On the front line, rows of Russian mines — densely arrayed, carefully hidden — trap advancing Ukrainian troops in the kill zone of Russian artillery. It's a kill zone that is already destroying some of Ukraine's newly received, western armored vehicles.
Without air support, NATO mine removal equipment, intended to plow the path for troops and tanks, sits on the sidelines — unless the Russians spot and destroy it. U.S.-provided M-58 mine clearing line charges can quickly clear an area, but their range is limited. Grenade-dropping drones can help, but only for unburied mines.
For now, human hands must perform the death-defying duty of clearing the way for the counteroffensive — hands of combat engineers, known as "sappers," like the 29-year-old platoon commander with call-sign "Varan."
"Varan" is the Ukrainian word for the prey-seeking monitor lizard. His prey is Russian mines and booby traps.
VARAN: The engineering sapper unit moves forward ahead of the infantry. Our motto is "Always first, always forward."
SCRIPPS NEWS' JASON BELLINI: "Always first, always forward." Are you taking out one mine at the time when you've got thousands on a battlefield?
VARAN: Look, when we go in and remove these mines, we secure the passage — a corridor. We give our guarantee that everything will be fine there. There is not a single mine explosive device left behind.
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