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One machine can fire about 1,000 shells per day: Ukrainian artilleryman on fighting at front

28 February, 2024 Wednesday
21:32

When the Revolution of Dignity began, Rostyslav Kmet, who is now a captain and chief of staff of a self-propelled artillery battalion, was a 9th-grader at a Lviv school. At the time, the young man did not realize that the confrontation between society and the government of the day would turn into a real struggle for the nation against the invading Russian forces

Espreso talked to the 24-year-old artilleryman about his first battle, the the Ukrainian lands recaptured from Russian forces, and what Ukrainians need to win.

Rostyslav Kmet, call sign Kvadrat (Square), has been with the self-propelled artillery division since the first days of the full-scale war. He has been serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces since 2016. Immediately after high school, he decided to enter the Lviv Army Academy, where he studied to become a ground artillery gunner. After graduating as a lieutenant, he joined the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade.

"Despite the fact that I did not plan to connect my life with the army before, circumstances developed in such a way that I became interested in military affairs in 2014, i.e. since school. I can't say that I really wanted to, but I was preparing myself for it," the soldier recalls.

He admits that at first his relatives did not understand his choice, as he was the first professional military man in the family, so they were skeptical, but later, when they saw how enthusiastic Rostyslav was about his work, they accepted his choice, and now support him in everything.

Photo by Rostyslav Kmet

Two guns stopped the advance of enemy infantry

The defenders were preparing for a full-scale invasion and realized that the invading Russian forces would strike even harder and more critically than in 2014.

"The first clear ideas were in early February, when it was reported that Russia was planning to attack the whole of Ukraine. On the 20th, we loaded up and went to the training ground, but we were immediately at war. I met the beginning of the full-scale invasion in Dnipro at the unloading station. We heard the first explosions and saw missiles arrive," Rostyslav says.

The soldiers immediately received weapons and moved to another location to avoid being hit by aircraft.

"Having received weapons, we began to take up the first firing positions, deploy personnel, and prepare equipment. A day later, we moved to Zaporizhzhia in two different columns. We took different routes to have a better chance of saving the lives of our personnel. On February 27, we were already near Orikhiv and Tavria, where we took up firing positions and performed our first combat missions. In those days, we received ammunition in such a quantity that we did not even have time to count. One vehicle could fire about a thousand shells per day. The fighting was very intense," he said.

He recalls one of the legendary battles in which soldiers stopped the enemy infantry advance in the Zaporizhzhia region with two guns.

"It was in May 2022. I was a battery commander at the time. I had to stop the Russian troops’ breakthrough in the direction from Robotyne, when it was still under the enemy's control. The invaders tried to break through towards the village of Danylivka, and we stopped the advance of infantry, about 30 people, and two armored personnel carriers with two guns. However, after that, the occupiers started a very heavy shelling, but it was not critical for us, we did a good job on them. Unfortunately, we lost one cannon and wounded several comrades. We were just evacuating during the shelling. But it all came down to the loss of one gun. The men are alive and well and are now continuing their service," Kvadrat said.

For two years, Rostyslav Kmet fought in the Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, and Donetsk areas. Together with his comrades, he defended Soledar and settlements near Bakhmut.

One of his first battles was near Nesterianka in the Zaporizhzhia region.

"Back then, Nesterianka was still a gray area, and we were almost at the same level as our infantry. We drove up there, took up a firing position and set a target. A column of enemy vehicles was already moving along the road we were driving on, and we were suddenly lucky to arrive 20 minutes earlier. We successfully repelled the attack and began to destroy the enemy - tanks, armored personnel carriers, and infantry," he recalled.

Photo by Rostyslav Kmet

Artillery has become more sophisticated in performing fire missions

Rostyslav says that the artillery weapon system is not difficult to master now. However, he adds that there are many differences between what was taught at the academy and what is practiced in practice. Qualified colleagues always help to master the art of artillery combat.

"Many people who have been fighting since 2014 are helping newly mobilized soldiers to master this technique for better use in combat, much more effectively than it is written in books. Artillery has become more sophisticated in terms of performing fire missions. Previously, we used to move out into the open field with a large number of guns and fire at the enemy, but now we work secretly, one at a time and for a short time, so that the enemy does not have time to realize where it came from. We can work from different directions on one point, which saves the lives of our personnel," Rostyslav says.

He says that one of the strongest arguments for war is artillery. But, as practice has shown, artillery cannot live without aerial reconnaissance.

"The artillery cannot take out all this influx. Aerial reconnaissance and aviation help us. And to be a good artilleryman, you need to have basic physical training, a cold mind, a quick reaction to the actions taking place, and a good command of math. This is the basis," says the artilleryman. "Math is a factor that affects the work of artillery. From the gun commander to the artillery chief, everything is about calculations. Among other things, you need to have a good command of a map, in our case a tablet, to orient the vehicles.”

Photo by Rostyslav Kmet

Russians are dying en masse, but still go on 'cannon fodder' assaults

The 128th Mountain Assault Brigade is constantly recruiting. People who want to defend their homeland come and sign a contract, while others are mobilized, Rostyslav says. They are assigned to their units and then go to training centers for basic training, according to their position.

"Drivers, by the way, are also sent to professional training. Only after they have completed all the exercises are they sent to the front line. There is no such thing as personnel being sent to firing positions without proper training," the officer says.

What amazes and surprises Rostyslav Kmet the most in this war is the idea behind the Russian army's coming here and what motivates the Russians to do so.

"They go to these cannon fodder assaults in such large numbers and die, but they go anyway. We, of course, are fighting for our state and for an idea, but they are fighting for something else," the defender wonders.

Kvadrat emphasizes that the personnel have access to the Internet and watch various programs. The soldiers are surprised, to put it mildly, when some respond in Russian "I'm apolitical, I'm not interested in this.”

"We are shocked by this, but we all realize that we have to stand up to the end and fight. I believe that now we need Ukrainians to unite again, as much as they did in the first six months of the war. It was nice to see everyone acting as one, helping and supporting each other, no one complaining, everyone doing the same thing," the soldier summarized.

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