For 2.5 months, the Armed Forces of Ukraine fought for two small streets in the completely destroyed village of Andriivka near Bakhmut. Babel recreated this operation — it is a Ukrainian counteroffensive from the inside

Oksana Kovalenko
Dmytro Rayevskyi
For 2.5 months, the Armed Forces of Ukraine fought for two small streets in the completely destroyed village of Andriivka near Bakhmut. Babel recreated this operation — it is a Ukrainian counteroffensive from the inside

This is how the village of Andriivka looks today, in which not a single whole building remains.

AP / Evgeniy Maloletka

On September 14, 2023, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army officially reported: the Armed Forces liberated the small village of Andriivka in the Donetsk region, followed by the neighboring Klishchiivka. Before the full-scale invasion, these names were known only to the locals, now both villages are of strategic importance for the Ukrainian army — they are a springboard for a possible further encirclement of Bakhmut. It is 13 kilometers from Andriivka to the city. The Russians completely destroyed and captured the village in November 2022. In the summer and autumn of 2023, when there were constant battles for Andriivka, the occupiers held on to it until the last — there was nothing left of their 72th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade. In the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Third Separate Assault Brigade and the units attached to it were responsible for the capture of Andriivka. In order to liberate a small piece of land on which several dozen people lived before the war, the military had to plan a complex operation. Babel correspondent Oksana Kovalenko spoke with four of its participants. All of them are active military. We donʼt mention the names of three of them for security reasons, only the callsigns. Beard and Percent worked out various elements of the operation, and Gal and his platoon directly participated in the assault. Volodymyr Romaniv, the head of the combined detachment of border guards from the 94th Border Detachment, communicated with Babel not anonymously. His fighters stormed Andriivka together with the Third Brigade and helped with aerial reconnaissance. Several months of fighting for two small streets in the completely destroyed Andriyivka is the best illustration of how the Ukrainian counteroffensive is actually going and at what cost the Armed Forces of Ukraine are returning the territories occupied by the Russians in the east.


Andriivka is a small village between Bakhmut and Horlivka. In a straight line itʼs 10 kilometers from Bakhmut and about 20 kilometers to Horlivka. In 2001, 74 people lived there. Andriivka had neither a school nor a kindergarten. Since the beginning of the war in 2014, it remained under the control of Ukraine, but the front line was not far away, ten kilometers to the south in a straight line. After a full-scale invasion, the fighting reached Andriivka in early November 2022, and at the end of the month the Russians captured it. Even then, not a single surviving building remained in the village — everything was destroyed by the fighters of the "Wagnerʼs PMC".

Next to Andriivka, a railway track runs in the direction of Bakhmut. It was built on an embankment — now itʼs a kind of barrier. To the east of the track across the field is the village Odradivka, itʼs strategically for the Russians as the road connecting the occupied Horlivka with Bakhmut passes through it. The railway line creates a natural defense: once entrenched in Andriivka, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will be able to gather forces and advance further east. In addition, the village is located at a height — this also gives advantages. The decision to return settlements along the railway, including Andriivka, to the Ukrainian command appeared at the beginning of 2023. But then, due to heavy fighting for Bakhmut, the operation was postponed.

On May 6, 2023, when the Ukrainian forces were gradually leaving the city, they returned to the idea. The Third Assault Brigade had to take the village. At the end of June 2023, its fighters crossed the channel on the way to Andriivka. The brigade was additionally reinforced with several units, among them a consolidated detachment of border guards. They performed several tasks: stormed the positions together with the brigade, helped with aerial reconnaissance, entrenched themselves in the positions recaptured from the Russians and did not allow them to return.

The situation in the Bakhmut region as of June 1, before the start of the operation to capture Andriivka and Klishchiivka. Blue is the canal whicn Ukrainian military crossed in early June. Dark green are occupied territories, village Andriivka is in the center of the map.


After the fighters crossed the channel, logistics became more difficult — it became harder to supply them with ammunition and the necessary provisions.


The operation was planned in several stages. The Russians shelled all the roads to Andriivka with artillery and aircraft. The Armed Forces could not suppress them, and therefore began an offensive. It was impossible to reach the required positions by transport. The fighters had to walk 7-10 kilometers under fire just to get to ground zero and start the assault from there.

"We tried to enter from different sides: both on equipment and gradually squeeze the enemy out of their positions. We even conducted various wargaming games — we played different variants of our actions on the map. As a result, we chose the option of a maneuver war — decided to conduct a full-fledged combat operation with maneuvers and distracting actions," Boroda says.

At the beginning of September 2023, the AFU pressed Andriivka from the west, north and south. On the approaches to the village from the south, the Russians set up positions right at the cemetery.

