A video of a Ukrainian assault unit engaged in an attack on a Russian trench circulated on social media. The horrific conditions of mud, enemy dead and a bombed-out countryside resembled a scene from the recent Netflix film All Quiet on the Western Front, which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film earlier this month.
However, this was no movie.
Though less than half a minute long, it highlights the conditions in a hastily dug Russian trench. The Ukrainian soldiers scramble to advance and take cover, while the caption noted, “Trench warfare with lots of casualties.”
What was true over a century ago is true once again. In many cases, as one side advances the trenches could become little more than shallow mass graves filled with the corpses of the enemy dead. Scenes like this one continue to play out in the Donbas Region of Eastern Ukraine, where the fighting is continually compared to that of the Western Front.
Return of Trench Warfare
The British Telegram newspaper has reported that every Ukrainian soldier now carries an “entrenching tool” – the official military moniker for a small shovel – which is seen as practically as important as their weapon. Trenches, of course, pre-dated the First World War and had been employed in sieges against walled cities, castles, and fortresses for eons, but the trench began to appear on open battlefields with the advent of modern firearms.
The Ukrainians had built trench lines as defense barriers to counter Russian assaults, but as Kyiv is appearing to begin to prepare for its own offensive, the Kremlin’s forces are now also building heavily fortified trench lines. The British paper of record also reported that ads have even appeared on Avito, the Russian version of eBay, seeking craftsmen to build and fortify trenches in Crimea. The pay rate is around $100 a day.
Just as it was in the First World War, some of the trenches are better constructed than others – some are at least eight feet deep and laid out in zig-zags to make them easier to defend, while the sides are reinforced with stakes and planks. There are now front-line trenches, communication trenches, secondary lines, and even bunkers.
Aerial and satellite images of the Ukrainian trenches could be mistaken for those of the Somme or Verdun.
As noted in the recent video, there are also the hastily dug trenches that were more common in the latter stages of World War I, when Germany was being pushed back and quickly dug in to hold the line.
This form of fighting likely won’t end soon. Rather it is expected that the conflict could continue to evoke the horrific trench warfare – and efforts are now being considered as to how to break a pending stalemate. In fact, according to another social media post from the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), efforts are now underway to better train Kyiv’s forces in how to successfully engage enemy positions.
“In the North of England, Ukrainian recruits are trained in trench warfare. The UK and nine international training partners are helping Ukraine to stand up to Russian aggression and retake its homeland,” the MoD’s official social media (@DefenceHQ) account tweeted, while sharing a 47-second-long clip of the training exercise.
Trenches can be a defensive line, but in the First World War and again in the Korean War, when the armies dug in, it was a sign of a stalemate. Ukraine will need to ensure it can use the lines to stop the Russians, but must then ensure it can also successfully breach its enemy’s lines.
NOTE: The video explained below is very graphic. We wanted to give our readers time to prepare and decide if they wish to view it – hence, it is not embedded. You can watch it here.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.