Ghost commander: ‘Impulse to liberate territory is not extinguished’ on Donbass front line

Interview: “One good reply, and the AFU goes quiet” —
Ghost commander speaks about positional battles in the LPR

By Yuri Kotenok, Federal News Agency (FAN)

October 10: The commander of the 14th Separate Motorized Rifle Battalion “Ghost” of the People’s Militia of the Lugansk People’s Republic, Alexey Markov, met with Yuri Kotenok of the Federal News Agency, arriving straight from the front line. In a nighttime conversation, the legendary commander with the callsign “Dobry” (“Good”) spoke about what is actually happening on the front line in the LPR, how the enemy approaches the positions of the defenders of Donbass and how they meet the assault groups of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).

Commander Alexey Markov (Dobry) and friend.
Not a day without machine-gun fire …

Alexey Gennadievich, what is really happening at the front line? How do you characterize the situation in your battalion’s area of ​​responsibility?

Honestly, we do not see any difference between truce and “non-truce.” This year there has already been an “Easter truce,” then a “school truce.” In reality, it translates into something that is literally a few days being a little quieter. Artillery cannon do not work, mortars are a little less frequent, small and group weapons are used instead. But there is not a single day of complete silence for us.

You occupy one of the key defense sectors of the LPR in the Kirovsk region. Why is it attractive to the enemy?

We are standing in the area of ​​the famous Bakhmutka-Zhelobok highway. Indeed, this is one of the hot spots in the LPR. The fact is that this region would be beneficial for the Ukrainian side as a springboard for an offensive, and as such a position it is very convenient to hold.

That’s why they are constantly trying to get us out of here. The positions are less advantageous for us, but we are holding it not because we need it, but because it is very necessary for them. The task is to not surrender anything to the enemy.

In fact, battles are fought every day without exception. We hear and read about truces, but we have never seen them.

AFU gobbled up the “gray zone”

How far away is the enemy?

On average, about 400 meters, but there are positions where the distance between the trenches is only 70 meters. There are positions where the enemy is 170 meters away. Different places, different distances.

Does the so-called “gray zone” still exist?

There’s almost none left. If in 2016 there was 1.5 – 2 kilometers between our trenches, now there is no gray zone: it’s been mostly “gobbled up” from that side. We’re sitting nose to nose.

What weapons and equipment come to the fore in such a confrontation?

The most popular is the AGS-17, a little less – the LNG-9. And from the Ukrainian side 82-mm and 120-mm mortars are very widely used. They, to our regret, have no shortage of ammunition.

What are clashes like on a stable front line?

As a rule, shooting battles are rare: both sides are buried deeply enough. Therefore, they try to throw things at each other from above, on the head. But the Ukrainian side has never adhered to the truce, so we get things flying in regularly and in large quantities.

Now, the statistics work like this: if 200 mines arrive, then the 201st will injure someone. And if a hundred of them arrive every day, then you need to be prepared for periodic losses.

A deficit of good forest at the front

Do you respond?

Yes. But we rarely have the opportunity to give them a full shot in the teeth. When it appears, we immediately notice the effect: one good “reply,” and for a day or two the Ukrainian side becomes quiet, there is sluggish, sporadic gunfire from small arms, but they don’t use heavy weaponry. And then everything goes back to square one, and so on in a spiral … until the next time.

This is common for positional warfare. Of course, it’s not as intense as in World War I, but, nevertheless, there are losses on both sides. 

How does the nature of the fighting affect the condition of the Ghost Battalion fighters?

– Such actions are exhausting. But the most interesting thing is that people are eager to move forward. The impulse to liberate their territory is not extinguished. After all, there are many people in our ranks from the other side of the front line, including from the Ukrainian-occupied areas of Donbass. They dream of returning to their homes. Therefore, such positional warfare gives them hope of reaching their own home. They prefer the heavy, albeit bloody, offensive, to be closer to their native places.

Instead, both you and the AFU every month go deeper into the earth?

According to the trophy videos that we receive in different ways from the other side (mostly they are removed from corpses), in terms of fortification, everything is fine with them. That is, if they are in trenches, then it’s in full growth with ceilings, slits. If it’s a dugout, then necessarily in three layers, sheathed from the inside.

In this sense, we can only envy them, because we have a certain problem with building materials — our side is almost leafless. It is either shrubs from which you cannot cut logs, or forests that are under state protection, and there is no poaching either. To get good wood or boards is very difficult.

And on the other side — this is clearly seen during the drone overflights, and they also love to shoot themselves on their phones, whatever they do and how they do it — in this respect, everything is sheathed and blocked. There they can sit out any shelling. Well, they have a lucky break.

