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Russian army base sees scramble for Ukraine war supplies, some locals and soldiers say -Breaking

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO. Russian President Vladimir Putin observes a military parade marking Victory Day. This day marks the 77th anniversary the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War Two. It is held in Red Square, Moscow. May 9, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via

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(Reuters) – The town of Valuyki in western Russia has become a crucial staging post in the latest phase of Russia’s war over the nearby border in Ukraine. Over the last month, helicopters buzzed over, military vehicles jammed roads, and soldiers trained at an immense military base to combat.

It’s also a place where soldiers’ relatives and private citizens are working to provide supplies and equipment for troops based near the town to address shortages, including drones, radios and heat-detecting rifle sights, according to six volunteers and three soldiers Reuters spoke to, as well as a review of social media channels volunteers use to coordinate efforts.

Olga Lukina is one of them. She claims her husband plays a noncombat role with a Russian military reconnaissance team. She told Reuters some reconnaissance units were short of drones and night-vision equipment, in particular, while other units fighting in Ukraine “need food, diesel, somewhere to wash themselves and wash their clothes.”

British military intelligence and the Pentagon, in published assessments, have said Russia’s campaign has been slowed by problems with getting supplies such as food and fuel as well as essential services to its troops. Russia established its control over Mariupol, an Azov sea port, in the last few weeks. The Russians also gained incremental territory in Donbas. But, Western governments believe that Russia did not achieve its initial goals due to high personnel and equipment costs.

When Reuters asked Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman, to respond to questions, Peskov referred them to the Defence Ministry. Reuters sent detailed questions to the ministry, but they did not reply.

As the Russian military tries to maintain an offensive in eastern Ukraine, they are able to see insider information about Valuyki.

Three months ago, Russia launched a war against its outnumbered neighbour. Now Russia is refocusing on the east.

According to the Pentagon’s April briefings the Russian troops had been reported to be regrouping in Valuyki. They were trying to create the northern portion of a pincer movement that would reach the other Russian forces from the south to isolate the eastern Donbas from the rest.

Rather than the swift victory the West says Russian President Vladimir Putin intended, he’s now entrenched in a grinding conflict, inflicting a heavy death toll on Russian troops. In the first three months of the war in Ukraine, as many Russian soldiers were likely killed as in the Soviet Union’s 9-year campaign in Afghanistan, according to Britain’s defence ministry.

Moscow calls this a “special military operation” that it describes as an effort to defend Russia from the West. However, the government has stated that everything is in place and the army has all the necessary equipment to win the war. According to Ukraine’s forces, they are suffering heavy losses. The government is launching a crowd funding campaign for support of the military forces.

INFLUX TROOPS

Valuyki lies in the Belgorod Region and is within a few kilometres (9 miles) of the closest border to Ukraine. It is strategically located just east of Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv and north of the Russian-backed Donbas region.

Construction of the main military garrison near the town, located outside the nearby village of Soloti, started in 2015 in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and launch of a military campaign to support pro-Russian separatists in Donbas.

According to state procurement documents publicly available, plans were made for 300-hectares of land. They included bars for several thousand soldiers and construction contracts worth $50 million.

According to U.S.-based Maxar Technologies’ satellite imagery (NYSE :)..), earlier this year as Putin was preparing for the February invasion of Ukraine, military movements in the vicinity of the base increased.

In mid-April, following Russia’s withdrawal from the north of Ukraine, troops and equipment poured into Valuyki, according to three locals. A satellite image taken May 5 of the location of a smaller military base close to Valuyki showed an array of armored trucks and a structure Maxar claimed was a hospital. They weren’t there when they arrived in February.

Among those passing through the area were paratroopers from Russia’s elite 76th Guards Air Assault Division who had been stationed in Bucha during Russia’s bloody occupation of the town near Kyiv, according to documents found by Reuters.

One of them, Kirill Kryuchkov, posted on Instagram on April 19 a video showing a group of people in military uniform drinking beer in a café that Reuters identified as one in Valuyki. One staff member saw the video, recognized the soldiers, and said that the same group of people came into the cafe almost daily for one week before stopping abruptly.