At the beginning of September, Ukrainian fighters almost surrounded Andriivka and began an assault operation. The marks read, counter clockwise from top: a pipe under the road on the north, a place where the Russian commander was captured, a forest strip where the enemy was blocked prior to the assault, a cemetery, Russiansʼ tunnel under the railroad, railroad.


"Since everything was happening under the barrage of artillery fire, our infantry did truly heroic deeds — they broke through 100 meters forward, immediately dug into the ground and then sat on the defensive under heavy fire. Thus, every day, meter by meter, the infantry advanced from three directions. We combined our tactics: sometimes we got in on vehicles, sometimes on foot, we went from different directions so that the enemy did not understand from which side we would strike," says Boroda.

Thus, at the end of August, Andriivka managed to be surrounded. Volodymyr Romaniv, the head of the consolidated border guard unit, says that "practically every meter had a tactical significance. If we surrendered at least one captured position, the Russians could come to our rear."

The defense line was protected by mobile groups that could shoot down any aerial target: from a reconnaissance drone or a kamikaze drone to a fighter jet and guided aerial bombs.


The surrounded Russians had only one channel of communication with the world — a large tunnel two human heights high under the railway track. Reinforcements entered through it, ammunition and provisions were transported by it. The Third Assault Brigade could not block the tunnel for a long time. The Russians themselves did it. They were afraid that the Ukrainians would take this position and quickly go to the approaches to the next important settlement in the east — Odradivka. So in early September, the Russians blew up the tunnel. Thus, they were left without logistics and all supplies had to be transferred in two places across the embankment along which the railway line ran. These routes were controlled by Ukrainian fighters — the logistics of the Russians became even more complicated.


In the north of the village, only two forest strips and a road separated the AFU from the Russians. But due to the constant shelling of the occupiers, it wasnʼt possible to start an assault for a long time. One of the positions of the Russians, which could not be destroyed in any way, was on the Klishchiivka-Andriivka road, not far from the entrance to the village. The Russians arranged it in a concrete sewer pipe, which was used as a stronghold. To advance into the village, the soldiers had to clear that pipe. The first attempt was almost successful.

Fighters of the Third Assault Brigade hide from shelling near Andriivka, September 25, 2023.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

"We suppressed the enemy with fire, planned the operation of drones, worked out special timing so that our actions were as effective as possible," says Procent.

During the assault, the Russians were sometimes no more than 10 meters away, and there was a tight shooting battle.

"In some places we were on one side of the road, they were on the other, and we just threw grenades at each other. As soon as the enemy hid from the shelling, our fighter with the call sign "Sniper" blew up the pipe. The Russians started running out from the other side, we were waiting for them there, others were hiding in the holes they dug under the road," recalls Procent.

Then the assault began. To stop it, the Russians immediately covered everyone with artillery — both their positions and Ukrainian ones. Due to the losses, the offensive was stopped, the fighters decided to withdraw and regroup. During the day, the Russians tried to attack, but were unsuccessful — their attacks were repulsed. A day later, the Ukrainian Armed Forces again tried to assault the pipe.

"We followed the old scheme, but we made some adjustments — we put fire positions in a bit other places and took more reserves," recalls Procent.

Later, one of the soldiers did reach the pipe and finally blew it up with more explosives. The explosion was so powerful that no one ran out of there — later, 13 bodies of Russian soldiers were found inside.

This made it possible to move forward: 50 meters from one flank and 30 from the other. By the end of the day, it was possible to knock out the Russians by another 100 meters and take control of the intersection with the northern street. The Russian defense was breached. The fighters of the first battalion took positions, dug in and were ready for the next actions.

"We conducted reconnaissance and realized that there is an opportunity to enter Andriivka and start an assault," Procent explains.

Intelligence destroyed several observation points and firing points of the Russians.


"We realized it was now or never," Beard recalls that day.

The Russians completely destroyed the village in November 2022. Instead of houses, mountains of bricks rose there, and the Russians hid in cellars. It was impossible to bring Ukrainian soldiers to the place of the assault. They went to ground zero on foot: they walked up to ten kilometers and carried 50 to 70 kilograms of body armor, weapons, ammunition, which should last until the arrival of the reserve. Also they carried thermal imagers, as well as supplies of water and food.

On September 12th, the assault group came to the intersection with the southern street, came up close and began the battle. This group was supposed to distract the attention of the Russians.

At the same time, another assault group of 25 fighters approached Andriivka from the north and occupied the first houses on the northern street, and already on September 13, the entire street. The Russians did not notice this. It was at this moment that the then Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Malyar announced that the Armed Forces of Ukraine had taken Andriivka. The Telegram channel of the Third Assault Brigade was in no hurry — it was reported there that the fighting was ongoing. The military told about the capture of the village only in the morning of the next day. The commanders understood: as soon as the Russians find out that they no longer control Adriivka, they will shell everyone even more massively with artillery.

