A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 22, 2023

Ukrainians' Show "Significantly Impressive Proficiency" Clearing Russian Trenches

NATO military experts reviewing video of Ukrainian special forces clearing Russian trenches have declared themselves 'significantly impressed' with the Ukrainians proficiency. 

This reaffirms previous NATO impressions of Ukrainian forces' capabilities and bodes well as the counteroffensive advances. JL 

Jake Epstein reports in Business Insider:

Russia spent months building up defensive positions within Ukrainian territory it controls. Even with weapons like tanks, drones, and artillery, Ukraine will rely on its infantry to take the risks of assaulting and clearing trenches. Footage published by Ukraine's special operations forces this week shows their troops storming a Russian trench and engaging in close-quarters fighting. "The Ukrainians' level of proficiency, they do everything right," said the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies at West Point who reviewed the video and was 'significantly impressed." Clearing trenches is something the Ukrainian military is rehearsing so soldiers are capable of doing it without thinking twice about it.

Harrowing footage published by Ukraine's special operations forces this week shows their troops storming a Russian trench and engaging in deadly close-quarters fighting with Moscow's soldiers. 

The assault appears to have caught the Russians by surprise and left several dead as the Ukrainians cleared their way through the dirt maze. In stark contrast to the reactions by the Russian soldiers, Kyiv's forces appear to have executed the mission flawlessly, doing "everything right," a former US Army infantry soldier said.

"What the Ukrainians did is very unique in their level of proficiency," John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at West Point's Modern War Institute, told Insider after watching the video. "They do everything right, which doesn't always happen in war — even if you're really trained."

Ukraine's special operations forces shared the graphic video to several social media channels on Monday. The military said its forces approached the enemy positions from the rear and killed 10 Russian troops.

Sharing the video on Twitter, Spencer wrote: "I know a lot of people have already commented on this video of Ukrainian Special Forces conducting close quarters battle in a Russian trench. I can tell they are highly trained, good weapons handling, use of grenades. Intense. High adrenaline but not chaotic. Bravo Zulu."

It was not immediately clear where this particular mission occurred. Ukraine recently launched a major counteroffensive along the front lines in the country's east and south, which has seen Kyiv commit advanced and heavy Western armor like tanks and infantry fighting vehicles alongside other ground forces.

Russian soldiers 'never figure it out'

The footage, which was captured by a camera worn by an operator, starts off by showing two Ukrainians readying themselves in the trench before they quickly enter and turn a corner while firing several rounds into a dark passageway. The Ukrainian wearing the camera continues to fire toward another corner, at which point a Russian soldier comes running around the bend and runs directly into the line of fire before collapsing. 

Two more Russian soldiers then come running down one of the passageways, and the Ukrainian fires off several more rounds, taking them out of the fight. The crumpled bodies of the Russian soldiers are blurred in the video. Heavy breathing can be heard through the camera's microphone.

Spencer told Insider he was "significantly impressed" with the skill and professionalism displayed by the Ukrainian service member filming. Not only do they use the trench's corners as protection, but they also hold their rifle in a smart way for close-quarters fighting, control their adrenaline, and avoid rushing forward and just spraying bullets. 

A Ukrainian soldier breaches a Russian trench.
A Ukrainian soldier breaches a Russian trench. 
Special Operations Forces of Ukraine/Screengrab via Twitter

The Russian forces, meanwhile, are caught off guard. While the Ukrainians hold covered and concealed positions, Moscow's troops "never figure it out and just keep running face-forward into the Ukrainian version of Navy SEALs sitting in their trenches," Spencer said.  

Later in the video, it cuts to the Ukrainian hurling a grenade at Russian positions, which is shortly followed by the sound of a quick bang. In a subsequent scene, the soldier tosses a second grenade as spurts of gunfire can be heard in the background. 

With the element of surprise working to the advantage of the Ukrainians, the Russians "never realize where the Ukrainians are," Spencer said. "Those explosions just increase the chaos on the Russian side" as "they're being overwhelmed and attacked." 

Footage then shows a soldier continue deeper into the trenches, before eventually taking cover in a little bunker as gunfire echos in the background. Shortly after, a Russian soldier can be seen creeping slowly through the passageway before the hidden Ukrainian opens fire from the bunker. The soldier then steps over the fallen Russian and scurries down through the trenches.

'This won't be the last time'

Trench warfare is not a new aspect of Russia's war in Ukraine and has been a brutal feature of the 16-month-long conflict, which has often drawn comparisons to the grueling fighting of World War I. Dramatic videos have previously depicted Ukrainian soldiers storming and fighting in Russian trenches, but the recent video published by Ukrainian special operations forces seemed to invoke a particular sense of shock and intrigue from viewers online. 

War gets intimate, Spencer said, but its rare to see a video that depicts such a level of "intense closeness" and "extreme risk."

The difference between life and death is measured in seconds, he said, adding that this mission ultimately came down to which soldiers were better trained, whereas other engagements might be a result of positioning or weapons at hand. 

Inside a Russian trench.
Inside a Russian trench. 
Special Operations Forces of Ukraine/Screengrab via Twitter

This kind of fighting is expected to continue. In preparation for Ukraine's much-anticipated counteroffensive, Russia spent the spring months building up defensive positions near the front lines and deep within Ukrainian territory that it currently controls. Aside from trenches, these fortifications also include anti-tank ditches, minefields, and "dragon's teeth" — concrete spikes designed to stop heavy armor like tanks or vehicles. 

And even with weapons like tanks, drones, and artillery in Ukraine's arsenal, the country will need to rely on its infantry to take the necessary risks of assaulting and clearing trenches, Spencer said.

"This won't be the last time we see this kind of video, when Russians are left to die in their trenches," he predicted. "When it comes down to it, you still got to send another human into a dark room or dark trench to kill the enemy waiting for you in their position."

Clearing trenches is something that the Ukrainian military is likely rehearsing as a battle drill so that soldiers are capable of doing it without having to think twice about it, Spencer said. Photos and video from recent training seem to indicate that this has been something of a priority. Kyiv's troops will continue to find themselves in similar situations as the special operations forces, but future missions may have varied outcomes.  

"It went really well for the Ukrainians this time, but there is no bloodless war," he said. "We're going to see a lot of casualties on both sides in the next few weeks."


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