This is what the war in Ukraine looks like to a Russian soldier, in an area Russia has mostly controlled since 2014, on a bad day.
On May 11, the Russian command reportedly sent about 550 troops of the 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the 41st Combined Arms Army to cross the Donets River at Bilohorivka, in the eastern Luhansk region, in a bid to encircle Ukrainian forces near Rubizhne.
Typically, this brigade would have about 80 armored vehicles and more unarmored ones like supply trucks.
The troops were ordered by their commander to assemble on the river bank in formation to cross a pontoon bridge built by Russian combat engineers because pre-war bridges had been destroyed.
The Ukrainian Army learned that the Russian troops were there, tightly concentrated in a large formation where the Ukrainian forces could strike free of collateral damage to civilians.
Maybe the Ukrainian forces had a small drone that saw what was unfolding. Maybe they had a scout called a forward observer inform them. Maybe they had Western intelligence assets such as aerial photos from spy planes, satellite images, or radio chatter from the Russian forces. Stealth doesn't work for large military units in a 21st century war with modern technology available to both sides.
Far out of sight and earshot, several miles away, Ukrainian forces acting on this information assembled several mobile howitzer units. At the right moment, those units were ordered to fire at a precisely known location where the Russian troops were assembled. Accuracy didn't matter much because any shell that hit in the right general area would harm the Russian unit.
The barrage from the howitzer units, seemingly out of nowhere to the Russian units who would have had only seconds to react to the initial impact, would have lasted a number of minutes but probably less than half an hour. Shells would have been coming down from the sky everywhere, with the source effectively invisible to them in the chaos other than the vague observation that it came from Ukrainian held territory on the other side of the river.
There would have been no time to locate the artillery positions attacking them and call in a counterstrike, from the Russian air force or artillery units, in time to make a difference, and the artillery units would have been out of range of the Russian unit's tanks and anti-tank weapons, even if it knew where the Ukrainian howitzers were located.
When the barrage of Ukrainian artillery shells ceased, the pontoon bridge was destroyed. More than 85% of the soldiers assembled were dead, with officers, enlisted men, and conscripts killed in more or less equal proportions. They have been working as a unit for months and built up ties with each other. They have been fighting this war together as a unit for more than eleven weeks and developed the confidence of veterans. The shells destroyed more than 85% of their armored vehicles, a mix of tanks, armored infantry fighting vehicles, and mobile artillery vehicles of their own as well as supply trucks and a small number of tow trucks for disabled armored vehicles. Only a handful of vehicles and perhaps five or six dozen random, lucky soldiers survive the attack.
As soon as the barrage is finished, the mobile howitzer units move and disperse. Their Ukrainian commander reports the strike to headquarters.
Publicly available satellite images show the carnage, which is shared on the Internet. This leads to outrage from leading pro-Russian military bloggers at the incompetence of the Russian commanders for handing Ukrainian forces a perfect opportunity to wipe out a Russian brigade. The Russian commanders should have known not to concentrate their forces for any extended period of time within range of Ukrainian artillery.
The pattern of Ukrainian forces being smart and effective, while Russian troops are incompetent, continues.