Stormtroopers advanced through the village, clearing holes and cellars. Losses were significane, Ukrainian forces were running out.

"After the first assault, only two survived unscathed — stormtrooper Sikach and platoon medic Fox. "Sikach helped the boys, bandaged them, monitored their condition and simultaneously kept the defense up to the approach of the reserves," says Procent. “Four fighters died during the assault — they were in the teams of machine gunners and grenade launchers, controlling the intersection. All other assaulters were injured. Some of them got very serious traumas — with leg amputations. Two boys were left without eyes."

Border guards entered the position behind the attack aircraft. Volodymyr Romaniv recalls: the greatest danger came after the assault, when the soldiers had to be replaced and sent for recovery. The Russians had a good understanding of these logistical routes and bombarded them with artillery and aircraft.

"But the worst thing is remote mining, when they launch a projectile that explodes in the air, and hundreds of "petals" fly out of it. Thatʼs how they tried to cut off the possibility of evacuating the wounded, sending out attack aircraft for recovery, bringing in reinforcements and bringing in additional ammunition," explains Romaniv.

The border guards calculated several alternative routes each time and never once did the Russians prevent them from getting into position. The reserves replaced the attack aircraft around ten in the evening on September 13.

While the assault on the first street continued, another battalion was preparing to capture the second. A fighter with the call sign "Gal" led one of the assault groups.

"We were called out of the blue. We arrived and had a day to prepare," he recalls.

They left at ten in the morning on September 14. The Russians shelled all the approaches to the village.

"It was very difficult to reach Andriivka itself. We walked four kilometers on foot for almost seven hours. Although we took only the most necessary, we carried at least 40 kilograms. I had a machine gun, 12 loading case, more than two dozen packs of bullets, a grenade launcher, half a hundred VOGs, up to ten grenades, thermal imagers," says Gal.

The road to "zero point" looked like this: in the pauses between shelling, two fighters ran from shelter to shelter for several hundred meters. Everyone gathered on the approaches to Andriivka.

"At the place where we met, the road is high. Andriivka itself goes a little downhill. I remember that from that hill there was a very beautiful view about 15 kilometers away, and in the distance there were beautiful fields. And the village itself is simply not there — we did not see a single intact building, everything was bombed," recalls Gal.

A captured Russian combatant

The Galʼs group entered the village at approximately 4 p.m., walked to the railway track along the street that had been captured by the Armed Forces of Ukraine the day before, and cut off the way for the Russians to retreat.

At the same time, another group approached from the western side. All the Russians who were hiding in the basements were surrounded. From the ruins, the fighters heard a manʼs cry: "Help, pull me out, please, I surrender." The fighters thought that this was a provocation and that they were being lured to an open area. In the end, they found a man wounded in the pelvis and thigh — a major of the Russian army, commander of the battalion of the 72nd brigade. He previously fought in Syria.

Videos made by the fighters of the Third Assault Brigade during the battles for Andriivka.

"He provided a lot of important information. And so that the Russians would not know about it, and the competent authorities would have time to work everything out, we first reported that he had died. Only recently have we been allowed to say that he survived. The Russians were shelled by their own artillery. That battalion commander entered Andriivka with 120 soldiers. Their command said to see how the situation was. They didnʼt even know that Andriivka was being assaulted and that half of the village was not theirs," says Gal.

Some of these occupiers ran away, some were killed by friendly and Ukrainian fire.

Under constant fire, the Ukrainian fighters cleared the houses on both sides of the street. When it got dark, the Gala group settled down for the night. A Russian captured combatant was with them. Several times the Russians tried to break through, but without success.

On the morning of September 15, the Russians began to flee the village. Their own artillery was hitting them. To force the Russians to surrender, our fighters raised a quadcopter with a loudspeaker. Some surrendered as prisoners. The captured combatant, who remained with Gal at the positions all the time, was stabilized and given water.

"He scolded his command a lot. And at some point, either he began to trust us, or maybe something happened in his head, but he asked if we would visit him in the hospital, because his life was saved," recalls Gal.

In the end, the wounded Russian was put on a stretcher and carried for one and a half kilometers, and only then was taken away by car.

The fighting for the second street and its clearing lasted more than a day. The last two combatants from the Russian 72nd brigade were destroyed during the assault on the village. According to Gal, at the beginning of the assault, up to 140 people were holding the street from the Russian side. Against them were eight fighters from the Galʼs group and eight who came from the other side.

"Compare the balance of forces and the level of our training," Gal says proudly.

Mortars of the Third Assault Brigade operate in the Andriivka area on September 25, 2023.

Getty Images / «Babel'»