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'Witch' — Ukraine's fearless mortar commander — orders walls of fire

Ukraine's 'Witch,' a lawyer turned mortar commander, shows Scripps News inside her command bunker, where she uses drone footage to direct her teams.
'Witch' — Ukraine's fearless mortar commander — orders walls of fire
Posted at 5:25 AM, Jul 20, 2023

The commander of a Ukrainian mortar platoon, whose callsign is "Witch," barks orders to her drone operator, whose callsign is "User," on the southern edge of Bakhmut.

"User, don't zoom in so much," Witch states.

 She needs User to give her eyes on the target so she can tell Pidsumky, one of her mortar operators, that it’s time.

"Pidsumky Fire!" Witch orders. 

In rare footage from inside her command bunker, where she uses drone footage to direct her mortar teams, we see her eyes focused on the monitor, watching and waiting for impact.

"It's coming down on the edge of the forest," Witch says.

She recalibrates for the next volley from her battlefield bunker, in a rare view of how Ukrainians on the ground and below it fight the counteroffensive.

"Our main occupation is to defend our infantry, to make the fire in front of our front line of infantry," said Witch.

Scripps News met up with Witch, a Ukrainian lawyer-turned-warrior, in Chasiv Yar, a battle-scarred village six miles from Bakhmut, jolted 24-7 by the sound of outgoing Ukrainian artillery.

Jason Bellini: We were just hearing a howitzer right there.

Witch: That's a big howitzer.

Witch directs fire at the Russians from much closer; that’s the marvel of mortars.

Their boom may be smaller than artillery, but their impact is especially large.

That portability is especially important in a war in which Ukraine’s infantry is forced to move by foot.

Since tanks and other heavy armor would be caught in Russian minefields and artillery traps.

SEE MORE: Ukraine's front line deminers: 'Always first, always forward'

"We can move very fast with mortar, and we can change our position and we can give a fire from different places," said Witch.

Sometimes she plays defense.

"With our drones, we can see the corpses of our enemies, and we can count them, and we can estimate the success of our combat operations," said Witch.

But how successful has she been?

"If 30% of our enemy in the unit which was attacked us is dead or injured, that means this unit cannot go forward. That means our work was successful," she explains.

Now in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, infantry units count on Witch to provide them with their only cover since there is no air support.

Witch: The work on attack is harder.

Bellini: Harder? Why?

Witch: It's more complicated because we are moving forward and we have to be closer to our infantry units. And there is not a lot of firing positions.

Bellini: Not a lot of firing positions?

Witch: This is not so easy because our ammo is very heavy.

Bellini: And of course, the Russians are targeting you.

Witch: Of course, we are the main target for Russians. It's my job. I like it.

Bellini: What do you like about it?

Witch: Now for me, it's a time of revenge.

Bellini: Time for revenge?

Witch: Exactly.

Bellini: Have you been getting revenge?

Witch: Yes. Step by step, but we're moving forward.

Bellini: I have to ask, your callsign, "Witch"?

Witch: I promise I will tell about the story of all of this after the war because it is dangerous to talk about it now.

Bellini: You've got me really intrigued.

Witch: All will be uncovered when the war will stop. I promise.  

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