Expect to Survive Just Four Hours: Ex U.S. Marine Reports From “Meat Grinder” Ukrainian Frontline in Bakhmut

Amid intense fighting on the frontlines in Eastern Ukraine’s Bakhmut region, where Russian forces and in particular units from the Wagner Group private contractor firm have made important advances since the middle of the month, rare insight into the conditions on the front was provided by a former U.S. Marine who was involved in fighting in the area. Western personnel have been very heavily involved in the war effort from its outset, from hundreds of British Royal Marines actively deployed to the frontlines from April 2022, to a vast CIA ‘stealth network’ deployed throughout the country to provide key support, as well as former servicemen from a number of Western countries who have served prominently in special units such as the Georgian Legion. The Marine in question, Troy Offenbecker, fought in the International Legion, is thought to be among thousands of Western personnel on the frontlines in Bakhmut, with his report mirroring those coming from several other Western volunteers since the conflict began. 

Summarising the state of affairs for Ukrainian and allied forces in Bakhmut, Offenbecker reported: “a lot of casualties. The life expectancy is around four hours on the frontline.” As some of the deadliest fighting since the Russian-Ukrainian War began in February 2022, the clashes in Bakhmut were “chaotic” and were dubbed “the meat grinder” by the Ukrainians due to the extreme scale of personnel losses suffered. With Ukraine’s conscripted force outnumbering its Russian adversaries several times over, reports throughout the war have indicated that it has been able to throw thousands of personnel into the frontlines often at an extreme cost to wear down their adversaries. Supplementing this advantage, Ukraine has had access to much greater quantities of intelligence and targeting data on Russian positions due to the deployment of hundreds of NATO satellites, provision of American guided artillery rounds, and presence of NATO airborne early warning aircraft, throughout the war. Reports of “meat grinders” for Ukrainian personnel became particularly prevalent after Russia managed to regroup its forces following serious losses in the war’s initial weeks and multiple failed offensives. Describing Russian artillery strikes in Bakhmut as “nonstop,” Offenbecker indicated that Western reports of Russian forces running low on ammunition appeared not to be affecting their ability to sustain intensive bombardments. 

Both sides are expected to continue to receive considerable numbers of reinforcements, with Ukraine seeing Western combatants continuing to pour into the country from multiple NATO member states while new tanks, drones, artillery and a range of other assets amounting to tens of billions of dollars in value continue to be donated by Western governments. Russia too, having initiated a partial mobilisation in September, and expanded production of key weapons systems such as tanks and artillery considerably while refurbishing more legacy equipment from storage, is expected to see its fighting strength on the frontlines grow very significantly. In what has increasingly become a war of attrition pitting Russia alone, with limited arms from Belarus, Iran and possibly North Korea, against the collective strength of Ukraine and NATO, the outcome on the Eastern Ukrainian frontlines remain highly uncertain.