41 Days in a Bunker: How a Battle Raged on Ukraine’s Bloody Front Line

The two Ukrainian soldiers were trapped. After repelling waves of Russian attempts to storm their small bunker in a cellar near an abandoned house, the enemy was on top of them.

“They surrounded us and started throwing grenades,” said Pvt. Vladyslav Molodykh, 39, whose call sign is Hammer. “They were shouting, ‘Surrender and you’ll live.’ There was no point in surrendering because they would have torn me apart.”

It was around 10 a.m. on Dec. 14.

Private Molodykh would emerge from the freezing, cramped cellar 41 harrowing days later — alone but alive.

The battle for the bunker in Avdiivka, in eastern Ukraine, was only a small part of one of dozens of clashes raging along a 600-mile front. But it highlights how hard it is to both defend and attack in a war increasingly fought in bloody, close-quarter combat, with Ukrainian forces running low on shells and Russia seeking to barrel forward with brute force.

A member of the 71st Jager Brigade, Private Molodykh recounted his story from a hospital bed where he was recovering from frostbite and other injuries. His account was supported by his commander, the soldiers who rescued him, medics who treated him and unedited drone footage viewed by The New York Times.

The Attack

Private Molodykh, a divorced father of two, joined the army as a volunteer six months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. By the time he was deployed late last year to Avdiivka, the scene of months of fierce fighting, he was no stranger to the “zero line,” where the enemy can be fewer than 100 feet away and drones are a constant threat.

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