Bakhmut Diary: Death And Life From Inside Ukraine's 243rd Battalion
A 39-year-old fighter codenamed "Alaska," a member of the Ukrainian Battalion 243, has decided to share his story in the battles of Bakhmut and other key frontline positions in eastern Ukraine over the past six months.
Last fall, Ukraine’s 243rd Battalion fought in the early days of the battle for Bakhmut, which has become a decisive clash that continues to claim huge numbers of lives every day.
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The battalion held back the Russian advance near the towns of Klishchiivka and Opytny, under constant artillery fire. This is the story of how four of its fighters — Alaska, Dill, Wind and Braid — were completely surrounded in a closed hangar near Opytny. Cut off from their squad and under heavy artillery fire, they stood firm, even when it looked like all hope was lost.
The 39-year-old fighter codenamed "Alaska," whose real name is Viktor Bordyuzha, tells the story in his own words:
For two weeks, our company held multiple positions in the Klishchiivka area. Sometimes we gained ground, sometimes we lost it, but eventually, we stuck to our original position and held it. Then we were transferred to nearby Opytny. The conditions were difficult, and the fighting exhausting.
For two days we were pounded with mortar fire, and sometimes artillery and rifle fire between us and the Russians. A week later, it got worse. There was constant rain and mud. Our observation points were exposed, and there were times when we lay on our stomachs for days on end, constantly under fire. Russian infantry attacked from two or three sides. We held them back when they shot at us with rifles. But when grenades were thrown, things got trickier.
On Nov. 23, we changed positions. There were six of us. We had two observation points, with about 50 meters between them. One had two people, the other just one, plus another three in the hangar behind them. We worked in shifts. Three watched, three rested. To the right of us was the road to Bakhmut.
They got two of our boys: Zenit and Ison. We lost them that day.
The Russians made their way forward and came at us from the side. While we were fighting this group, another group attacked us head-on. Our observation points had a limited view, and when the Russians approached us from different angles, we couldn’t always see them. We shot some of them. But they got two of our boys: Zenit and Ison. We lost them that day.
They continued to hit us with heavy fire. We laid down and retreated back to the hangar. Fire continued. Wind, who was at the observation post, fell silent. But he survived and crawled to the hanger. He was able to get to the door on his own, although he was seriously injured. We dragged him in.
"Surrender, or we'll kill you."
The Russians punched a hole in the hangar and tried to break in through it. We fought back but they fired at us with RPGs. We threw grenades — the Russians couldn’t work out where they were coming from, and they didn’t know exactly where in the hangar we were hiding.
Soon, though, they surrounded the entire hanger. They shouted at us every now and then: "Surrender, or we'll kill you."
Our communications were jammed. We could hear other Ukrainians on the radio, but they could not hear us. Our commanders probably thought we were either in a trench or dead.
At midnight, the place was teeming with Russians. They walked around relaxed, with flashlights. We weren’t sure if we would ever get out of there. Thirty Russians sat under a nearby cherry tree. We didn't know how far away the Ukrainians were.
We turned our radios off and remained silent, hoping the Russians would think that we were no longer there. At night, we tried again to contact our backup. We were told that scouts had approached and were going to cover us, and that we should get out as soon as possible. We tried, but a Russian tank fired at us, demolishing part of the wall; then practically the entire space inside the hangar was shot through with rifle fire.
We huddled in one corner as columns collapsed, and bounced on the concrete floor as explosions went off around us. Helmets tore loose and flew off our heads. Dust enveloped us. We turned off the radio again. It was at this moment that the four of us said goodbye to each other.
Two Ukrainian combat soldiers from the 243rd Battalion
I handed grenades to the guys, and told them to shove them under their bulletproof vests in case the worst were to happen. Better to die than be captured. At three in the morning, we stood in the hangar and watched. Seeing little traffic or commotion, we decided to go out. It was risky, but if we died, it was better to die in battle — that way, we’d take some invaders with us. Still, we had hope that we would get out.
Dill, Wind, Braid and I slipped into a shallow hole, keeping a careful eye on our surroundings. The Russians were busy repairing something, and we could hear banging. A platoon passed us. We heard that the driver’s name was Sedoy, and then something about Luhansk.
We climbed out of a window. We were surprised that they had left us like that without supervision, despite knowing that we were still there. We decided that if we did encounter a Russian officer, we would just keep walking, lowering our weapons. If he asked any questions, we would try to bluff, saying that we were following Sedoy.
He turned around and we all started running. They fired at us.
Then it happened — we came across an officer. I walked by. “Password?” he asked. Dill was about to respond as planned, but the officer asked for the password again. And again. Then he started to shout. Dill shouted at us: "Brothers, run for it!" He turned around and we all started running.
They fired at us. Wind took multiple bullets. He had a wound above the heart, and in both legs. A bullet entered the back of his head and got lodged in his jaw.
Dill was the first to run; I followed him, then Braid with the wounded Wind tied to his back, leaving his hands free to shoot, came after us.
Dill and I ran across the road and lay down, ready to cover Braid and Wind, but they never came.
A Ukrainian soldier cooks in an improvised kitchen in a forest near the Donbas frontlines, in Donetsk, Ukraine.
Eventually, we decided to move on and crossed two fields to the west.
We turned on the radio, and called our superiors. A stranger answered. A Russian on a captured walkie-talkie? Who knows. Finally, the company commander, Garazh, radioed us and asked where we were. He told us to stay there. We rested, smoked and listened to see if anyone was following us. We thought about Wind and Braid. Did they get out, or were they dead?
Wind and Braid did survive. They passed to the north, along the road to Bakhmut. Braid had to leave Wind behind, but our backup returned for him later. The evacuation team flew him for treatment. He’s still healing from his wounds.
Dill and I got out too. They came and collected us. After that, the Russians took Opytny.
It is difficult to understand how we survived such a hopeless situation. This is just one example of the horrors of war. For some, this is a Hollywood movie, but for us, this has been our reality for a whole year — with no sign that it will let up any time soon.
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