From The Telegraph


Exclusive: ‘All hell broke loose’ – Ukrainian soldiers on front line reveal how Russian invasion started

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Troops holding the line against pro-Russian separatists at Kramatorsk airbase tell The Telegraph how the attack came with no warning

Russia activated sleeper cells or commando units to carry out attacks on Ukrainian positions deep behind the front lines in the early hours of the morning, soldiers told The Telegraph.

Troops at Kramatorsk airbase told The Telegraph they came under fire from mortars believed to have been fired from inside the Ukrainian-held town moments before Russia’s air campaign began.

The mortars, which landed at around 04:40, were the first rounds in a bombardment that struck the military airfield, a key Ukrainian command post, just before Russian President Vladimir Putin made his speech declaring war in the early hours of the morning.

“It came with no warning at all, no sirens or anything,” said Yevgeny, a private who was guarding the perimeter of the base when the attack began.

“The first mortars hit about 60 or 70 metres inside the wire and then came the aviation and everything else. All hell broke loose.”

“It was all at night time, but with the fire it was bright like daylight.” he said. “Explosions, bullets flying, tracers. We have our air defence systems and they were working.” he said.

“It was my first time under fire, and for the first ten minutes my mind was blank, then things became clear,” he said.

Another soldier in the same bunker described the bombardment as a “salute” or firework display. Intermittent incoming fire was still coming in.

The soldiers said it was followed by massive explosions that the troops believed were missile and air strikes aimed at specific facilities inside the airfield.

The last significant blast before things quietened down mid-morning was “very accurate” and presumed by the soldiers to have been an air-launched bombs dropped by a jet.

They had been ordered to prepare for a possible attack and were already in trenches when it began.

“They were definitely mortars, which means they would have been fired from only a couple of kilometres away. We think it was people in the town who are brainwashed by Russia,” said Yevgeny.

Asked if he fears an assault from the town, he said “we are ready.”

“We think they were missiles because they sounded like it,” he said. “The last one we think was a JDAM because it was very accurate,” he said, using an American acronym for an air-launched bomb. It was not immediately clear if there were casualties.

It is widely believed Russian special forces have been preparing undercover commando teams and groups of potential collaborators to take part in the war.

The Kalinovka ammunition dump in the Vinnitsiya region of central Ukraine exploded on Wednesday morning in what was believed to be a Russian attack.

Kramatorsk airfield is a key command centre for Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation holding the line againt pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The town north of Donetsk was seized by pro-Russian forces led by a retired Russian FSB officer called Igor “Strelkov Girkin” at the beginning of the war here in 2014.

It was besieged and regularly bombarded from the town, until relieved by Ukrainian troops that summer.

Since then it has been relatively deep inside Ukrainian territory, and it has not been shelled since 2015. It is well out of the range of a small calibre mortar fired from the frontlines.

But loyalties remain split in much of Donbas.

While many people are determined never to live again under the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic – which ran a thuggish and lawless operation when Strelkov controlled the area in 2014 – it is not difficult to find others who resent the Ukrainian armed forces.

In the town of Schastiye in the Luhansk region, where shelling began on Sunday, a man told The Telegraph he believed the Ukrainians were attacking themselves as a “provokatsiya” or false-flag attack. 

He made clear he would not frown on a Russian occupation.

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