Picture: Bodies said to be Russian soldiers lie scattered along tree line in Stepove village, near Avdiivka, Ukraine. Image is a screen grab from a video the BUAR done unit of the 110th Mechanized Brigade took on Wednesday, December 6, 2023.
By Jeff Farrell
Russia is deploying its soldiers like “meat” to make small gains in its push to capture the town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine but its massive losses could cost it the war, according to a unit commander.
Ryan O’Leary, who heads the Chosen Company attached to the 59th brigade, said that waves and waves of small groups of Moscow’s infantry constantly try to break through Ukrainian positions on the frontline in the ruins of the urban area — but few get through.
“What they'll do is they'll send like six men or 12 men forward. We'll hit them with artillery mortars. Maybe one or two guys live, those two guys will find cover, they'll wait. They'll send the next six to 12 guys, every 10 minutes, every 15, every 20 minutes, they'll just send another squad forward.
“And basically, they just keep building up numbers at that forward position. And when they have enough guys there, then they'll send that one forward, then they'll send another team behind them — it's like an inchworm.
“They're just meat. Like the amount of dead Russians laying out in these areas now, it's not sustainable,” O’Leary told this journalist over the secure telephone app Signal from his HQ base in Avdiivka. “So the Russians are gonna gain ground but the cost of it is extremely high.”
Some 13,000 of Moscow’s troops have been slaughtered in the Kremlin’s fresh push for Avdiivka, according to US figures in December. And Ukrainian military drone video footage shows hundreds of slain Russians scattered across wide areas in and around the eastern town.
The Kremlin first launched a massive frontal assault in early October with dozens of military vehicles including tanks at the outset of its push for Avdiivka with their hardware getting destroyed, according to videos Ukrainian fighters have posted online.
Picture: Ryan O'Leary, commander of the Chosen Company unit attached to the 59th brigade which is currently fighting to hold off a Russian push in Avdiivka
Moscow’s commanders later dispatched armoured columns that were also blitzed, Kyiv’s troops said.
And now in a third and desperate bid, Russia is ordering small groups of infantry soldiers to penetrate Ukrainian positions.
It comes as Ukraine’s six month counteroffensive has not achieved the successes Kyiv hoped for having gained limited ground.
Moscow has now gone on the offensive to seize further territory in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin has ramped up its drive in areas including near Kupiansk in Kharkiv Oblast, Marinka and near Bakhmut, according to reports and think tanks monitoring sources including Russian military bloggers.
But for now the battle for Avdiivka remains the hotspot, with a Moscow seizure a blow to Ukraine’s morale and a boost for Russian president Vladimir Putin ahead of elections as he runs for a fifth term in March.
The Kremlin’s current push for Avdiivka could cost it the war, however, as its massive losses of men would damage its manpower to continue fighting in the long term, according to O’Leary.
O’Leary, 37, from Iowa, who commands some 100 foreign soldiers in the Chosen Company, told how the unit has been fighting in the eastern town from the outset of Russia’s renewed push in early October.
The American admitted that Moscow’s “meat” tactic to send in wave after wave of infantry was helping it claw inches and metres of Ukraine’s territory — but at a price that will wear down its troop numbers and reach a “tipping point” that will give Ukraine the upper hand.
"The [Russian] losses are ridiculous, eventually there's gonna be a tipping point if they keep this up. I hope they do, because the more of them dead the better."
“The losses are ridiculous. When the offensive first kicked off, we blew up six BMPs [Soviet amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicles] full of Russians in one day. So you're looking at what 10 guys in each vehicle, roughly,” O’Leary said.
“The losses that they're getting hit with here, it's not a sustainable rate, because eventually it'll eat up into your manpower, eventually there's gonna be a tipping point if they keep this up. And I mean, I hope they do on one hand, because the more of them dead the better.”
Russia’s death toll since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022 has reached 315,000, according to US figures. It includes the some 20,000 troops killed in the early months of the war.
That number of dead across a wide area of Ukraine in the first stages of Moscow's invasion compares to the 13,000 slain in the town of Avdiivka since early October, according to the US figures revealed earlier in December.
Russia has up to 40,000 troops massed around Avdiivka and equipment that includes tanks, 152mm howitzers and Soviet-era MT-LB armoured fighting vehicles, analysts say.
That number of men and firepower hasn’t given Moscow the upperhand to date to capture the eastern town. And O’Leary said that a Kremlin plan to try to encircle Ukrainian troops would likely fail.
“Russia is going around or trying to go around Avdiivka. Those are mainly open killing fields. And those villages, you can't just move 12 guys in a house and then have them sit there to get ready to move again without getting killed.”
And the Chosen Company commander criticised the quality of the Russian infantry pushing to take Avdiivka that now lies in rubble, meaning Russian losses will likely continue to soar.
“Garbage, they're just meat. Like, honestly, they're not trained well. The guys we're killing now, we got some POWs at the start of this offensive, and one guy had seven days of training. Like, I mean, how much soldiering can you learn in seven days?”
A loss for Ukraine in Avdiivka would land a hammer blow to Kyiv’s morale in light of its counteroffensive this year in which it clawed back only limited territory from Russia.
It comes as a $61bn US military aid package to Ukraine has stalled and Hungary blocked €50bn ($55bn) in EU funds earmarked for the wartorn nation.
'If I go outside and say "hey, you guys, let's go f**king kill some Russians", they're all going to be good for it.'
Chosen Company unit commander O’Leary, however, said that despite that help from its allies now looks uncertain, the troops in his unit fighting in Avdiivka have not suffered a blow to morale.
“When they see consistently that the West is slow walking aid, whether it's, you know, artillery shells or medical assistance, or anything, obviously, it's a disappointment. I would say they're pissed off when the Western governments who said 'hey, we got your back’, but then having the back of the Ukrainian people is only when it's politically convenient.
“I wouldn't say the morale is low, the morale is good," he added. "Like, if I go outside and say 'hey, you guys, let's go f**king kill some Russians', they're all going to be good for it.”