A set of first-person videos filmed in southern Ukraine shows a gunner mounted atop an armored Humvee, furiously firing a .50-caliber M2 Browning machine gun and raking nearby buildings with rounds roughly the size of cigars. The vehicle then stops and the gunner swings his barrel toward apparent muzzle flashes, squeezing the last few rounds from the ammunition belt.
“Ammo! Ammo!” he screams in English, struggling with the feed tray cover he must lift before loading another belt. The gunner, who appears to have a North American accent, wears Ukrainian military patches and a yellow arm band, suggesting he is part of the Western volunteer effort.
The footage underscores the scope of US support for Ukraine, consisting of billions of dollars in weapons and equipment that, in many respects, have allowed the outmanned, outgunned Ukrainian military to keep pace with, and in some cases outwit, the heavier-armed Russian military. It also reveals the reality of combat: heavy artillery rounds fired from miles away can batter an enemy, but to win back terrain, ground forces must find and kill adversaries at close range.
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The Post used geolocation to verify the battle filmed in Ternovi Pody, a village midway between Mykolaiv and Kherson, the strategic cities at the heart of Ukraine’s offensive to retake ground in the south. It is not clear when the fight occurred, but wounded Ukrainian troops have recently described a harrowing fight in the region, where artillery needed to expel Russian troops has been in short supply.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has reported fighting in the area, where Ukrainian forces are attempting to punch through front lines and push towards Kherson, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Prague on Friday that the Pentagon had observed some “success” in Kherson and in Kharkiv to the north. “That’s very, very encouraging,” he added.
Hundreds of Americans and Europeans — some with prior military experience, others not — have joined the war on Ukraine’s side. At least half a dozen US citizens are believed to have been killed in the fighting while two others, both military veterans, were taken captive and remain in the custody of Russian proxies. A third was reported missing in April and his status remains unknown.
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As the video continues, the gunner reaches for a tool to pry open the feed tray cover. Instead of more rounds, though, another soldier inside the Humvee passes up an AT-4, a point-and-shoot antitank rocket. He fires that weapon at a target so close the launch and the impact are almost simultaneous.
As small-arms fire zips overhead and punches into the dirt around the Humvee, the gunner pleads for fresh rounds as he prepares to fire another AT-4 handed to him from inside the vehicle. “Fifty-cal ammo!” he yells. “We’re taking shots!”
Weapons like the AT-4 antitank launcher are meant for close fights with a maximum effective range of about 300 meters for rounds launched from a single-use tube. The United States has provided thousands of such rounds to Ukraine along with armored Humvees.
As the videos suggest, this operation was particularly daring, with movement across flat, open terrain in thin-skinned vehicles not designed to withstand heavy antiarmor weaponry.
The Humvee parks at one point, becoming a fixed target for would-be attackers. The glass inside the vehicle is shown blasted but intact.
The video also reflects the candid moments in combat that rarely make it into war films. The gunner, apparently experienced running a machine gun, struggles at times to work his fine motor skills through the thin black gloves he’s wearing to protect his hands from heat and cuts.
The brass slips through his fingers on one attempt to reload before he gets it right and, seconds later, shoves the lid back onto the feed tray. Although only a few moments, for those inside the vehicle it probably felt like an eternity with Russian forces nearby. The gunner presses down on the butterfly trigger for another barrage of gunfire before it jams again, forcing him to start the process over again.
This time, he is more deliberate about a technique taught to soldiers, holding the beginning of the belt firmly against the left side of the gun before slamming down the cover.
Another video from what appears to be the same operation suggests the soldiers are not much concerned with the possibility Russian forces will punch back with antiarmor weapons. Such munitions would easily destroy Humvees. But as the video shows, a swarm of Ukrainian vehicles streams towards a group of buildings under fire as dismounted troops move towards them. No glimpses of the enemy can be seen.
Analysts with the Institute for the Study of War said that the footage indicated Ternovi Pody had been recaptured by Ukraine.
Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Grain shipments from Ukraine are gathering pace under the agreement hammered out by Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations in July. Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports had sent food prices soaring and raised fears of more hunger in the Middle East and Africa. At least 18 ships, including loads of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, have departed.
The fight: The conflict on the ground grinds on as Russia uses its advantage in heavy artillery to pummel Ukrainian forces, which have sometimes been able to put up stiff resistance. In the south, Ukrainian hopes rest on liberating the Russia-occupied Kherson region, and ultimately Crimea, seized by Russia in 2014. Fears of a disaster at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station remain as both sides accuse each other of shelling it.
The weapons: Western supplies of weapons are helping Ukraine slow Russian advances. US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) allow Ukrainian forces to strike farther behind Russian lines against Russian artillery. Russia has used an array of weapons against Ukraine, some of which have drawn the attention and concern of analysts.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground since the very beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.
How you can help: Here are ways those in the US can help support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.
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