Max, a Ukrainian sniper, is oiling his rifle in the early morning sunlight, listening to AC/DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long” on his cellphone.
The night before, Max and a reconnaissance team were operating in enemy territory where they cleared a trench of six Russian troops that a fellow soldier had killed with a machine gun.
Andriy, the team leader, lays out the contents of the dead men’s green backpacks on the ground, outside the Ukrainian team’s safe house in the country’s eastern Donbas region.
There are two magazines for an AK-47, several grenades and a thin pink strip of rubber — a cheap tourniquet.
“They were really young, really, really young,” says Andriy, referring to the dead soldiers, “none older than 25 years old. They have been provided with nothing.”
The Russian and Ukrainian armies have burned through many of their best soldiers in the past year of war. Both sides now rely heavily on conscripts. Andriy says the problem is that Russia has far more troops than Ukraine, and even young, inexperienced men like the ones killed last night pose a challenge simply by virtue of their numbers.
“The Russian mobilizational reserve is pretty much infinite,” says Andriy, “which means that they have the luxury to make mistakes. They can lose a brigade or they can lose a platoon, and some of those people are going to survive and they can share experience with the new conscripts.”
NPR is only using the soldiers’ first names because of the sensitive nature of their work.