Danger lurks behind 'every bush' for brigade in Ukrainian counteroffensive

By Anna Voitenko

ZAPORIZHZHIA REGION, Ukraine (Reuters) - For soldiers in Ukraine's "Spartan" brigade, danger could lurk behind every bush and in every field as they fight in Kyiv's counteroffensive against deeply entrenched Russian forces.

Progress through vast Russian minefields and heavily fortified defences has been slower than many Ukrainians had hoped since the counteroffensive began in early June.

Members of the Spartan brigade told Reuters in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia that the Russian troops have expert knowledge of the terrain where they are fighting because they have occupied the area for much of the 18-month-old war.

"The difficulty is that the enemy is fully entrenched and has set up minefields. In more than a year-and-a-half of war, their gunners targeted every field in this area," said a Howitzer commander, aged 21, who goes by the call-sign "Jordan".

"They know every inch of the land and target precisely, but we conduct good counter-fire activities and destroy their Howitzers, self-propelled guns and other types of artillery."

Another member of the brigade, Stepan, said advances were slow and methodical.

"Every inch, every field, every bush – someone is waiting for you there, and our forces must go in there to make sure that they are not there any more. Just our boys," he said at a location in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Stepan, 38, was a metal worker before he joined the Spartan brigade, which is part of Ukraine's National Guard, and was apprehensive at first.

"Their treacherous guided aerial bombs fell almost every 15-20 minutes here. You never know where and who this weapon will hit," he said.

"I did not know what to expect. But we got used to it eventually. I think we serve with dignity."

Brigade members are proud of their work.

"When people see Spartan (on your shoulder patch), they recognise you immediately. You don’t need to give any extra explanations or explain where you are from. Spartan says it all," said Jordan, who was a medical student before the war.

"One granny gave me an apple and a bun so that I have some food on the way," he said.

(Writing by Ron Popeski, Editing by Timothy Heritage)