IN PICTURES | Battered and exhausted, the soldiers of the 81st Brigade return from the Eastern Front

A kamaz rushes in at full speed, back to the front line, laden with a compact pile of pinched-faced, exhausted soldiers. These men from the 81st Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces have just received orders to withdraw from the Eastern Front where Russian troops are advancing.

• Also read: LIVE | 67th day of war in Ukraine

The section marched twelve kilometers on Saturday, camouflaged in the forest, under artillery fire, to their departure point in Sviatoguirsk.




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For a month, the “81st” – motto: “always first” – participated in the counteroffensive, trying to slow down the Russian advance on this front of the Ukrainian Donbass, where the troops are nibbling Moscow’s soil, village after city, village.

“Everyone understands that we have to hold the line here, we can’t let the enemy get any closer, we’re trying to hold on with all our might,” her lieutenant, Yevguen Samoilov, told AFP, nervous as the unit exposed under bombardment, can be attacked by Russian fire at any time.




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“As you can hear, the enemy is very, very close,” the lieutenant said, pointing skyward. The line of Russian tanks is on the other side of the hill, about 7 kilometers away.

The 21-year-old officer at the Odessa Military Academy leads 130 conscripts, many of whom are twice his age.

“It’s my first war, I should get my diploma in 4 months, but they sent me here,” the young officer almost apologizes.




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Samoilov, nicknamed “Samson”, the short black beard and the face of an adolescent, does not leave his red notebook. There he notes all movements, but also all requests and remarks of his men, to whom he always addresses in a soft voice.

The section of paratroopers was mobilized from Moscow on February 23, the day before the outbreak of war.

At the beginning of the war, she spent more than a month defending Izium, which fell on April 1, before disembarking to join the fighting for the village of Oleksandrivka.

“Very hard fights,” said Lieutenant Samoilov silently.




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In this brigade, as in the others, the number of casualties is not counted. The view becomes cloudy, sometimes foggy, and we move on to the next question.

Dead silence reigns in the military truck during the hour-long drive to the Secret Annex, where they are to park for their week-long rest period.




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As the convoy crosses the deserted main street as a truck loaded with ammunition and long-range missiles rushes forward, the soldiers reflexively make the V for victory with their fingers before silently locking their feet or the horizon again.




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Once at the base, it’s time to unload your weapon, take out your package and slip straight into one of the rooms in the building, a ruin without electricity where a medical examination awaits you on your return from the mission.




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For these operational survivors of the battle, “there are small wounds on the forehead, fractures for those buried under rubble during a bombardment, and those associated with shrapnel (shrapnel),” admits Vadym Kyrylov, 25, the deployed brigade doctor. towards AFP to meet you.

“But we’re mostly seeing somatic problems like high blood pressure and worsening chronic diseases,” he adds.

Men also suffer massively from “trench foot” syndrome, those minor injuries associated with prolonged exposure to moisture, unsanitary conditions and cold.

“They couldn’t dry their shoes for a month (…), so there are a lot of foot injuries, mainly fungi and infections,” explains the doctor.




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After seeing the doctor, everyone has the same reflex: isolate yourself and reconnect your phone to call a woman, child or relative.




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On the front, the use of the phone, especially any application that requires geolocation, is prohibited.

Four soldiers pull up rusting metal bed frames, sweeping the bottom of dust piles to create the appearance of a room amid labels and their gear.




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“It’s time for the guys to rest, heal physical, moral and psychological wounds, gather strength before returning to the fight,” explains Samson.

“They will sleep warm, eat normal food and try to more or less come back to life.”

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