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Ukrainian troops gird for counteroffensive they hope will end war

By Max Hunder

DNIPROPETROVSK REGION, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukrainian soldiers training for a counteroffensive against Russian forces said on Monday they felt ready to launch the assault which they hope will end the war.

Members of the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade practiced setting up and packing away their mortars as the sun beat down on them in fields in the southern region of Dnipropetrovsk.

Learning to do it quickly is vital to their survival. "We are getting ready for the counteroffensive, so that we can finally end this war," said a 28-year-old serviceman who goes the call sign Dykyi, or 'wild' in Ukrainian.

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"We have been preparing for about a month. And before that, we’ve been preparing for it all our lives."

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last week Ukraine needed more time to prepare for the counteroffensive, intended to take back territory captured by Russia, and has been on a brief tour on European capitals this week drumming up support.

"We are expecting the offensive. By my calculations we are all ready to fulfil our tasks. But we are nevertheless constantly perfecting our craft," said Roman Khomych, the 45-year-old commander of the unit training with mortars.

Dykyi, who first joined the army in 2015 and returned after Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, said he was motivated by the destruction caused by the war.

"It's extremely painful to watch our cities being destroyed. It's a sort of painful motivation to go and finish all this," he said.

The 128th Mountain Assault Brigade is an elite force that has been involved in combat with Russian or Russian-backed forces since 2014, when fighting began in eastern Ukraine.

Several soldiers said they had fought near the eastern city of Bakhmut in one of the fiercest battles of the war before being moved south.

"Our unit has been taking part in battle since the first days of the war... We are constantly involved in combat, and we will also take part in the counteroffensive," Khomych said.

The 128th Brigade are training with Soviet-calibre mortars, but Khomych said a bigger necessity than new mortars was Western-supplied armoured vehicles to protect troops better.

A potential goal for Ukrainian forces in the south is to retake a land corridor held by Russian troops that provides a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014 and is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet.

(This story has been corrected to remove attribution to Dykyi of comment about importance of speed in paragraph 4)

(Reporting by Max Hunder, Editing by Timothy Heritage)