It was a promise from US President Joe Biden: in Ukraine, the first deliveries of US cluster munitions have just arrived. “Ethey can radically change” the situation on the battlefield, estimated Oleksandr Tarnavskyithe commander of the counter-offensive in the south of the country.
Behind the line, other men are essential. This is the case, for example, of the battalion of mechanics of the 35th naval infantry brigade. A unit responsible for repairing army vehicles that are put to the test on the front.
Day and night work
In an improvised garage in the Donetsk region, in the middle of nature, vehicles are lined up on a wide dirt road, sheltered by a row of trees. “This is our field hospital, this is where our vehicles receive their first aid”, introduces Alexis Navrotsky, Deputy Battalion Chief. On the ground lie burst tires, pieces of bodywork or even tools. “My guys are there to repair these machines as quickly as possible, so that they can be back on the front line in just a few hours”.
Under an enormous armored vehicle of 20 tons which is used to transport the troops, two mechanics are busy. The vehicle hit an anti-tank mine: “After the victory, we will teach the French mechanics how to work efficiently and in any condition”laughs one of them.
In this improvised garage, the mechanics work day and night, to the rhythm of the counter-offensive, according to Alexis Navrotsky: “Ihe same vehicle can come back two or three times during the day. It goes to the front, and if it takes a splinter, we repair it. He returns there, but he can be again taken under the fire of mortars, and still damaged.
One of the difficulties is to obtain spare parts, so most often it is the D system that takes precedence. Kolia gets out of a vehicle, shaved head, stocky silhouette, hands full of oil: “It’s a second-hand engine. We found it through the classifieds and we brought it back yesterday at 9 p.m. We clubbed together. We paid 500 dollars for it, it’s not too expensive, It’s okay. If it can help save at least one life, we’re ready to give all the money we have.”
But very quickly, the biker’s blue gaze fades. Two of his brothers died in this war, and while he says he has no hatred, he wants the conflict to end as soon as possible: “From the cooks to the men on the front line, everyone must do their best with commitment and patriotism”.
In a few months, Kolia and his men will have reinforcements. The German group Rheinmetall is to open an armored vehicle production and repair plant in western Ukraine.
Ukraine: the battle of the mechanics – Report by Isabelle Labeyrie and Gilles Gallinaro