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FactualReinforced by the delivery of sophisticated guns, even if they are in limited number, the Ukrainians are trying new tactics, without managing to make the difference against the Russians.
Serhiï Zaïka quietly gets out of his imported 4×4 vehicle. “Shoot to Thrill”, a 50-year-old hit by Australian hard rock band AC/DC, shoots out of the open windows. “AC/DC is music for gunners,” laughs this 41-year-old lieutenant-colonel. Slim and sporty, the officer exudes contagious good humor. His men seem equally relaxed. Divided into two groups of nine soldiers, they busy themselves without hurrying around two American M777 howitzers which have just been towed by two “KrAZ” trucks (for Kremenchouk Avtomobilny Zavod, a special vehicle factory). Under the dry orders of the lieutenant-colonel, the artillerymen position their howitzers 100 meters from each other, at the edge of a wood, so as to better conceal them from the cameras on board the enemy drones.
The scene takes place south of the town of Kriviï Rih, about twenty kilometers from the front. The position is within range of the Russian artillery, but completely calm on this morning of June 22. Southern aromatic herbs trodden by the soldiery perfume the warm air. The sky is perfectly clear. “It would be perfect gunner’s weather if it weren’t for these gusts that deflect our projectiles”, slips a gunner.
Trained Ukrainian gunners prepare for a demonstration for “Le Monde” journalists, in the woods of Kherson Oblast, Ukraine, June 22, 2022. ADRIENNE SURPRENANT / MYOP FOR “LE MONDE” Two barrels are installed in a suitable position for firing. ADRIENNE SURPRENANT / MYOP FOR “THE WORLD”
Both barrels gradually straighten to an angle of approximately 50 degrees. But they are not loaded and do not shoot: it is simply a demonstration. The Ukrainian military is reluctant to reveal their positions to outside observers. Especially since it is valuable foreign heavy military equipment, which the Ukrainian army badly needs. These artillery pieces are also priority targets, which the Russian drones are trying to locate in order to have them destroyed using their long-range artillery.
“We have been waiting for these M777 howitzers for a long time”, says Serhiï Zaïka. “Now that they are in our hands, we take great care of them. They are somewhat capricious old ladies, who require a lot of maintenance. They beat the campaign in Afghanistan! The Americans have not delivered recent equipment to us. In addition, we have still not received the specific oil for maintenance and we are forced to do with the means at hand,” laments the soldier. He received the two pieces two months ago after barely five days of training in Latvia for him and his men. “It was enough,” he says.
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