Ukraine’s combat losses strike a painful chord with U.S. military veterans

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Although hardened by the preventing he’d seen in Ukraine’s struggle with Russian-backed separatists, Nikonov had a softer aspect, too. He was a household man, Hudson stated, recounting how his pal introduced toy dolls from Ukraine as presents for Hudson’s daughters and took it upon himself to look in on them whereas Hudson was abroad. “Similar to any Marine you’d belief,” he stated in an interview.

Nikonov was killed final week battling Russian forces round Mariupol, a metropolis in southeast Ukraine that’s seen withering violence. In a Fb publish paying tribute to his pal, Hudson referred to as him a “true warrior and hero.”

U.S. forces practice with international militaries, buying and selling expertise and expertise, so their personnel can higher work collectively in operational settings or occasions of disaster. However this has one other impact simply as elemental: It sparks relationships in unlikely locations, such because the shores of the Black Sea, the place a U.S. Marine who grew up in Northern California and a lanky officer from Odessa would grow to be lasting pals.

Nikonov, a lieutenant colonel in an elite Ukrainian naval unit just like the U.S. Navy SEALs, was provided quite a few alternatives to serve away from the entrance strains “however passionately refused,” Hudson wrote on-line.

“As a pacesetter, Nick led from the entrance and cared deeply for his teammates,” he added.

With Mariupol underneath heavy bombardment, Hudson organized a fundraiser meant to buy medical provides for his pal’s unit. Nikonov stated that whereas he appreciated the assist, it might be troublesome for something to make it inside the town. He and his troops had been surrounded, Hudson stated.

“It’s an enormous, enormous loss,” Hudson stated. “He’s the form of man I need to be led by.”

The struggle, which started three weeks in the past, has produced 1000’s of navy and civilian casualties, nevertheless it’s been troublesome to acquire an intensive, correct image of the true human toll on both aspect as each work diligently to defend the disclosure of knowledge that would show advantageous to the opposite.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Saturday that 1,300 service members had been killed, however The Washington Submit has been unable to confirm a quantity. Unbiased analysts have stated the quantity is doubtlessly greater, although, noting each nations might obscure the true value.

“Army casualties are inherently troublesome to trace, particularly in a battle like this the place the knowledge entrance is so necessary,” stated Margarita Konaev, the affiliate director of study at Georgetown College’s Heart for Safety and Rising Know-how. “There’s an incentive to overestimate and overcount some issues,” like enemy troops killed, and underestimate and undercount different issues, like their very own casualties, she stated.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s Protection Ministry confirmed Nikonov’s dying however referred further questions concerning the incident to the armed forces, which didn’t return a request for remark.

Russian casualty counts have been equally murky, with U.S. intelligence estimates placing the quantity final week at between 2,000 and 4,000 lifeless however noting there was “low confidence” in these numbers.

Pentagon estimates of complete Russian troopers taken out of the battle level to many extra wounded, captured or lacking, saying late final week that Ukraine and Russia every have misplaced about 10 % of their fight energy. The Russians have poured greater than 150,000 troops throughout the border. Ukraine’s active-duty navy is estimated to quantity about 200,000.

Hudson, who served in elite Marine Corps reconnaissance models earlier than retiring from the service in 2018, met Nikonov greater than a decade in the past and stated that he stood out as unusually gifted, with equal components competence and a profound affection for the troops he led.

“I observed these attributes with Nick within the first 30 seconds,” Hudson stated. “There’s a deep bond fashioned proper off the bat.”

Whereas Hudson and his fellow Marines had been deployed to Ukraine, Nikonov confirmed them how one can discover the tradition, he stated, together with in his hometown of Odessa, the beating creative coronary heart of the nation. Nikonov helped them rating tickets to a exhibiting of “Swan Lake” on the world-famous opera and ballet home now fortified with sandbags.

Their navy ties grew extra complicated after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and separatists backed by the Kremlin seized territory within the Donbas area. Nikonov and his unit fought alongside the japanese entrance, Hudson stated, recalling a narrative from his pal about an assault the Ukrainians had carried out on an enemy convoy that resulted in a large restoration of ammunition and different provides.

Nikonov dug by way of the flaming wreckage and pulled out a separatist uniform for Hudson as a battlefield memento. It had burn marks, Hudson stated, and he wore it throughout his down time on a subsequent tour in Afghanistan, cherishing the present from one newly minted fight veteran to a different.

His dying has shaken shut pals, People and Ukrainians alike, who’ve taken to Nikonov’s Fb web page to supply condolences. Many embody photographs of him in certainly one of his favourite locations: within the air over Ukraine’s southern coast. In a single undated video, Nikonov explains he’s parachuting onto the Kinburn Peninsula, the place the Dnieper River and Black Sea converge. “I like you, and looking out ahead to seeing you,” he says.

Hudson has not but made contact with Nikonov’s rapid household, together with his spouse and two kids, however stated he intends to assist them if wanted. Donations to the Marine Reconnaissance Basis are nonetheless flowing to assist Nikonov’s unit get medical provides. The nonprofit assists U.S. navy veterans and their households, however Nikonov, having accomplished the Marine Corps’ grueling reconnaissance coaching course alongside his American counterparts, made such distinctions irrelevant, Hudson stated.

“We contemplate him certainly one of our personal,” he stated.

Serhiy Morgunov in Lviv, Ukraine, and Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.

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