombs and missiles that the men were expecting to start falling any minute.

They had just finished firing their own artillery guns and were bracing for the almost inevitable response.

His younger friend Znakhar glanced down at his dirty boots and resorted to the gallows humour befitting such situations.

"At least we have bigger trenches here. The ones we dig out there are individual-size holes in the ground," he said with a nod toward the battles raging a few fields closer to Kherson.

"We call them our personal graves."

- Exposed -

A 25-mile (40-kilometre) road running from government-held Mykolaiv to Russian-occupied Kherson will form the backbone of Ukraine's push to regain access to the Sea of Azov and cut Russia's land link with Crimea.

The Ukrainians were advancing from two directions toward the only regional capital the Russians have been able to seize in the entire war.

The substantially longer route runs down from the steel-producing city of Kryvyi Rig and passes a web of villages -- most still under Russian control.

The shortcut takes the M14 highway directly into Kherson.

The campaign was being spearheaded by elite units and supported by a ragtag army of volunteers who shuttle up and down the two-lane road with almost no protection from Russian drones and warplanes.

Many curse and grumble along the way.

- Pride -

The truckers' commander is a slight and scholarly-looking man who worked in an office and had no fighting experience prior to Russia's invasion.

His eyes turn moist with emotion recalling the outpouring of support his unit gets from the few Ukrainians who have still not fled the surrounding devastation.

"They give us fruit, vegetables -- it's not like we even need all this stuff," commander Mykhailo said with a shy smile.

"It's nice. It's nice to think that your neighbours, friends, their children, that they are all behind you," the 41-year-old said.

"Everyone wants to help anyway they can."

But his face turns stoney when he starts listing all the weapons Ukraine still needs to finally push out the Russians.

"It is very hard to fight tanks with automatic rifles," he said.

- Underdogs -

Mykhailo ran out of fingers counting the weapons his units need to fight without exposing themselves to return fire -- a frustration that has lingered since the first days of war.

Washington's decision in late May to start supplying long-range missiles changed the counters of the war and allowed the Ukrainians to launch their counter-offensive across the north.

But the retreating Russians have poured most of their remaining strength into making sure they hold onto Kherson.

A loss there would leave Russian President Vladimir Putin with little more than the blood-soaked ruins of Mariupol and the eastern lands his proxy forces seized in 2014.

Senior commander Andre -- a veteran of the simmering conflict Ukraine endured prior to Putin's all-out invasion -- seemed to relish his troops' underdog status.

He strode down a field littered with the charred remains of a Russian battalion that tried to capture Mykolaiv in the first 10 days of war.

It reached its edge before being wiped out by Ukrainian volunteers who fired at the Russians from surrounding rooftops.

"They still follow their Soviet military training," the 50-year-old soldier said.

"Actually, their textbooks must date back World War I," he scoffed. "There is no other way of understanding how they fight."

J.Ayala--TFWP