It’s five soldiers in the armored car as they attack the Russians.
Only four of them will make it out alive.
No one knows that things will soon go very badly.
– Oh God!
It is November 8 in the small village of Ternovi Pody, just under three miles from Kherson in southern Ukraine. The offensive to retake the city from the Russians is underway.
Paul Smith is one of five in the car. He sits in the machine gun turret of the armored car
The Humvee or HMMWV, short for High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, is an American four-wheel drive multipurpose military all-terrain wheeled vehicle. Source: SNL.no
He has a goal, he tells NRK via webcam:
To keep the enemy at bay, allowing Ukrainian ground troops in to retake the village and the trenches behind it.
Film everything with a helmet camera. The video is intense.
They drive in a circle past the village, keep moving and shooting. At one point the car hits a wire. Smith hits it on the head and screams.
Think you’ve been hit. He ducks, keeps shooting.
– Oh God!
You hear the sound of them being hit. Some ruined houses pass by. This is the front and it is war.
Then everything explodes.
This isn’t the first time Paul Smith has been in danger.
The 36-year-old Afghanistan veteran arrived in Ukraine in March.
For several years, the American has had a close personal relationship with Ukraine. He has been there a lot and many of his friends live there.
– I promised that I would come back and defend Ukraine if the war broke out, he said when NRK spoke to him in September.
Since he joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine, things have gone wrong several times.
Like when his team attacked a Russian position on Sept. 8 and he was gone without ammunition fifty meters from the enemy.
He barely had time to reload.
As he was ready to fire again, he saw a soldier with an anti-tank weapon coming towards them. Smith fired and the anti-tank weapon went airborne.
If the enemy had managed to aim and fire at them, things could have been much worse.
Like November 8th. In the same village. Exactly two months later.
Where is the fifth man?
A drone films the attack. In the car ahead, Smith sits in the turret.
There is a violent explosion.
Seen from the outside, it’s hard to imagine anyone inside the car surviving.
It’s total chaos in there. Paul Smith is knocked off the tower into the car. He manages to pull himself together before one of the other soldiers reaches out and pulls him out.
He is hit by steel shards in his legs. He has a cut on his head. But he can walk and he can keep fighting.
There’s one, two, three, four out there.
Where is the fifth man?
– We had a fifth man who wasn’t with us. We knew he was on the other side of the Humvee.
Smith says they seek cover behind the wreckage of the armored car and discuss what to do to save the fellow soldier who is on the opposite side of the car. The side facing the enemy.
They tried to reach him through the wreckage of the car, without success. It is too dangerous. They decide that three of them will provide covering fire while the fourth man will try to reach the wounded soldier.
– We start shooting and he tries to go around the Humvee, but he can’t. There are only three of us shooting, while there are more than three Russians shooting at us. We can’t neutralize everyone, says Paul Smith.
It does not work.
They try to call their fellow soldier without getting an answer.
– We didn’t see him move. We thought he was killed in the blast, Smith says.
It wasn’t until they returned home and saw the drone footage that they saw that he was alive after the explosion. In the video posted on social media, and probably coming from the Russians, the soldier lies down on the opposite side of the car and waves his arms.
But they don’t know it, as they decide to evacuate and throw themselves into the other armored car that has arrived.
The drama could have ended here, but after a kilometre, while I’m still in the war zone, that car breaks down too. They are bombarded by artillery and tanks.
Soldiers must continue on foot.
A drone flies over them. They don’t know who is piloting it.
Ukraine flagg i Kherson
This is the reality on the ground in Ukraine.
Dangerous and dramatic. The fighting on 8 November was part of the recapture of Kherson from the Ukrainians by the Russians.
On 9 November, the Russian Defense Minister ordered a withdrawal from the area.
Two days later, Ukrainian flags flew again in Kherson for the first time since March.
It was an important victory in a tough war.
– Everything is a video game
Back on the ground on November 8, Paul Smith looks up into the air.
– Drone! shout.
– Right above us!
Smith and the other soldiers, now on foot, pick up speed.
They are not sure who the drone that followed them is. But they know it might be Russian, and they know it might be equipped with a grenade.
Then he sees it:
The helmet camera is still rolling as Smith escapes the drone.
It explodes behind him.
After the impact remains one of the fellow soldiers, a German veteran of Afghanistan called “Kaiser”. He’s bleeding from his leg and head.
– Don’t worry, friend, reassures Smith as he prepares one
A tourniquet is a bandage used to stop bleeding (hemostasis). It is used to tie blood vessels in an extremity (arm or leg) when life-threatening bleeding cannot be stopped by direct pressure on the bleeding site. Source: SNL.no
He squeezes and “Kaiser” yells.
– Damn, it hurts.
Smith does what he can to stop the bleeding. “Kaiser” has a cut on his head.
While all this is happening, the camera captures the conversation between them.
– It was like a damn video game, man, says “Kaiser”.
– Everything is a video game, Smith replies.
– Everything goes well, and then they hit a grenade, he says, before getting to the point:
– I’m sorry, this is not an appropriate topic to talk about right now.
Paul Smith replies, as he finishes:
– It’s fine, keep talking to me.
“Kaiser” is badly wounded, but survives.
6 months of war
Eventually they exit the battle area. And after a quick checkup at the hospital, Paul Smith went home. She snaps a photo as he walks through the door.
On social media, he calls himself “Nucking_Futs_Yuri” – if you reverse the N and F, you get a crazy Yuri roast. Her Instagram and Youtube profile gained a huge following after she started sharing dramatic moments of war.
The look is completely different.
He himself says that he is fine, but he is not indifferent to everything that happened.
He just came perilously close to being killed twice in fifteen minutes.
– I expected that sooner or later we would hit a mine. There are so many of them in this country. But when it happened it was unreal. It doesn’t seem like it happened to me. It seems strange.
Even seeing the drone video of the mine explosion on social media, and discovering that the fellow soldier was alive when they left him, was difficult.
– When we realized that he was alive and that we had abandoned him, I felt bad.
He was found dead a couple of days later.
– Ready to fight
Smith hasn’t returned to fighting since the landmine hit, but he hasn’t stopped fighting.
– I sent a message to the boss and said that I’m fine physically and mentally. If they can get me a new Humvee, I’m more than ready to go out and fight.
– How long will you stay in Ukraine?
– Until it’s over.