Leonid, Viktor, Bogdan and Yaroslav, originally from northwestern Ukraine, joined the army on their own accord after the February 24 Russian invasion. The four men have been posted since the summer in the second line, four kilometers from the Russians, in case they break through the Ukrainian first line, in the Mykolaiv region (South).
Many similar units are scattered along the front, according to the military press attaché who accompanied AFP on Wednesday afternoon.
Their daily lives seem to be made up of waiting. At the bottom of a small hole, just wide enough for a man, a rocket launcher sits upright against a dirt wall. Several bottles of mosquito repellent left nearby testify to the inconvenience that nature inflicts on soldiers.
A few meters further, a machine gun is covered with a camouflage net, in front of cases of cartridges. Another hole, a few square meters, covered with logs, plastic and branches, can accommodate two men for the night.
On a southern front where heavy artillery combat largely decides the fate of the war, the four infantry soldiers listen to the shells pass, sometimes in the distance, sometimes very close, knowing that they could do nothing if one of them touched their position.
- 'Constant shelling' -
"For two hours there has been no bombardment. (...) But usually they are constant," said Bogdan, 29, a worker who had already enlisted in 2014 in the Ukrainian army, before returning to civilian life... to recently return to service.
"When you see a shell exploded 10-15 meters from you, it's scary. We are all human and we are all scared." And this father of two children to describe: "The earth trembles even when ours fire, and even more when they are the ones who bombard."
But despite the harshness of everyday life, "now it's better," he says. "We see that our comrades, our horde as we call them, are working. We see their successes and it inspires us. If some thought we weren't going fast enough, now that's not the case!"
At the end of August, kyiv announced a counter-offensive in the south, with the primary objective of retaking Kherson, a city populated by 280,000 inhabitants before the conflict, capital of the eponymous region, and neighboring that of Mykolaiv.
But after regaining a few villages and hamlets in the first two weeks, the advance struggled to materialize, while a similar move in the north resulted in resounding successes. The South has finally caught up in the past five days.
- 'Killing' the 'orcs' -
On Tuesday, Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of "rapid and powerful" progress, citing eight localities taken over in the Kherson region, which was confirmed by maps presented the same day by the Russian Ministry of Defense. On Wednesday, the Ukrainian president claimed the "liberation" of three new villages in the area.
The American Institute for the Study of War, an independent American research center, spoke on Thursday of "major gains" for kyiv in the past 48 hours in the north of the Kherson region.
After four months of battle, kyiv troops have notably reconquered Davydiv Brid, a small strategic village located on a river, which is about ten kilometers from the small trenches visited on Wednesday by AFP.
"The mood of the boys has changed. It has become much better," rejoices their commander Yaroslav, a sturdy 39-year-old man wearing a black cap. "There is light at the end of the tunnel."
Behind Davydiv Brid, there remains only a vast plain on which the "orcs", an insulting nickname given to the Russians, will have "nowhere to hide", he says. No matter their number, whereas according to Yaroslav, between 400 and 800 new Russian soldiers recently arrived as reinforcements in their area after the mobilization decided by Moscow.
"If we split their ranks, they will run away," exclaimed Leonid, 46, giving a thumbs up in victory. And to mock the new enemy recruits, whom he describes as "cannon fodder". To resume Kherson, "we will have to kill them, he says. There is no other solution."