Khokhol had to crawl for three days and two nights amid minefields along the Russian lines after straying into an enemy base.
In October, a soldier codenamed “Khokhol”, a member of the Artan task force of the General Directorate of Defense Intelligence of Ukraine (GUR), was sent to support a GUR unit at the Kupyansk front in Kharkiv province, northeastern Ukraine.
“Our platoon had 28 people, brought weapons, night vision goggles and other necessary equipment and set out to support them,” Khokhol said.
Khokhol and his teammates arrived early in the evening. Fighting with Russian forces broke out the next morning, leaving two of his comrades dead and eight wounded.
Khokhol then led a raid force on the Russian base, capturing six enemy soldiers. He and two comrades escorted the prisoners back to the base at about 3:00 a.m. because moving at dawn would have been easy to detect.
“At that time, I thought there would be no problems,” Khokhol shared.
However, trouble quickly came to the group of Ukrainian soldiers. Their night vision goggles and thermal imaging equipment didn’t have much battery left while the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was being charged, so Khokhol’s team had difficulty finding a way to move.
“We kept going without realizing we had turned wrong at a junction and were heading straight towards enemy lines,” Khokhol said.
In the dark of night, three Russian soldiers came out of a forest and asked his team to recite the password. Khokhol initially thought it was Ukrainian soldiers but quickly realized he was wrong.
“I shouted ‘Enemy’ into the radio and then opened fire on the group of Russian soldiers. They immediately realized who we were and called for support. The enemy threw grenades at us, causing the prisoners to stand between deaths,” he said.
After a period of fighting, Khokhol and his two teammates tried to retreat in two directions. He ran about 50 meters when Russian soldiers aimed at him from afar with grenade launchers. While Khokhol tried to escape enemy fire, a loud explosion rang out next to him, knocking him unconscious.
“That’s when I realized why the Russian soldiers didn’t chase me. It turned out I ran into a minefield,” Khokhol said.
Ukrainian soldiers woke up the next morning and heard several loud explosions. He realized that enemy UAVs were dropping bombs and grenades aimed at him. “Fortunately, the Russian soldiers couldn’t see me because the surrounding grass was very high, but they knew I was lurking around there,” Khokhol said.
Khokhol realized he had only three options: Surrender, stay in the middle of the minefield, or find a way back to base. After a moment of thinking, he decided to take advantage of the thick grass to crawl between the minefields and find a way out because at this time, he could not contact his two remaining teammates.
Khokhol carried two magazines, a hemostat and a knife and began to crawl in the middle of the grass. Realizing that a Russian UAV was circling overhead, Khokhol pretended to give a sign of surrender and asked which direction to go. The UAV tilted its wings to guide Khokhol in the direction of the Russian force, and he knew he needed to crawl in the opposite direction.
This Ukrainian soldier rushed into the grass and made his way down a hill, where he realized there were many anti-infantry mines and tripwires around. To prevent being hit by a mine, he crawled very slowly, only placing his feet in places where grass grew, a sign that there were no mines buried underneath.
Realizing that the Russian UAV was trying to follow, he crawled into a large bush and covered himself with leaves to disguise himself. The UAV hovered for a while and completely lost track of him.
Khokhol continued to hide in the bushes until dark and continued to crawl continuously for three days and two nights to escape the battlefield. “In total, I had to crawl on my belly for a distance of up to 3.5 km,” Khokhol shared.
The Ukrainian soldier said there were many methods to crawl, but he had to choose to keep his body closest to the ground while trying to move slowly and secretly.
“I crawled about 10 meters and then rested to gain strength. I also didn’t make my body move too much, which would easily be detected by the opponent’s infrared glasses. When my body temperature dropped, I continued.” cow,” Khokhol said, adding that he was almost hit by enemy sniper fire on the first day.
On the second day, it rained, and there was a thick fog, making it difficult for Khokhol to determine direction. He could only rely on the familiar sound of machine guns from the position of Ukrainian forces to continue crawling. He tries to find dry grass to keep his body warm when he needs to sleep.
“After spending the second night outdoors, I realized that I was gradually losing my strength and that I didn’t have much time left. I started hallucinating, even imagining my wife while crawling and talking to her. I was disoriented, didn’t know where I was crawling to,” he recalled.
The Ukrainian soldier said the motivation for him to continue trying is his wife and children at home. “I know that I still have a lot of unfinished business,” Khokhol said. “I also don’t want to lie dead on the ground like this, so I will continue to crawl. If I encounter an enemy, I will make that person die with me.”
Another motivation for Khokhol was a Ukrainian soldier codenamed Conan, who swam continuously for 14 hours to survive after his boat capsized in the Black Sea. “If he can swim to shore, I can also keep crawling,” Khokhol affirmed.
There was a time when Khokhol was so close to the Russian soldiers’ position that he could clearly hear the enemy’s conversations, but he still successfully overcame them.
Khokhol finally crawled to the village of Ivanivka and found a small bottle of water to quench his thirst. When he reached the cemetery in the village, he decided to stand up because he felt he could walk safely there.
“At that moment, I realized I had forgotten how to walk,” he said.
Moving a little longer, he reached the Ukrainian force’s defense point in the village. They gave him some food and then showed him the way back to the base. “I decided to walk the rest of the way, trying to use the bushes to hide. I couldn’t crawl anymore,” Khokhol shared.
When he arrived at the base, his teammates immediately took him to the military medical team for a check-up. “They said I had 12-14 hours left before I died,” he recalls.
The doctor also said Khokhol had a punctured eardrum and had some bullet fragments in his body. He was then taken to surgery and treatment.
“Sometimes at night, I feel like I’m still crawling in the Kupyansk forest. I close my eyes, and I see that scene appear in my head again,” Khokhol shared.
After Khokhol went missing, the unit thought he had died in battle and reported this news to his wife. The wife did not believe it at first but eventually accepted and booked a burial spot for Khokhol in the cemetery. When he returned to the base, he called his wife immediately to tell him the good news.