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Ukraine's frontline troops plead: 'We need more weapons'

Picture: Evgeny, 23, fires at Russian troops on the frontline in Kupiansk, Kharkiv

- Kyiv's army drove occupier out of eastern Kupiansk city in valiant push in May 2022

- Now a local brigade says Moscow's army is making fresh gains

- Calls for West to send fighter jets and more tanks and ammunition

- The area in the north eastern state of Kharkiv is hit constantly in artillery strikes

- Civilian death toll rises daily as innocent locals are brutally killed

Jeff Farrell

in Kupiansk

June 5, 2023

Evgeny peers down the barrel of a machine gun and says “f**k the Russians” before he fires at Moscow’s troops as Kyiv gears up to repel the invader from Ukraine.

The 23-year-old rattles off round after round of 12.7mm thick armour-piercing bullets that explode when they hit their target.

The Kord gun’s muzzle flashes and the sound is deafening as he blasts at the Kremlin’s men on their frontline just 1km to the east.

It comes amid fierce fighting in the outskirts of Kupiansk, a city in the north eastern state of Kharkiv which borders the Russian region of Belgorod.

In villages dotted along the landscape, plumes of smoke rise into a blue sky after Moscow’s shells hit homes where locals still live.

The civilian death toll rises almost daily as the some 5,000 remaining residents in Kupiansk who refuse to flee the war are brutally killed.

Picture: Demolished bridge in Kupiansk in the north eastern state of Kharkiv

The bloody fighting this week played out as Kyiv’s defiant troops gear up to drive out the invader in a much trumpeted counter-offensive.

But here in Kupiansk, Russia is making slow gains as Ukrainian fighters holding the line plead for the West to send more weapons – and faster.

We are standing in a room on the third floor in a concrete carcass of a building on rural land that is a stretch of Kyiv’s zero frontline – just 50km from the border with Russia.

Evgeny, a member of the Freikorps volunteer brigade, steps back from the Kord weapon he had blasted at Moscow’s troops and the air stinks of gun powder.

There is little to see of any damage inflicted on the enemy to the untrained eye but hardy shooter Evgeny knows that out there is danger.


“The sniper groups are sitting in the forest and these bullets I fired are cutting the trees and [the branches] falling on them.”

But the tough soldier doesn’t fear the Kremlin’s men firing back. “They don’t want to reveal their positions.”

And even if the Russians do blast out rounds, Evgeny shrugs it off. “I don’t care – f**k the Russians.”

Picture: Freikorps brigade member Alex fights on the frontline in Kupiansk

Evgeny nods at the Kord weapon propped up in between a wall of sandbags.

“A Russian trophy,” he laughs. He said his brigade “borrowed” it in one of its past pushes on the enemy’s frontline.

The Freikorps volunteer brigade is made up of some 100 men, its commander Marak says. They range in age from early 20s to early 40s and in the past were everything from law students to programmers.

Picture: Original hard copy version of this story in the Irish Daily Star

Now they are manning machine guns, launching drone strikes and running offensives in a bid to repel Russia.

One Freikorps soldier, Vlad, stands at the frontline behind a wall of sandbags.

He told how he believes the expected Ukrainian counter-offensive to kick out the Russian invaders is ready to roll.

Picture: Reporter Jeff Farrell at the site of a demolished bridge in Kupiansk, Kharkiv

It comes as the Freikorps unit played a key role in driving enemy forces out of Kharkiv city last May.

But Vlad warns that this time around the bid to kick out the Kremlin’s men will unlikely garner international headlines so quickly.

These days, the enemy is grounded in its positions and Ukraine will first have to prod Moscow’s frontline for weak points before any big battle.

“It will happen [the counter offensive], but not the way the West expects it,” Vlad said.

Vlad is from a now Russian occupied area. He fears his mother there will be tortured to give information.

We later hop into an SUV, with Vlad at the wheel as he races along a stretch of a dirt track road at a frightening speed.

Picture: A Ukrainian army recruitment poster in Kupiansk; plus phone number to inform of Russian colloborators in the area just 50kms from the border with Russia

“We are a target for anti-tank rockets,” Vlad says.

He eases off the revs as we drive into the heart of Kupiansk.

Further into town, we drive past derelict houses with caved in roofs, smashed walls and window frames that are blackened.

An air raid siren wails yet the streets are already deserted now in the evening. Some 5,000 people remain from a population of 26,000 before the war, soldiers say.

Further on, we pull up by a five storey apartment block and peer in at a crater about 10m wide.

Picture: Reporter Jeff Farrell (r) talks to Freikorps brigade member Evgeny on the frontline in Kupiansk, Kharkiv

Locals explained that Russia hit here with a The S-300 missile, in January. It barely missed the flats, a few metres away.

Babushka Leida sits on a bench outside the building.

She explained that she and another elderly woman are the only two residents in the apartment block.

“Everybody left here. I am in my 80s — I can die here the same as anywhere else,” she says.

We are now back in the SUV and bounce along muddy potholes by a half demolished bridge. About 30m below, the muddy Oskil River flows.

A kilometre or so east, a plume of smoke rises in a village after another Russian shell strike.

Kupiansk was in the hands of the Russian invaders for months before Ukrainians troops liberated the area in September. The push drove Moscow’s army east towards Belgorod.


Now Moscow is driving back and aims to again seize the city, the Freikorps brigade says.

“It’s very useful for them — they need to go through this river,” Freikorps bridage boss Bogdan Voizekhovskiy said.

“Russia can’t accept the idea of an independent Ukraine. They want it as part of Russia or to destroy it.”

Bogdan is confident of a victory for Ukraine, but fighters in his Freikorp brigade admit that for now Russia is making gains here in Kupiansk.

“Let’s say we could have had more success than we do now,” says another Vlad (40).

He is at the coalface of the battle front operating a howitzer — a canon gun on wheels.

Picture: Freikorps brigade member Evgeny stands at the frontline in Kupiansk

We are standing in the porch outside the Freikorps unit’s safehouse by fields where the sound of crickets chirping is interrupted by distant explosions.

Vlad sits down on a low wall and says that key for his brigade and Ukraine’s military in general to win the war is to get its hands on western weapons — and faster.

“We need fighter jets, more ammo, shells, tanks,” Vlad says.

“Because in Kupiansk they [Russians] are pushing hard.

“And sometimes a lack of ammo, rockets or bombs or tanks matters.”

Picture: Freikorps brigade members Evgeny (l) and Andriy (r) rest in this basement area near their frontline positions

In an outhouse in a derelict building to the rear, we descend to a damp basement where the soldiers try to wind down in between battles.

One soldier, Andriy, 43, says that the brigade is used to the frightening sounds.

The men have Elon Musk’s Starlink internet service for secure calls to family.

“My mother worries about me here but I talk to her a lot,” Evgeny says.

Evgeny and Andriy are sure that Ukraine will repel Russia and together they chant: “Slava Ukraini” — glory to Ukraine.

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