Ukrainian soldiers are picking up new skills — even from YouTube — to fight Russia

by | Nov 3, 2022 | Top Stories

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Members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces examine new armaments including NLAW anti-tank systems and other portable anti-tank grenade launchers, in Kyiv on March 9.

Genya Savilov / AFP / Getty Images

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Genya Savilov / AFP / Getty Images

MYKOLAIV, Ukraine — On the second day of the war with Russia, Anatoliy Nikitin and Stas Volovyk, two Ukrainian army reservists, were ordered to deliver NLAW anti-tank missiles to fellow soldiers in the suburbs north of Kyiv. Then, as they stood exposed on a highway, Nikitin, who goes by the battle nickname Concrete, says they received new orders. “A guy on the radio said, ‘There are two Russian tanks coming at you. Try to hit one and livestream it!,” recalls Nikitin, sitting on a park bench in the southern city of Mykolaiv, as artillery rumbles in the distance. There was one problem: neither soldier had ever fired an NLAW. So, as the tanks approached, they hid amongst some trees and looked up a YouTube video on how to do so. They took their positions, prepared the missiles. “Then the commander says, ‘Oh, it’s ours! It’s ours!'” recalls Volovyk, who goes by the nickname Raptor. “So, we did not fire. It was a really close call.” Fighting the war requires new skills now As the war has changed over the months, Ukrainian fighters like Volovyk and Nikitin have had to adapt and learn new skills.

In the first month, soldiers used shoulder-launched missiles and hit-and-run tactics to defend Kyiv. These days, they are using drones and artillery as part of a high-tech trench war in the farm fields of the country’s’ south. Nikitin and Volovyk have fought in both environments and describe their on-the-job training as a mix of terror, adventure and black comedy. The two men offer an unvarnished view of the fighting and say the first days of the war were filled with confusion.

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Anatoliy Nikitin, left, a 40-year-old who runs a construction company, and Stas Volovyk, a 33-year-old software engineer, in the southern city of Mykolaiv in late August.

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Frank Langfitt/NPR

“It was total chaos,” recalls Nikitin, who is 40, wears a salt-and-pepper beard and heads a construction company. “It’s lucky for us that the Russia …

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