On the River at Night, Ambushing Russians

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Volunteers were best suited for the job because they were the most willing to accept the risk, said Mr Serediuk, who stayed behind and drank coffee all night, waiting for news.

His volunteers were united in a desire to recapture all of Ukrainian territory, including the annexed Crimean peninsula, he said, and also take the battle all the way to Russia. “We all dream of going to Chechnya, to the Kremlin and even to the Ural Mountains,” he said. As for President Vladimir V. Putin, he said, “Kill him in his bunker. My little unit can do that.”

Their small acts of sabotage alone were not enough to liberate the occupied territories, he said. “That will be land forces.” But he said he recognized the value of their work when he saw the damage a Russian sabotage unit inflicted behind Ukrainian lines near the town of Bakhmut in August.

“It had a very big impact,” he said, “and we had to use a lot of force to find them.”

The situation in Ukraine changed rapidly with the introduction of thousands of newly mobilized Russian troops and then the withdrawal from Kherson this month, he said in a later interview. “Our job now is to hasten their retreat,” he said, “turning their retreat into a chaotic flight.” The task would remain the same, but they would venture deeper into Russian-held territory, he said.

The soldiers were back before dawn and unloaded on the same beach, cold, tired, and with few words. “Excellent,” said a soldier, climbing back onto the beach. One boat had broken down, but within half an hour the operational commander reported that they were all back on base.

“We laid the mines and then came back without any noise and they didn’t see us,” said an 18-year-old soldier. He said he watched the Russians from a distance of 100 yards or more. “Some were walking, some were standing, some were just looking at their phones,” he said.