In One Image Load. Fire. Get to Cover. By Tyler Hicks
It was no time to linger.
In a wooded area on the front lines of the Donbas region, Ukrainian soldiers came out of concealment to shell Russian forces. These spent charges littering the forest floor tell the story.
Earlier that morning, Ukrainian drones had spotted bunkers and other targets at Russian positions beyond the tree line. Soldiers readied a recoilless rifle and got to work.
The netting on their helmets helped them hide from the enemy. The green tape was a quick way for other Ukrainian soldiers to recognize them as comrades.
With the targets out of sight beyond the trees, the soldiers could not immediately be sure what they had hit. But after firing a half-dozen shells, and with the odds of a Russian response climbing, one thing was clear: It was time to go.
Load. Fire. Get to Cover.
“Today, the situation is very bad.”
For weeks, this forest in the Donbas region had been fairly calm, but this morning, with the Russians on the offensive, things were heating up again, said a Ukrainian deputy commander named Yevgen who was escorting journalists for The New York Times.
It was Aug. 9, and soldiers from the 95th Air Assault Brigade were set up under pine trees that in more peaceful times might have been more likely to shade mushroom hunters than men in camouflage.
The outpost that day was a swarm of activity. New soldiers were rotating in, and others were rotating out. There was a steady stream of incoming artillery and mortar rounds.
Then orders came in, and several Ukrainian soldiers went to their SPG-9 recoilless rifle. The weapon, which is more like a rocket launcher than a rifle, sends shells arcing at high speed toward targets a thousand or more yards away.
As the men worked, the air in the forest was pierced by the sounds of radio chatter, soldiers shouting to one another, and the roar of incoming and outgoing fire.
When Yevgen gave the order to fire, flames gushed out of the SPG-9 and dust rose into the air, engulfing the men — and offering any Russians who might have been watching a telltale signature to target.
They repeated the process several more times, removing spent propellant charges from the rear of the gun, tossing them aside and sliding in fresh projectiles. As their radios chirped new instructions, they adjusted their trajectory. Then the weapon — that one, anyway — fell silent.
Yevgen offered a salute, and his men sought safety, or the closest thing to it one could hope for on the front lines. The gun was concealed again. Until the next time. And then the commander turned to his visitors.
“OK. Time to go.”