Ukraine War Turning Nasty: the Brutal Russian Way of War. By David Patrikarakos.
A cloud of thick smoke hangs over the occupied city of Kherson in Ukraine. Its very stench is evidence of Russian war crimes, on a scale almost too sickening to contemplate.
The smoke comes from mobile incinerators that are running night and day. Vladimir Putin’s paranoid soldiers are burning the corpses of Ukrainian citizens tortured and murdered on suspicion of helping the resistance. And they are dispatching the bodies of their own comrades too — hundreds of them. ..
The incinerators fill Kherson with the reek of charred flesh. There is no mistaking the smell and it adds to the pervasive sense of horror in this Black Sea port. It is a living hell.
News is leaking out, like it did in the 1930s:
I am in contact with pro-democracy activists inside the city who have managed — for the first time since the start of the occupation — to get information out …
They say many of the Russian troops are drunk all of the time. Arms, ammunition, kit and even food are in short supply for Putin’s blundering army — but vodka is always available in abundance. …
Poor and desperate Russian troops from the least civilized parts:
These soldiers are rounded up from the poorest regions of Putin’s empire, far away from St Petersburg and Moscow. No one in the main cities wants to have their sons sent to be butchered in occupied territory.
Instead, bribes are often offered in rural districts, where conditions are little different from the world of Tolstoy’s peasants. Many people are illiterate and generally ignorant of international news. They live largely without sanitation, in poverty and disease.
These families don’t want to send their young men to war either. But they cannot afford to refuse the government payouts.
And consequently, men from these regions are treated by the Kremlin as utterly disposable, lives without worth. Yet still, to return them to their villages in bodybags would be considered a military embarrassment — as well as an unwarranted expense — and so their remains are simply incinerated. …
What started as a relatively polite war between “brother nations” has turned into a death struggle:
When the Russians first occupied places such as Bucha, outside Kyiv, they were almost apologetic to Ukrainian citizens. On a ‘special military operation’ they’d been told would be over soon, these young men didn’t really want to be there. In an odd way, the invaders were almost pathetically friendly.
But then their comrades started to die. And the mood changed.
Now in Kherson, Russians are hunted by snipers, ambushed and bombed. Thanks to consignments of Western arms, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) has the power to inflict serious damage.
The weapon the Russians fear most is the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), supplied by the U.S. and capable of firing barrages of missiles from the back of an armoured lorry. Both manoeuvrable and lethally accurate, these rocket launchers are effectively unstoppable. They can wipe out an ammunition dump or a column of tanks in one hit.
I’m told that many of the rural Russian soldiers, who have never encountered such advanced military technology, are petrified: ‘They talk of the HIMARS almost as children do of dragons.’
The Ukrainians are exploiting this advantage. The last consignment of American HIMARS missiles was expected to sustain the AFU for a month. But they blazed off the whole lot in three days — and with devastating effects.
At the other end of the fightback are the insurgent youths, ambushing Russians with their daggers. Ukraine’s government does not want to admit this is happening, perhaps because it exposes how desperate the defence has become. But the Russians will not acknowledge it either, because they are ashamed by the damage these youngsters are inflicting.
Groups with knives, sometimes a handful and sometimes a marauding gang, attack Russians wherever they can — slashing them, stabbing them, cutting their throats if they get the chance.
Their fury reflects the hatred of ordinary Ukrainians for the invaders. Putin’s continued pretence that people in the coastal cities have welcomed his army as liberators could not be further from the truth.
At the outset of the war, last February, some older Ukrainians with rose-tinted nostalgia for the Soviet Union did have sympathy for the Russian cause. But not any more.
The barbaric obliteration of Mariupol stunned people of all ages. It was unforgivable. Above all, it convinced Ukrainians who were in any doubt that the Kremlin would stop at nothing to conquer their land — even genocide. …
On the pretence of rooting out resistance cells, the soldiers break down doors and march into houses at any hour. They torture and rape the inhabitants, and kill them. Property is destroyed or looted. These are not isolated incidents. It is going on all over Kherson — every day, every night. The anger this unleashes in all the inhabitants, including the very youngest, is palpable. …
Special hatred is reserved for collaborators, those who assist the Russians. They are killed by the resistance, but not before their death sentence has been publicly proclaimed. Photocopied leaflets, printed in secret, are distributed throughout the city. Faces of suspected collaborators are reproduced from grainy photographs, and their names exposed. The last hours for those condemned must be sheer terror. …
Both sides now live in constant terror of what their enemy will do.
The Russians know they have only the most precarious hold on Kherson and will probably be driven out in the end, whether that takes weeks or years. Ukrainian surrender is never going to happen.
That is why Putin’s soldiers are using incinerators. Mass graves leave behind evidence of war crimes. By burning the bodies, they destroy the evidence. …
Imagine being a Russian soldier:
British defence secretary Ben Wallace warned back in February, before the invasion, that this could be Russia’s unofficial policy. The Ministry of Defence released footage of a mobile crematorium, mounted on a lorry …
‘Being a soldier, knowing that trundling behind you is a way to evaporate you if you are killed in battle probably says everything you need to know about the Russian regime.’ …
However the Russians try to disguise it, this is mass murder of civilians on a scale not seen in Europe since World War II.
There are too many reports like this — it’s not just propaganda. It aligns with Russian atrocities of last century all too well.
The Russian way of war has always been brutal, perhaps as part of their Mongol legacy. In this century, however, it is not going to win them any friends because it is completely unacceptable.