Resolute Square

The 209th

In January 2022, members of the battle-hardened 209th were civilians living their lives in peace. Weeks later, they would become fighters for Ukraine's liberation.
Published:April 13, 2023
Photo above: A Machine Gunner from the 209th, at the frontlines in Kharkiv Oblast, April 2023. Photo credit: Sarah Ashton-Cirillo

By Sarah Ashton-Cirillo

Through ice, snow, mud, and rain, under the canopy of overgrown forests, along hardened dirt-lined trenches, and inside the alleyways of ravaged cities, Ukraine’s war for liberation unfolds before the world. Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country in February of 2022, observers around the globe have watched in near real-time as bloody scenes are broadcast and followed along as Ukrainian soldiers have carried out innumerable heroic acts. This fight for freedom is the most witnessed in history. Still, despite tens of thousands of hours of footage directly from the field, many Americans consider the combat taking place in the heart of Europe as something foreign and distant. It’s not.

Ukraine is the true inheritor and defender of America’s value system, embracing the purest ideals of independence, equity, and liberty. Ukrainians are continuing the revolution that the US founding fathers dreamed up in 1775. Building upon nearly 250 years of the grand experiment that is the United States, Ukraine is carrying this legacy of democracy without the shameful scars of hate and pain that mar the timeline of history’s greatest republic.

Two sergeants from the 209th Battalion survey a downed communications tower near the frontlines in Kharkiv Oblast. April 2023. Photo credit: Sarah Ashton-Cirillo

The country is a beacon of self-determination and individual sovereignty within a diverse society and robust political structure. In the spirit of America’s revolutionary fervor, the most significant reason that Ukraine is winning this war against the much larger and better-equipped army of the Russian Federation is simple: Ukraine is a land of ingenuity, bravery, and unbreakable fortitude. These traits comprise the citizen soldiers who make up the majority of the nation’s Armed Forces.

I know this because I serve with these men and women every day as a member of the 209th Battalion of the 113th Brigade of the Territorial Defense Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, also known as the Kharkiv Defense Force. We come from vast and diverse backgrounds but share a common thread: None of us were professional soldiers before February 24th, 2022. Beginning that first month and for more than a year, the 209th light infantry unit has engaged in continuous face-to-face battles against the Russian war criminals across Kharkiv Oblast and into the Donbas.

 Member of the 209th digging trenches on the frontlines in the summer of 2022. Photo credit: Sarah Ashton-Cirillo

CNN and CBS both recently documented the hard truths of the 209th. Our primary weapon is an early 1980s Carl Gustav shoulder-mounted anti-tank weapon, and we still employ a DP machine gun first introduced in the 1920s, the manufacturing of which ended in 1961. Each of us carries AK variants that are decades old. Yes, NATO members and other allies have sent us a tremendous amount of more modern weapons, but not in high enough quantity to match the Russian terrorists. Putin’s army has more soldiers, more artillery, and more jets. These advantages should create a significant opportunity for them. Yet, despite being outnumbered and out-supplied, we continue to achieve victory after victory.
Throughout January and February, in temperatures that dipped to minus 18 degrees Celsius, our Commander, who goes by the call sign Lynx, led us against Russian Federation forces encamped just hundreds of meters away.

Captain "Lynx" of the 209th overseeing the fighting in Bakhmut direction in December 2022. Photo Credit: Sarah Ashton-Cirillo

Time and again, Captain Lynx, a nuclear physicist by training, mustered us against the rumble of advancing Russian tanks and unrelenting artillery and mortar shelling of our position. Through more than a half dozen clashes at close quarters, we didn't lose a single person. The enemy fared far worse, with casualties on the Russian side nearly unfathomable to most students of war. During just one skirmish, radio intercepts revealed that alongside Lynx, one of our most hardened sergeants permanently removed 22 invaders from the battlefield. On February 23rd, 2022, this man was a powerline tech and is now among our most revered non-commissioned officers.
Stories such as this are commonplace for the 209th. There is the designer who became an expert drone pilot next to the welder covering his position in the face of incoming tank blasts. Engineers, entrepreneurs, and teachers have come together to repel genocidal terrorism inflicted on their country by the deranged leader of a terrorist state. This is the story of the 209th Battalion and all of Ukraine.
Ukraine does not share a kinship with the Russians’ way of life; however, Ukrainians do share a soul and future with the American people. This commonality has led directly to the people of Ukraine becoming standard bearers of the American dream. With the continued support of our brothers and sisters in the US, total victory is within reach, along with a transformative and permanent defeat of Russian tyranny and fascism. Once achieved, not only will the world be freer and more prosperous, but those of us in the 209th, the 113th, and across the Armed Forces of Ukraine can return to our prior lives, lives no longer impeded or threatened by the evil known as Putin’s Russia.