(Chassiv Iar) Squatting in a small wood, the head of a Ukrainian special forces commando explains to his men standing around him the route to counter a Russian offensive north of Bakhmout, in eastern Ukraine .

The objective is to defend the village of Grygorivka, targeted Tuesday by Russian artillery.

The capture of this locality by the Russian soldiers and the paramilitary group Wagner would close a little more from the North the pincers in which the latter are trying to confine Bakhmout, about ten kilometers away, where the longest and longest battle is taking place. bloody since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

“Our mission is to stop the enemy attack and support our infantry troops with artillery,” the commando chief, who wishes to remain anonymous, told AFP.

Hooded and helmeted, carrying small camouflaged backpacks, the group’s elite soldiers are equipped with TAR-21 assault rifles – an Israeli weapon manufactured under Ukrainian license – with scopes and silencers, machine guns and anti-tank rocket launchers.

Around Bakhmout, the clatter of Ukrainian artillery fire and the deaf and powerful sound of nearby Russian strikes, or more distant Ukrainian strikes, are incessant. The silence rarely lasts more than 10 seconds.

Grygorivka lies a few kilometers west of the villages of Orikhovo-Vassylivka and Bogdanivka, where Ukrainian forces have “repelled many attacks” from the Russians, the Kyiv general staff said in its daily report on Thursday morning. .

“The situation is difficult, but we have it under control,” said the 45-year-old commando leader, between two whistles of shells exploding a few hundred meters away.

“We are able to fight, that’s for sure, but the enemy still has the advantage of the artillery […] We suffer losses because of the enormous amount of artillery they have. That’s why we have to go back, but sometimes we go forward,” the soldier continued.

“They are trying to take Bogdanivka, then Chassiv Iar, in order to close the pocket around Bakhmout,” he adds.

Chassiv Iar, the first town west of Bakhmout, was the target on Tuesday of bombardments which hit and set fire to uninhabited houses. The previous day, firing of white phosphorus incendiary munitions had set fire to an uninhabited area.

Behind the Russian pincers further north, since the beginning of January, the M03 road which linked Bakhmout to Sloviansk – a large city in the region with its neighbor Kramatorsk – has been cut off by soldiers from Moscow and the front there is now stabilized.

“Here in Pryvillya, we are quite close to the front line, about 1.5-2 km. We hold this position. (The Russians) were pushing about a week ago, now they’re pushing towards Bakhmout, that’s their priority,” summarizes “Romeo,” by his nom de guerre, who commands a Ukrainian post on that road.

The artillery is more discreet there and the most active are the drones.

Parked at the side of the road, Max, 40, a drone operator nicknamed the “bomber”, has just launched a small device under which he fixed a hand grenade. The aircraft flies to a forest about six kilometers away, where Russian soldiers are.

On the screen the landscape scrolls slowly, the image is clear. The drone arrives above the forest, and goes to an altitude of about 20 m.

But near the objective, Max loses control, the grenade is dropped and misses its target.

The Russians “jammed the drone, cutting off the signal between the drone and the remote control. When the drone is out of control, it starts to descend and they shoot at it, “explains the operator, after recovering the quadcopter, bearing the marks of bullet scratches.

The man says he lost three drones the day before, for a total of 62 since the start of the invasion.

“Russia has invested in its radio-electronic warfare assets for years, they are very effective,” notes “Zyma”, head of a Ukrainian drone detachment operating in the south.

According to him, the Russians use a whole range of equipment to “stun” or even “falsify” the signals of Ukrainian aircraft and shoot them down.

“Everyone does what they can, where they can,” adds Max, the “bomber.” “These technologies allow us to set targets of (killing) ten ‘orcs’ per day,” he said, using a pejorative nickname for Russian enemies.

“I feel good, because I see the results of my work. I can use my time and ammo very efficiently. It makes me happy,” adds the soldier.