19 May 2022
Olena Bilozerska, a sniper and participant in the Russo-Ukrainian war since 2014, talks about the tactics of the Russians, and the women in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, as well as the turning tide of battle at the front
Russia has been waging war against Ukraine for the ninth year in a row, and, with the exception of a few short breaks, sniper Olena Bilozerska has been defending her homeland all this time. The New Voice of Ukraine asked her what was happening at the front and when the turning point would come.
– What tactics is the enemy employing? How different are they from the ones used in February-March?
– In the first days of the war, it was like a safari: enemy vehicles moving in dense columns were destroyed by ambushes on roads passing through forests. The surviving personnel fled into the woods, where they were caught by the territorial defense or simply local hunters.
Now the enemy primarily resorts to “pressing-out by firing” tactics, using a large number of artillery pieces and a large number of shells. The enemy’s task is to “grind” our positions and then try to occupy them. Nothing new – these are classic tactics since the First World War.
– How many women are currently fighting in the Armed Forces? How comfortable do they feel in such extremely difficult and dangerous conditions?
– A lot. Currently, 17% of Ukrainian service members are women. Of course, the vast majority of them do not fight directly on the front line, but there are more and more girls on the front line too. They feel the same way as guys. Women do not have any specific needs that prevent them from fighting. If some women do have such needs, then the war is no place for them.
– What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Russian army?
– Strength: they have mechanisms to influence personnel to achieve their goals at any cost. Soldiers are simply treated as cannon fodder, and they are forced to accept it as their due.
The weakness is the absolute lack of initiative on the part of sergeants and junior officers. As a result, an inability to make autonomous decisions.
– Has the personnel of the Russian army changed qualitatively in comparison with the offensive in February?
– It has not changed. And why would it change? The same mercenaries, diluted by contractors.
– How do you assess the operation to rescue the fighters from Azovstal, and was it possible to save them earlier by military means?
– Like all normal people, I rejoice in every saved life of the Ukrainian soldier.
It was absolutely impossible to save Azovstal’s defenders by military means from the very beginning. Mariupol can be liberated only as part of a general counteroffensive by the Ukrainian army, which requires lengthy training.
The only chance Azovstal’s defenders had for survival was through diplomacy. At the same time, it is the seriously wounded that are the most likely to be spared, because there is a worldwide practice of exchanging wounded soldiers who will not be able to return to battle.
– What, in your opinion, does the front line lack today, and how important a factor for the war is the signing of the lend-lease for Ukraine?
– Many things are missing because when almost the whole state became an army at once, the bureaucratic army machine does not keep up with these processes. There are problems with not responding quickly to daily challenges, and the rest stems from this.
Lend-lease is very important, it will give the opportunity to replenish the existing military units with the latest weapons, and to arm the newly created ones. With the “full-fledged” arrival of the lend-lease, we can hope for the deployment of military units that will quickly and completely liberate Ukraine.
– And how significant is the volunteer help for the front?
– No less significant than in 2014. The army has long since ceased to be hungry or barefoot, and the front still stood, stands and will stand on the shoulders of volunteers. It goes beyond supplies – it is about the phenomenon of national mindset. For example, only a few of the Russian “experts” have expensive high-quality equipment that helps to identify the enemy in time and hit it well; in this aspect, they are far inferior to us. And it’s all because they do not have a developed volunteer movement.
– What is your most vivid impression of this war?
– My most vivid impression from the previous eight years has nothing to do with fighting or stories like the one where I was blown out of a burning building or hit in the face with a tracer bullet.
It was April 2014, I had just arrived in the sun-drenched, but tense — unlike in peacetime — Dnipro, got out of the car in a military uniform with a machine gun, and walked down the street towards the hotel. I openly, without hiding from anyone, walked through the center of a big city with a machine gun! It was such a surreal feeling for me at the time! And at that moment came the realization that reality had changed, that I was now at war.
And after the start of the full-scale invasion, the most vivid impression was the dawn of Feb. 24, when my husband woke me up and said, “It’s started.” As we were getting ready, I admit that we seemed ready, but my hands were still shaking from the stress.
Because it is one thing to fight in the Donbas, having a strong rear in Kyiv, and quite another – not to have a rear at all and realize that your destiny is somewhere here, not far from your home, to stand to the end, because I cannot be captured, you know.
On the first day, I recruited new fighters and perused Telegram channels every free second, and my partner Nadia, who had two children left at home, told me: “Come on, leave it! Don’t read the bad news.” And then, in a couple of days, there was such relief and such pride for the state and the people that there was nothing to be scared of at all.
– What are your personal conclusions about the 2.5 months of the all-out war in Ukraine?
– The same as everyone else. That the (Russians) turned out to be easier to defeat than we all expected.
– How do you see the prospects of the Russo-Ukrainian war? When to expect the turning point and when do you think this war will end?
– The turning point will come when new units are formed and deployed, armed with the help of our Western allies. In particular, when we get a significant amount of modern aviation.
No one knows when the war will end. In my opinion, it will last at least another year. And it will end, of course, with our victory – the restoration of control over Ukrainian territories within internationally recognized borders, i.e. with Donbas and Crimea.