Ukraine war anniversary: ‘Putin’s sending forward troops like cattle for slaughter’

Dominic Waghorn reporting from Ukraine   (Sky News)
Dominic Waghorn reporting from Ukraine (Sky News)

Dmytro and his wife Valentyna would have been celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year in their pretty home in a village north of Kharkiv. But last April a Russian shell came crashing into their sitting room and killed her.

I remember every word Dmytro said as we stood in the ruins, his grief and his quiet, powerless fury. “Prison would be too good for Putin,” he told me. “I would personally cut him to pieces.”

A few miles away our cameraman Andy Portch filmed as Ukrainian prosecutors dug up someone else’s husband in their garden. He had been killed while tending vegetables as another shell came whistling in from Russian artillery. His poor wife had had to bury him herself before his body started to decompose.

These things stay with you, like the smell of rotting Russian corpses in a treeline on a ridge nearby.

Every single Russian tank and armoured vehicle had been destroyed in a single devastating counter attack before they had a chance to escape. Our security adviser shook his head at their military incompetence. The armour is far too close together he said, the foxholes are dug too near.

In a court in the same area a few days later, we filmed two Russian artillery men on trial for firing grad rockets onto homes like Dmytro’s. They looked dim and fearful. They had been on exercises in Belarus they said when their unit was sent into Ukraine as part of Vladimir Putin’s invasion. Just following orders they said trying to justify launching one rocket after another into a civilian residential area.

Three months earlier in Moscow I had had a chance to challenge a Russian official about its attacks on civilians.

“You say you’re trying to protect civilians,” I had asked Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry’s fiery spokeswoman, “but you are hitting so many civilian buildings. Are your soldiers bad at targeting or are you lying.”

“If you use that that tone I won’t speak to you,” she said.

Putin is fighting this war with poorly motivated, poorly equipped and poorly led forces. His commanders are hoping the sheer numbers of their troops will make up for that lack of quality.

In the city of Bakhmut we filmed with Chechens, some of Putin’s oldest and fiercest enemies, in a bunker as one of the most intense battles of this war raged above ground. They showed us their home made weapons, fire extinguisher cannisters filled with plastic explosive that they fire from rocket propelled grenade launchers. And they spoke of killing Russians with particular relish.

“They’re sending forward troops like cattle for slaughter,” one of them told us. “Leaving the ground covered with corpses. They do it every day. They have no pity for their own people.”

Polish president Andjay Duda told me the same last week, the Russians have one advantage the west the Ukrainians will never have. They do not care for their men.

For a year we have watched Russia wage an unprovoked senseless war with utter contempt for humanity. Its outdated human wave tactics are up against Ukrainian fighting spirit and ingenuity combined with more and more state of the art western weapons.

The Russians have no hope of winning but how many more of their men will we have to watch them sacrifice, and how many more heartbroken relatives of dead innocent Ukrainians must we interview, before Putin’s mad misadventure is forced to a close?

* Dominic Waghorn is Sky News International Diplomatic Editor (@DominicWaghorn)