The weeks go by, the wait increases and the announced Ukrainian counteroffensive does not arrive. Or if. This was stated by one of President Volodimir Zelenski's advisers, who this week assured that it had already started, and this is also believed by soldiers on different fronts who think that the various movements in recent days are part of the offensive, at least psychological, with which they seek to wear down and create confusion and uncertainty, not to say fear, among the Russian troops. And also in high places.
“Did you imagine that an incursion into Russian territory was possible? Me neither", asked one of the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers deployed in the province of Zaporizhia last Thursday and who, although he knows that something big is happening (he sees it around him with the movement of men and equipment), says no have no details about that counteroffensive that has been talked about so much that it already seems like fantasy. Or that it has at least stopped attracting attention.
"Only the men at the top know exactly what it will be like, we just do what they tell us," confirmed a 25-year-old man from a drone unit. If the battle for Bakhmut has been the protagonist in recent months, the Zaporizhia front is where all eyes are directed when talking about the new stage of the war. There men and weapons provided by the West accumulate.
"Sometimes they close roads and don't let us through, they don't give any explanations," said a soldier. It is also there where the biggest blow is expected.
The troops would advance to the Sea of Azov with the aim of cutting off the communication of the Russian troops between the Donbass and Crimea, which at least in theory seems to be the great objective of all.
"See you in Crimea" is the most common motto these days among the Ukrainian military, including those fighting on fronts like Bakhmut.
But the current reality is much more complex than the idea of a great battle, if there is one. Dozens of events have happened in the last few days that not only suggest that the chips have already started to move, as confirmed by Zelensky's adviser, Mikhailo Podoliak, but that there will be many boards open at the same time. The crossing of the Ukrainian army to the west side of the Dnieper river in Kherson, the systematic attacks against railways or oil or gas stations in Russian-occupied territories, the explosions here and there inside Russian territory – many pointing to partisans – and the incursion last Monday of two anti-Kremlin Russian groups in the Belgorod region, among others.
Added to this is the fact that the fighting in Donbass is still open, not only in Bakhmut but on the different fronts near the city of Donetsk and to the north, near Liman, where activity has been even greater in recent weeks.
"In general, it can be said that there was no resistance," Caesar, commander of the Russian Freedom Legion, one of the two groups that entered Russian territory, confirmed to this newspaper. In a press conference last Wednesday in the province of Sumi, near the border with Russia, this man assured that the mere fact of having been able to travel 42 kilometers inside Russian territory is "the great indicator that this is a war and even people from the deepest part of the country – for Russia – will be able to understand it that way”. He assured that acts like the one they had carried out increase the anxiety of the other side, that he does not know what to expect.
"Look, in our case it could be thought that we are launching an offensive, but in reality what we do is push the enemy and lock him up in the place where he holds his power, that is, the streets of Bakhmut," explained Unka, one of the commanders of the 57th Brigade, which is participating in the counteroffensive called to recover areas around Bajmut.
Since the beginning of May the Ukrainian army has launched an offensive to retake territories to the north and southwest of the city. The advances of these men, who have recovered several kilometers in recent weeks, coincided with the progress of the Wagner group inside the city after nine months of fighting. Last Sunday, Yevgueni Prigozhin, leader of this paramilitary group, announced that his group had full control of the city, although it was totally destroyed and uninhabited. The commander of the Ukrainian ground forces, Oleksander Syrski, responded by assuring that Ukraine had a minimal presence – a street at the entrance, possibly – but that it would play an important role in the strategy of carrying out a “tactical encirclement” over Bakhmut. "I think that this Bakhmut will be for them like a bone stuck in the throat," said Martsyn, another brigade commander who explained that if before the job was for the Russians not to lock them inside Bakhmut, now their objective is to attack them. But they are not doing it exclusively to recover territory, but rather to attract Russian troops who were stationed on other fronts to the area. “We draw them in like a magnet and then we push them into the city. That is what we are doing ”, he specified. The same would happen with the borders or with the Kherson front, which requires mobilizing men in various directions.
Inside one of the basements where the members of the brigade operate, Commander Hulk studies the images sent by the different drones. “What we see now mostly is the Russian regular army. We see it on the screen. We know this because they have little preparation and many times they don't have a radio”, explained the commander, who is part of the 17th battalion of this brigade assigned twice to Bakhmut. He also recounted that in recent days special troops have begun to arrive, and with them the story is different. They are much more professional. They are waiting to detect what changes will occur with the withdrawal of the Wagner paramilitaries, which should conclude on June 1st.
Back in Zaporizhia, no one expects the counter-offensive to be easy. They also witness men amassing on the other side of the front and digging more trenches. And also how artillery attacks are increasing. But they say that the morals of both sides are different. “Ours is like that of a child waiting for Christmas. We know it will be very difficult, but it will be worth it."