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On the front line with Ukrainian fighters - by Carlotta Gall for the New York Times – 21.11.22

ON THE BANKS OF THE DNIPRO RIVER, Ukraine — Under cover of darkness, a group of soldiers heaved their dinghy off the sand into the water. Another group loaded equipment with a heavy clanking into their boat, while a third pushed off silently with oars. Engines humming quietly, the boats turned to the open water and disappeared into the blackness.

The fighters, a volunteer Ukrainian special forces team called the Bratstvo battalion, were crossing the wide expanse of the Dnipro River, the strategic waterway that bisects Ukraine and has become the dividing line of the southern front. After recapturing the city of Kherson a week ago, Ukrainian forces hold the western bank, while the Russians still hold the eastern bank.

To exploit weaknesses on the Russian side, the Bratstvo fighters have been conducting secret raids and other special operations for months, as part of the Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian occupying forces. On this night, their mission was to slip onto the eastern bank and lay mines on a road used by Russian soldiers and attack a mortar position.

“It’s a very dangerous mission,” said Oleksiy Serediuk, the battalion commander. “They need to land where there is a swarm of Russians. They need to go around them and plant mines.”

From the beginning of a conflict defined by heavy aerial and artillery bombardment and grinding trench warfare, the Bratstvo battalion has undertaken some of the conflict’s most difficult missions, conducting forward spotting and sabotage along the front lines, including in the early battles around the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv.

Now, in the battle for Ukraine’s south, they’ve learned to use boats and infiltrate the Russian-controlled side of the Dnipro River. “We go on foot,” Mr. Serediuk said. “If we are conducting an ambush, we can go up to 35 kilometers and spend several days on task.”

The group gave access to The New York Times to report on two recent riverine operations — which took place before the recapture of Kherson.

One mission had to be aborted. The other was a partial success.

“All the work along the southern front increases the stress on the Russians and increases their understanding that they will have to lose some resources on this front line,” Mr. Serediuk said. “So our actions are also some tiny input in this overall result that Russians need to accept some compromises here.”

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Flying a drone from the middle of the Dnipro River to observe Russian forces on the southern bank, less than six miles away.

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