Espreso. Global

125th Brigade: two years of defending Ukraine on the frontlines

26 February, 2024 Monday

The 125th Brigade battalions actively involved in liberating various settlements, including Ozerne, Dibrova, Yampil, and Torske

The 125th Separate Territorial Defense Brigade (125th Separate Brigade) was established on March 22, 2022. Espreso TV spoke to the commanders of the 2 battalions of the 125th Brigade about their combat experience during the years of full-scale war.

Colonel Serhiy Bonchyk does not disclose which battalion he commands, he has been with it since its inception. Prior to this, he was a career military officer - in 2011 he resigned and retired, serving as a liaison officer. With the onset of full-scale invasion, he returned to the army. "I had a feeling that something would happen soon after Putin recognized the L/DPR. On February 24, I went to the military enlistment office," he recalls.

Photo: Serhiy Bonchik

As for the commander of another battalion within the 125th Brigade of the Joint Forces Operation, Colonel Vitaliy Sovik, the invasion caught him by surprise. He recounts that initially, his brother called him and informed him that full-scale war had begun. At that moment, the colonel couldn't comprehend what war his brother was referring to. However, shortly after, his daughter, who was in Brovary at the time, where explosions were already being heard, contacted him.

Vitaliy Sovik was also a career military officer, having served for 25 years before retiring. In civilian life, he worked as a deputy head of the district administration. After evacuating his daughter to a safe location, he went to the military enlistment office, where he was offered the position of battalion commander. Colonel Sovik called upon old army comrades and acquaintances to join him in service, and even his two sons followed in his footsteps.

"One is 30 years old, the other is 23," Vitaliy Sovik recounts. "They told me, 'Dad, we're going with you to defend our country.'"

Battle baptism near Lyman and in Bakhmut

After intensive training in July 2022, Colonel Bonchyk's battalion received its first orders and headed to Donetsk to prepare the defense of one of the cities.

"In October, the battalion was deployed to the Lyman sector, where it actively engaged in combat against Russian forces. Our first battle was nerve-wracking as we faced it unsheltered, but we stood firm and endured everything, which forged our strong bond as a team," recalls the lieutenant colonel.

On this front, the battalion stayed for 10 months until August 2023. “At the beginning, there were no engineering structures; everything was built under fire. However, we managed to drive the Russians out of Lyman. During those months, many defenders were wounded. Every battle was crucial; we didn't surrender any position," he comments.

Now, this battalion is carrying out tasks in the Kharkiv region.

Under the leadership of Colonel Sovik, the battalion actively prepared defensive engineering structures on the border with Russia in the Kharkiv and Sumy regions:

  • From June to December 2022, the battalion carried out combat missions in the Kharkiv region within the territory of the Krasnokutsk territorial community.
  • From December 2022 to January 2023, the battalion conducted defensive operations in the Sumy region.
  • In January 2023, the battalion was relocated to defend the State border between Sumy region and Belgorod region of the Russian Federation.

The battalion's first combat experience was gained near Bakhmut, where some units carried out combat missions, including on the notorious 'Road of Life.' As Vitaliy Sovik notes, unfortunately, they suffered numerous losses.

In addition, from March to September 2023, the battalion units heroically repelled the Russian forces on the territory of Luhansk region (Serebryanske Forestry).

From September to December 2023, the battalion units carried out combat missions to fortify the defense lines of Lyman. In particular, Vitaliy Sovik is in charge of defending the city.

Every battle inspires soldiers to heroism

Photo: The 125th Brigade

During their active combat engagement, battalion commanders recall numerous heroic deeds of their soldiers.

For instance, Serhiy Bonchyk recounts the story of Taras Chaika, a reconnaissance platoon commander. "At the beginning of our combat journey, when he was evacuating people to positions, they came under heavy tank and mortar fire. Chaika suffered a serious shrapnel wound but didn't stop the vehicle; he drove it out from under enemy fire. Sadly, he was killed afterward, but he saved other soldiers," recalls the lieutenant colonel. Chaika was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine.

Another Hero of Ukraine in Bonchyk's battalion is 19-year-old soldier Pavlo Dumanskyi. "The young man saved his comrade from an attack by an enemy drone by shielding him with his own body. He also posthumously became a Hero," adds the commander.

