The Journal spoke with men who were part of a small group that was sent into Bakhmut, which became known as the meat grinder, just a few days after being mobilized.
Out of 16 men in the group of draftees, 11 were either killed or captured. The Journal described them as “mostly poor men from villages in the northeastern Kharkiv region, many of them unemployed, doing odd jobs as handymen or shift work at factories in the regional capital.”
Some of the men had military training years or decades ago, but none had combat experience. A few of them threatened to refuse orders when they were told they were being sent to the frontlines on February 21, citing a lack of training, but they ultimately went.
One man, Vladyslav Yudin, told the Journal that he told a sergeant major that he had never fired or even held a gun before. “Bakhmut will teach you,” Yudin was told.
The men participated in brutal house-to-house combat in Bakhmut. Many of them are presumed dead, but their families are still holding out hope that they were captured by the Russians and are still alive.
The men’s accounts match what Ukrainians fighting on the frontlines had been telling the media while the battle was still raging. They told stories of troops being sent in with little support, training, or ammunition.
The Washington Post spoke to a Ukrainian battalion commander in March who said he was being sent fresh recruits who didn’t want to fire their guns because they were afraid of the sound.
Despite Kyiv’s Western backers advising against expending resources on Bakhmut, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tried to hold onto the city for as long as he could, but it was fully captured by the Wagner Group and Russian forces this past weekend.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin estimated that 50,000 Ukrainians lost their lives fighting for the city, but the number is not confirmed. Prigozhin also said that he recruited 50,000 people from prison to fight in Bakhmut and about 20% of them were killed.