Live updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine

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Ukrainian soldiers live in a candle-lit bunker southwest of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers live in a candle-lit bunker southwest of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine. (Matthias Somm/CNN)

Southwest of the city of Bakhmut, Ukrainian soldiers Andriy and Borisych live in a candle-lit bunker cut into the frozen earth. For several weeks they have been confronting hundreds of fighters belonging to the Russian private military contractor Wagner throwing themselves against Ukrainian defenses.

Disguised in a balaclava, Andriy recounts one seemingly endless firefight when they came under attack by a flood of Wagner fighters.

“We were fighting for about 10 hours in a row. And it wasn’t like just waves, it was uninterrupted. So it was just like they didn’t stop coming.”

Their AK-47 rifles became so hot from constant firing, Andriy says, that they had to keep changing them.

“It was about 20 soldiers on our side. And let’s say 200 from their side,” he says.

The Wagner way of war is to send a first wave of attackers that mainly comprises raw recruits straight out of Russian prisons. They know little of military tactics and are poorly equipped. Most just hope that if they survive their six-month contract they can go home rather than back to a cell.

“They make the group – let’s say from 10 soldiers – reach 30 meters, then they start digging in to keep the position,” Andriy says of Wagner.

Another group follows, he says, to claim another 30 meters. “That’s how, step by step, (Wagner) is trying to move forward, while they lose a lot of people in the meantime.”

Only when the first wave is exhausted or cut down do Wagner send in more experienced combatants, often from the flanks, in an effort to overrun Ukrainian positions.

Andriy says facing the assault was a frightening and surreal experience.

“Our machine gunner was almost getting crazy, because he was shooting at them. And he said, I know I shot him, but he doesn’t fall. And then after some time, when he maybe bleeds out, so he just falls down.”

Andriy compares the battle to a scene out of a zombie movie. “They’re climbing above the corpse of their friends, stepping on them,” he says.

“It looks like it’s very, very likely that they are getting some drugs before attack,” he says, a claim that CNN has not been able independently to verify.

Read more here.

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