Serhiy Bonchyk also recalls other heroic deeds of his soldiers. Unfortunately, the heroes of these events perished. "There was a battle that lasted for about 5 hours, during which the enemy, with a force of about a platoon, and under the cover of a tank, advanced to attack one of our positions in the twilight. Ahead was our observation post, about 400 meters away. They were the first to spot the enemy and engage in battle. The Russian tank destroyed our post. The guys from the observation post bought time for the rest to prepare for battle. Unfortunately, three of my brothers-in-arms were killed," he says.

The lieutenant colonel also adds that at that time they couldn't retrieve the bodies of the boys, but a month later, the company commander personally, with a group of soldiers, approached the enemy almost face-to-face and retrieved the body of one comrade. The bodies of the other two soldiers were never found.

Colonel Sovik also talked about two more soldiers from his battalion who were posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine. One of them is Lieutenant Mykola Makarevych, who was killed in Bakhmut. "While in his position, he professionally fortified the defense. During combat, as a result of a mine explosion, Mykola Makarevych sustained multiple shrapnel wounds. Despite being seriously injured himself, he managed to report the situation and provide first aid to his comrades. He passed away in the evacuation vehicle. Thanks to his professional work, we were able to repel the enemy assault on our positions. On July 8, 2023, he was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine with the Order of the Golden Star."

Another Hero of Ukraine is soldier Taras Dovhun. "From January 24, 2023, for several days, under constant destructive artillery, mortar, and tank shelling, he engaged in continuous combat with the enemy alongside his comrades, utilizing all available weapons. Personally eliminating more than 15 Russian soldiers, he never lost awareness of the operational situation, even after sustaining critical injuries. Providing medical assistance to himself and a comrade, he continued the fight, demonstrating incredible resilience and heroism," the colonel recounts about the soldier. The young man passed away on January 26 during the battles for Bakhmut. On July 8, 2023, he was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine with the Order of the Golden Star.

FPV drones have changed the picture of modern warfare

Photo: The 125th Brigade

"Of course, our battalion uses drones, but it was a tough road for us to get there. There were training sessions, but due to the conditions of electronic warfare, we could lose several 'Mavics' in a day. We started using FPV drones around the summer of 2023 because no specialists were available. Now, on the Kharkiv front, we actively use drones,” Serhiy Bonchyk shares that their battalion underwent a long journey towards effectively utilizing drones.

Battalion commander Vitaliy Sovik adds that drones have significantly changed the battlefield landscape. "The successful use of one or several inexpensive drones can destroy enemy equipment worth millions of dollars. The Vepryk unmanned ground complex is used for mine laying. In the future, thanks to the use of drones, it will also be possible to deliver supplies to the front lines and evacuate the wounded," he comments.

Experience in defensive combat

During years of full-scale war, territorial defense brigades had to adapt to new challenges, becoming an integral combat component of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Colonel Vitaliy Sovik explains that during this time, his battalion gained practical skills in conducting defensive warfare on extremely dangerous frontlines against enemy forces outnumbering them several times. As a result, they began to more actively utilize technical means such as drones and electronic warfare systems.

"The battalion has acquired significant experience in fortifying defensive lines, setting up explosive and non-explosive engineering obstacles, all of which are done in perilous proximity to the confrontation line with the enemy," he adds.

"Many women want to join us"

Lieutenant Colonel Serhiy Bonchyk says that women often apply to join his battalion, but not all positions may be available to them. "People are always needed. We have a special person in the headquarters who handles recruiting and works with the Territorial Defense Coordination Center. By the way, many women want to join us for positions like cooks, clerks, combat medics, and even as shooters. However, I don't enlist women for combat positions, except for combat medics," he comments.

At the same time, newcomers undergo basic training first before being assigned to combat tasks. "Fighters share their experience among themselves. So, there's no situation where a person goes straight to the front line without training," adds the lieutenant colonel.

The battalions collaborate with platforms like and lobbyX, allowing candidates to choose positions that match their skills and experience gained in civilian life. Additionally, individuals can select a specific unit for their service. "At present, the platforms feature vacancies for psychologists, aerial reconnaissance specialists, communication personnel, and medics. Recruits undergo training by being sent to the training centers of the territorial defense forces," Vitaliy Sovik shared about his battalion.

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