'I saw naked children with their eyes gouged out. Now I cheer every time I see a dead Russian: Ukraine's drone unit reveals the secrets of the hunt for Putin's forces, with their 'champion' killing 500 a day – despite bizarre tricks enemy forces use to stay alive
As a child I was fascinated by the novel 'Second Variety' by Philip K. Dick. It begins with two soldiers sitting in their bunker, watching a single enemy infantryman approach their position.
Seconds later, the underground 'claw' drones reveal themselves and use sharp blades to tear the intruder to pieces. The idea of a human life being taken right in front of you by man-made robots was blood-curdling.
I could never imagine that thirty years later I would sit in a bunker and look at a similar photo, and that both the bunker and the photo would be as real as possible.
Our bunker is only a mile from the front line and is well hidden underground. It could probably survive a direct hit from a 500 kilo KAB (Russian air-guided bomb); Of course, no one wants to check whether that is true. But the odds are high, as the Russians continually use their air sovereignty and that of the KAB as a final argument, up to ten times a day.
I'm a guest here, but the bunker is a temporary home for four army men. It is equipped with four bunk beds, Starlink, boxes of ammunition and food.
An operator sits at the table and monitors the online streaming from the drones. Casually click the mouse and choose one live stream over the other. Two more soldiers are playing backgammon. The fourth cleans his AK rifle.
'Look guys, that could be interesting!' the operator calls. We are all glued to the screen. A drone detected a group of four Russian soldiers.
Sergey spoke to a team of drone operators deep underground in Ukraine who worked tirelessly to repel the Russian invasion
Ukraine has seen the most intensive use of drones in the history of warfare
Safe in an underground base, Ukrainian soldiers can pilot drones from above to neutralize enemy forces
'Drones are the blood of this war. One drone pilot can kill up to twenty Russians a day. Our champion once killed 500,” one soldier recalled
“Too bad we're already out of grenades, so it might take longer,” the operator says. Even without grenades, a drone can be deadly to the enemies because the operator knows their coordinates.
Within a few seconds, artillery hits one of the black figures on the screen. Other figures appeared unharmed and tried to fight their way out, but the second artillery strike gets them first.
Soldiers shout, greet each other and cheer. Just like when you celebrate an unexpected but long-awaited goal from the team you support.
Of course it's not a football match; these are living people. They were. And they aren't anymore, because they came to kill us.
“I saw piles of dead bodies in vacant areas. Women and children. Some were missing limbs, some had their stomachs cut open, and some had their eyes gouged out. They were all naked,” a soldier from the bunker explains.
'The Russians set them on fire and signs show that many of the victims were alive and died from smoke poisoning. After that I no longer feel sorry for the Russians and I cheer every time I see the dead person.'
The front line is infested with drones. If a soldier is nearby, he will be spotted and most likely killed. Drones are as deadly as the claws from the Philip K. Dick story. They can see infrared and they have thermal cameras.
We're watching a live stream again. Two Russian soldiers march towards Ukrainian positions. A grenade thrown by a drone met one of them and tore him to pieces. His comrade, who doesn't look injured, walks in circles instead of running away.
“Why doesn't he try to pull away?” I ask.
'Because there's a barrage detachment waiting for him. He's dead anyway; he's probably looking for cover'.
The soldier indeed found an abandoned armed military aircraft carrier and crawled underneath it. The drone continues to hover around him.
'Drones are the blood of this war. One drone pilot can kill up to twenty Russians a day. Our champion once killed 500. Without drones we can't do anything, and they are disposable. One drone can live here for three days,” said a soldier.
Meanwhile, a drone found another Russian soldier. He's hiding in the trench. A grenade lands a few meters away from him. Its body is pierced with shell fragments. He's shaking. Another grenade lands in his stomach.
“Wouldn't it be enough to use just one?” I ask. “He probably would have died from the first.”
“Probably, but they are good actors,” a commander replies. 'Once our drones hit the group of Russians. By all signs they were dead; even thermal cameras showed that their bodies did not radiate heat.
“Within a few hours, our group came to check on them and they started shooting at us. How did they manage to play dead and trick the electronics? I have no idea.
Living in the bunker gives soldiers access to electricity, heat, food and Starlink communications
In their free time, soldiers can sit and clean their weapons or play board games to pass the time
Only two drones continued their task. No Russians in sight. Soldiers are back to their backgammon and gun cleaning routine.
“So now we always try to double check.”
I thought that would have been a perfect warning sign. In Soviet times we had a warning sign in the lobby of our buildings that read: 'Be sure to turn off the electricity when you leave'.
Now imagine drone pilots having this: “Make sure the enemy is dead before moving on to the next target.”
An operator who is no longer glued to the laptop checks messages from home.
I stand, think, and try to process what I just learned and saw. And a thought occurs to me: “Russians probably have the same bunker, the same live stream, and are killing our boys the same way.”