The Faces of the Front
Katie Livingstone finds fatigue, frustration and steadfast determination in the ranks of Ukrainian troops on the frontline. With photos by Paul Conroy
Kupyansk, Ukraine – The men splayed out on the grass in front of their small base, some leaning against the fence while others lay in the shade underneath nearby plum trees. It was early September, and all the soldiers were too tired to sleep but also too exhausted to sit upright. And they were still on call. They were members of an infantry unit in the 32nd Mechanized Brigade, one of the Ukrainian military’s newest brigades formed earlier this year. Less than a week earlier, the unit said they had completed one of the most successful missions of their new battalion yet – killing hundreds of Russian troops, destroying several pieces of deadly enemy hardware, and advancing Ukrainian positions further than any other battalion had in the north for months.
Although these troops had donned fatigues for less time than many of their fellow soldiers, they already had the same blank stares and concussed movements of many of their more seasoned peers. Made up mostly of inexperienced soldiers, some who volunteered and some who were drafted, the men of the 32nd have been thrown into the middle of a war that has already cost Ukraine dearly in manpower and resources over the last 19 months, and whose end is nowhere in sight.
“I feel nothing… empty,” Serghi said when asked about his infantry unit’s recent success on the battlefield. “It felt like eternity.”
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