Attack by Ukrainian “Donbass” assault group

The enemy staged a number of provocations on your front line this year. What did you do? What are the tactics of the AFU?

In fact, their tactics depend on the specific unit. Until April, the 58th brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine was located opposite us. It includes the former “Donbass” battalion [fascist volunteer unit], which was transformed into one of its companies, in fact, for shock and assault. They periodically attempted to storm our positions.

How did the enemy act?

A small group of people gather, drag along machine guns, some armament, and try to bite us with raids in several places.

Fortunately for us, luck was on our side. And each such attempt to assault our positions always ended the same way: they leave behind corpses and roll back. Then we pull out these bodies. This is followed by one or two days of unofficial truce — until the moment when we transfer the bodies to the other side. After that, everything starts anew.

Has anything changed since the departure of the 58th brigade?

After the 58th brigade, the 53rd came. Their tactics are different. Part of this brigade is the 24th Aidar Assault Battalion. They began, systematically, step by step, to “eat away” the “gray zone” until they are resting on our positions.

These actions are literally visible on the map: here they have moved forward, dug in. Advanced — dug. Rested against us. Moved their efforts to the next section. They advanced there, rested on us, went to the next and so on.

What does this give to the AFU?

Due to this, they have reduced the “gray zone” that was between our positions. And now the shelling is carried out mainly by small arms and group weapons [mobile machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missile systems: group weapons designed to combine firepower with instantaneous use. – FAN].

The situation has deteriorated somewhat. If earlier the main fear was mortar and artillery shelling, now it is extremely inadvisable to stick out your head on either side.

A big “snack” ahead

What helps to counteract the enemy’s sniper fire?

We solve this problem due to the fact that we are actively engaged in fortification, we are building advanced defensive positions. Plus, thanks to the help of, say, not-indifferent people, our battle formations are saturated with trench periscopes and means of observation, including stationary ones. That is, we have the opportunity to observe and adjust fire without sticking our heads out. Unfortunately, not everyone has this situation.

How do you generally assess the situation on the contact line?

The tension has risen compared with what it was a year ago. And it continues to grow. Sooner or later there will be a big “snack” [clash] with the use of all available means and weapons. It’s only a matter of time.

During one of the breakthrough attempts, the enemy came close to your positions, but was repulsed. Tell us the details …

It was on November 23 last year, when an assault group from the “Donbass” company of the 58th brigade attacked in the vicinity of the highway to Bakhmutka. In fact, we had an observation point there, where ordinary soldiers were on duty. Prior to this, for several weeks this outpost was subjected to shelling at close range — they used Bumblebees, Flies, and small arms. The guys got used to this group acting against them according to the same scheme: shoot, hold a fight, and then calm down. But on November 23, they made an attempt to take over our positions.

9—0 in favor of “Ghost”

What made it possible to understand the enemy’s plan?

One of them was wearing a “GoPro” helmet [GoPro action camera. – FAN]. As a result, it came to us along with the body of the dead wearer. There, on the recording, everything was clearly visible: how the group was formed, how the cover was set, how they moved to their original positions and, in fact, began the assault.

I am one hundred percent atheist, but it’s hard to keep from thinking that someone is watching out for our guys from above. With such a balance of power, actually one to five, as a rule, such operations end in success for the attacking side.

I don’t want to say that a miracle happened, but our trained fighters did not lose their presence of mind and at close range, almost point blank, they destroyed the assault group. Then the Ukrops left four corpses right in front of our positions. Another of their wounded crawled into the hole and spent the day like that, until we pulled him out by the collar.

In total, they reported that nine people were killed. Someone they carried out immediately, someone died later in the hospital. For our part, I will say frankly, I had two bruised guys on the position, and another one was injured after the battle. In principle, we won with a dry score.

This wasn’t the only case …

After a while, a similar attempt at assault was repeated in another place — also on Bakhmutka, and with the same result for the enemy. We pulled out a corpse, confiscated documents and weapons. After some time, the body was handed over to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And for some time, the attempts to storm our positions ceased.

Now we are facing another brigade. They may be smarter or better trained — their tactics are sneakier. But we’ve also been quite successful in fending them off. The forces are not commensurate, but on our side, as they say, there is high moral and motivation.

Where does strength lie?

It turns out that it’s still a question of motivation?

Yes. The most important thing is that our army is not drafted, but voluntary. Every person who comes to the unit knows clearly why he or she took up arms, what they are risking their lives for. This gives them a lot of strength in critical situations.

If a person came to fight for money, then it is not worth it: you have one life, and you can’t buy it with money. A person who came to defend his homeland, his home, his relatives, his family … You can rely on these people.


Translated by Greg Butterfield

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