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


Tank units of the Ukrainian army move towards the front line of Kherson on November 18, 2022 on their way to Kherson.
Photo: TBEN

A former New Zealand soldier fighting in Ukraine says Russian morale is low and a Ukrainian victory seems very possible.

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

The withdrawal marked the third major Russian withdrawal from the war and the first to return such a large occupied city in the face of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive that has recaptured parts of the east and south of the country.

Speaking from a village near Kherson, former Defense Force soldier Jordan O’Brien told Kim Hill on Saturday morning that they left behind irreplaceable items during their sudden withdrawal.

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

He said that he and his comrades intend to take advantage of the enemy’s low morale by persevering.

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“The whole world knows that Russia has been on the wrong track for some time,” O’Brien said.

“They know we’re coming for them, their best guess and what we’ve seen on satellite imagery is they’re just digging and waiting for us to come back to them.

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

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

“A shell 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 isn’t to look for a fight, it’s to see where the enemy is and assess their strength and then examine their lines for weak spots.”

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

O’Brien said the Russian soldiers were seriously under-equipped and that none of these problems were being addressed by their high command.

“We are winning, we have the resources and those resources, of course, will continue to come from all Western allies.”

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

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

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

He previously told RNZ that experiencing the Russian withdrawal was one of the most surreal experiences he’d had in Ukraine.

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

“And now for me, and for those of us here on the ground, it will be forever etched in our memories, for it is the day we freed Kherson.”

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

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

He said he quit his job in New Zealand at the time and left for Ukraine “on a whim”.

Formerly working with a group called The Dark Angels, O’Brien was now in the Ukrainian Army’s 131st Separate Reconnaissance Battalion.

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