The 37th Marine Brigade is one of the newly created brigades that was trained specifically for the Ukrainian counter-offensive in the South. It is currently fighting on the border of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, where the Ukrainian army has broken through the first line of Russian defence. Mined fields are one of the problems that slows down the Ukrainian counter-offensive. Russians are using various types of mines, including those prohibited by international conventions. Currently, there are approximately 1,500 mines per square kilometre in the South. According to Ukrainian sappers, one day of fighting is 30 days of demining.
Slidstvo.Info journalists talked to 23-year-old Roman “Fox”, commander of the 37th Marine Brigade’s engineering company, about demining work, types of mines and problems encountered during demining.
“A SAPPER WITHOUT FEAR IS NOT A SAPPER FOR LONG”
Deminers have a certain algorithm that you have to follow. If a sapper starts to relax and loses his fear, he needs to be removed from the task for a while to recover a little. When a sapper loses his fear, he is not a sapper for long. He can only be called a sapper when he retires. Until then, he is a one-day butterfly. (Laughs)
There are many nuances in the work of a sapper. Yes, there is an algorithm for dealing with a particular mine, but we have people… The infantry, when they capture an enemy position, sometimes behave like a herd. They have desires — trophies, trophies… some Russian assault rifle or ammunition. It always ends in one thing — injury or death. You constantly explain that you can’t do that, that you have to check it first, take it off. Because the Russians like to leave a lot of stuff behind… They are not amateurs, they are professionals. Russians leave behind a lot of things, and it all needs to be checked additionally.
“YOU CAN’T RUSH A SAPPER”
Each area has its own nuances, so it is not appropriate to compare them. Currently, the guys have daily reconnaissance. It consists in detecting minefields in a certain area.
It is realistic to get through all these Russian minefields. But, unfortunately, mostly, everything is moving slowly because it is difficult. A sapper cannot be rushed, no matter how much one would like to see a quicker counter-offensive, to catch up with them (Russians — ed.) in Crimea, to drive them out of Crimea… It all takes time.
It takes a sapper about 15 minutes to remove one mine: to do the whole complex, check it properly, pull it off properly, and then use a lever to throw the ‘cat’ (a tool for removing cords on tripwires and detonating them remotely — ed.). If you pull it directly, you don’t know what’s under the ground: there may be a detonation cord to the point where you are standing; or there may be another mine buried to the right depth, on which you will lie and you will simply be blown up when you pull another grenade.
You need to be prepared for anything and work carefully with the ammunition. You have to carry out this complex correctly from “a” to “z”, even if you know that nothing will happen. Just to protect yourself and your personnel.
MINES ARE THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE NOW
There are many, many mines. We need to constantly conduct engineering reconnaissance. Accordingly, we are preparing new routes, detour routes, because again, you see, the weather we have… there is a section where a pickup truck cannot pass. We need to clear another road, because there are different types of equipment: there is one that will pass and won’t care, and there is the same pickup that won’t go through the track. And if you stop, you are a target. You can’t stop, you have to keep moving! We are always on the move. The enemy cannot be underestimated. He always knows who will be there and when.
MINE PFM-1 “LEPESTOK”
There is a wide range of cassettes that were made in the Soviet Union. For example, PFM-1 mines (Lepestok anti-personnel landmine — ed.) were valiantly made in the USSR using a 50-50 system: half training and half combat. That is, the Russians violate all conventions: they planted a mine, a sapper found a Lepestok, and it was marked “U” (training — ed.). And the sapper thinks he was misled because they had placed a training mine. But when the infantry starts moving, the explosions start. And we cannot use our own anti-personnel mines because of the conventions we have signed. Because we are honest.
NEW RUSSIAN MINES
The newest mine appeared around 2018 — the POM-3. It was made on the basis of the previous complex of non-contact explosive device NVU-P “Okhota”, which was still used in Afghanistan, because the Soviets (the USSR government — ed.) faced the fact that the Dushmans (Afghan mujahideen – members of irregular armed groups motivated by Islamic ideology, organised into a single insurgent force during the Afghan civil war, fought against the legitimate government of Afghanistan and the Soviet Army in 1979-1992 – ed). And this mine is already tuned to the fluctuations of human movement. If an animal runs, the mine doesn’t go off, but if a person creates any vibrations on the ground, it sets off one of the five mines.
