While much of the world’s attention has fixated on the battle for Bakhmut, Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine is also raging in forests and fields about 50 miles north of the city. This is where New York Times reporters Yousur Al-Hlou and Masha Froliak met a frontline soldier named Valentyn, who gave them a rare and powerful interview about the toll of the war on Ukrainian troops.
For weeks, Valentyn had been traveling back and forth to the front line to rescue wounded soldiers and recover the dead. He described the grim job of pulling bodies from the trenches while taking a break to clean the blood inside his vehicle.
“There is blood everywhere,” he said. “It has a smell. Especially fresh blood.”
While Ukrainian and Russian military officials have been reluctant to release any official casualty numbers, the U.S. government estimates that both sides have suffered significant losses, in the tens or even hundreds of thousands.
But for Valentyn, the war’s death toll is more than a statistic. His stoic face reflected the fear and horror known only to those who have experienced it.
“Those who haven’t been there will never understand,” he said.