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‘They know we’re coming for them’ – Former NZ soldier says a Ukrainian victory feels possible

Ukrainian army tank units drive towards Kherson's frontline on the way to Kherson on 18 November, 2022.

Ukrainian army tank units drive towards Kherson’s frontline on the way to Kherson on 18 November, 2022.
Photo: AFP

A former New Zealand soldier fighting in Ukraine says Russian morale is low, and a Ukrainian victory feels entirely possible.

Last week Russia pulled 30,000 troops from the Ukrainian port city of Kherson and surrounding region after nine months of occupation.

The withdrawal marked the third major Russian retreat of the war and the first to involve yielding such a large occupied city in the face of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive that has retaken swathes of the country’s east and south.

Speaking from a village near Kherson, former Defence Force soldier Jordan O’Brien told Saturday Morning’s Kim Hill they abandoned irreplaceable items in their sudden withdrawal.

O’Brien said the Russians also left an unbelievable amount of equipment behind.

He said he and his comrades plan to capitalise on the enemy’s low morale by pushing on.

“The whole world knows Russia’s been on the back foot for some time,” O’Brien said.

“They know we’re coming for them, their best bet and from what we’ve seen on satellite images is that they’re just digging in and waiting for us to come to them again.

“We want to drive them all the way back to their country, so all of us on the ground would like to see that happen… However, we’re just soldiers so we just got to wait for orders.”

O’Brien said before the Russian troops retreated he came under heavy contact from a Russian position.

“A grenade landed in front of us and then all of a sudden it was machine guns, smoke, fire, a little bit of everything.

“We got out of there … our job is not to look for a fight, it is to see where the enemy is and judge his strength and then probe their lines for any weak spots.”

A week and a half later, O’Brien said he returned and the Russian soldiers had gone and left behind “am unbelievable amount of equipment”.

O’Brien said the Russian soldiers had a serious lack of equipment and none of those issues were being addressed by their high command.

“We are winning, we have the resources and obviously those resources keep coming from all the Western allies.”

Local residents hug a Ukrainian soldier as they celebrate the liberation of Kherson, on November 14.

Local residents hug a Ukrainian soldier as they celebrate the liberation of Kherson on 14 November.
Photo: AFP

O’Brien was part of a unit that liberated three towns.

He previously told RNZ experiencing the retreat by Russia was one of the most surreal experiences he’d had in Ukraine.

“Obviously, 11 November, already is one of those dates that is super important to every veteran and people in general due to it being Remembrance Day.

“And now for me, and for those of us on the ground here, it’s going to be etched into our memories forever, because it’s the day that we liberated Kherson.”

O’Brien said he made the decision to go and help in Ukraine after seeing a news report of a kid covered in dust and blood after an explosion that happened at a residential complex.

“Something in my head just clicked and I knew there was just so much more I could do to help.”

He said he walked out of his job at the time in New Zealand and went over to Ukraine “on a whim”.

O’Brien formerly worked with a group called The Dark Angels and was now in the 131st Separate Reconnaissance Battalion of the Ukrainian Military.

Prior to that, O’Brien served with the New Zealand army for six years working in logistics, with experience in Iraq as part of the NZ training team. He initially only intended to stay in Ukraine for three weeks training soldiers, but has now been there for more than eight months.


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