And the second mine is a POM-2 (anti-personnel fragmentation mine — ed.), which is in a cassette there, not yet assembled. Like a cluster mine, it is scattered from “Hurricanes” and “Smerchs”.
Accordingly, it scatters everyone, and POM-3 is a POM-2 and an NVU-P Okhota in one mine. It has a seismic sensor: it drops immediately, throws away the seismic sensor and then sets itself up. As soon It catches a person at a distance of 10 metres, it fires at a height of up to 1.5 metres and explodes. It has striking elements in the form of discs, like a circular saw, so an unprotected person at a distance of 12 metres is hit completely.
PROBLEMS OF WORKING AT NIGHT
If you look at tripwires without infrared, you can’t see them even in ideal light conditions, including the moon. And when you turn on an infrared light, you can be seen from kilometres away: if a drone with a night light takes off somewhere, it will see the light in the landing.
So we can’t let anyone shine a light at night. Although we have soldiers here who like to go with “light music”.
We can’t work at night because you can miss a lot of things. So, if the field, for example, is low grass, then ideally you can go with a miner and pick up some mines: mark them and then pull them out in the morning. But if you expect that there will be APMs (anti-personnel mines — ed.) and tripwires, it can end badly. Again, if the sapper doesn’t see anything, then this… no matter how good he is, it can lead to certain consequences. Unfortunately. We now have two sappers who have lost their feet because they stepped on anti-personnel mines.
“Near Kherson (we are talking about the events before the de-occupation of the right bank of the Kherson region — ed.), we had crossings, aka arteries, which were blocked, and we had one ford left. We used to deliver food and ammunition through that ford, and take 200s and 300s (dead and wounded — transl.). The BMP (infantry fighting vehicle — ed.) had 10 minutes to cross the ford, drive to the point, unload, load and run back. The Russians simply spotted our ford and thought: “We’ll launch two Uragan missiles and throw PTM-4 mines there”. As a result, an infantry fighting vehicle was blown up and we had two 200s.
Then we started looking for them, and found only three mines at that time: the one that exploded and two more. There was tall grass there, and it was decided that we would not destroy them, because we found only three, and three more would be lying there. So they blocked our road and stopped our advance at that point.
RUSSIANS LEARN TO FIGHT QUICKLY
People who simply have not been in combat and have not seen it, say that Muscovites are c**ts. In all this time, I have never seen them as idiots. Because the Russians are learning to fight with us. Very quickly. That is, as soon as we have something new — new means and methods, new ideas — they learn when they get it.
In terms of mining, they have a whole separate faculty. They are creative when it comes to laying mines, because they are not limited by anything. We are limited, again, by people, humanity and conventions. For them, mining a child’s toy is a bit of a game.
“I DON’T THINK, I JUST WORK”
I don’t know why I chose this direction. I just made that decision for some reason. There is a phrase “explosion is art”. Every profession is creative, especially a sapper.
I don’t think, I just work. War is a constant risk. You are constantly taking risks, but you can’t get away from it. You have to do this work because so much depends on it. And the infantry will not go there without an engineer. They are afraid. Not only do they have to jump into a landing where there is a machine gun, but they don’t know what is happening there in terms of mines.
Usually, the hardest part of a commander’s job is sending people to work. It is easier to do everything myself, but I am alone. And, accordingly, the task of a commander is to teach you how to set the task correctly, to take all the measures if a person is afraid to do the work. So that the person has and knows everything he or she needs to do the job.
The commander interacts with all the other units so that they can be pulled out in case of emergency. In case the units fail there, I know the entire road situation. I know how to get to any point where I send my people. If necessary, I will follow them.
HOW TO MOVE ON WHEN GUYS BLOW THEMSELVES UP
You have to keep a cool head about it, because if you get yourself worked up about every 300th one, you won’t have enough nerves. Yes, when I started my combat career, it was hard at first when my men died in my arms. And then you just get angry, you become cold to it.