“All the soldiers who come to our establishment want one thing: to unwind psychologically, and clearly they have a reason for doing that,” she said. Kryuchkov didn’t respond to our requests for comment.

Others have also visited Valuyki to obtain resupply. One man identified as Rafael Aliev, a soldier with a logistics unit posted to a Valuyki forum on May 26, stating that he was repairing his car after it had been damaged in fighting. “But the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defence, damnit, does not have spare parts,” he wrote.

He told Reuters that spare parts are not always available and could sometimes take up to a month before they arrive. He said that soldiers often turn to volunteers for the equipment they require to avoid having to wait.

Aliev, like many soldiers, relies on locals to help him with his laundry. Valuyki resident Lyubov Zazharskaya said she washes in her machine at home dirty laundry from soldiers returning from Ukraine and has ironed a serviceman’s uniform so he could attend a comrade’s funeral procession. According to her, laundry facilities on the bases were not able to keep up.

Reuters asked the Kremlin and the defense ministry for information about troop deployments in Valuyki, the conditions of soldiers there or the cost to build the base.

SALE OF EQUIPMENT

Reuters had access to a Telegram private channel, where volunteer soldiers based in Belgorod coordinate their efforts to obtain equipment for them. The administrators created a list of the most critical items that troops needed. These items can be purchased at regular retailers, but they are also available for military use.

“We urgently need to obtain at least 3 drones like these before Saturday for our police special forces,” one administrator in the chat, who used the name Ruslana, posted on April 12. “They are badly needed and could save the lives of lots of our guys.”

An administrator also included a screenshot from an online retailer that showed what was claimed to be a quadrocopter drone by Chinese company SZ DJI Technology Co. According to the retailer, the cost was 92990 rubles (roughly $1,100).

When approached for comment for this article, the person identified as Ruslana declined to answer questions about the practice of supplying equipment for the military, saying Reuters was owned by people from “unfriendly countries.”

DJI stated to Reuters that in April it had stopped doing business with Russia and Ukraine. A review of compliance requirements for different jurisdictions is currently underway due to the hostilities.

A post that appeared on May 18 in the same chat from someone called Roman, read: “Friends, we’re collecting humanitarian aid, and for the front. We urgently require 16 radios for the soldiers. Suitable models: Motorola (NYSE:) DP4800/DP4801, Hytera TC-508.” Reuters was unable to reach the person who posted the message.

According to four individuals involved and posts on the channel, items purchased are then collected and handed over to military personnel. Reuters couldn’t determine the amount of items collected.

Telegram has videos that show men dressed in camouflage and wearing balaclavas holding boxes of equipment donated by donors. “Thank you, comrades, for not abandoning us,” said one man in a May 23 post as he unpacked a small drone.

An employee of a Russian state organisation who works in the city of Belgorod told Reuters that bosses had instructed her and her colleagues to donate one day’s worth of wages to pay for drones and thermal sights for Russian forces in Ukraine. Fearing reprisals, the employee refused to reveal her identity or that of her employer. Reuters independent verification confirmed she was a public employee.

The Kremlin and the defence ministry didn’t respond to questions about volunteers providing equipment for the military.

‘I CRIED’

A woman who said she was the mother of a soldier based in Valuyki and sent to Ukraine told Reuters that since the conflict began, she has twice made the nearly four-hour drive from her home to Valuyki to bring food for her son’s unit because combat rations were insufficient. Some people in her son’s unit had boots with the soles falling off, and Soviet-style canvas jackets with cotton padding inside that did not keep them warm, said the woman, who also asked not to be identified.

“When I saw this, I cried,” she said, describing the unkempt appearance of people in her son’s unit, without identifying which unit. Reuters independently verified that her son is in the Russian military but couldn’t establish the specific unit.

Neither the Kremlin nor the defence ministry responded to Reuters questions about the mother’s account.

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