Originally appeared at Topwar; Translated by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront
At the start of the 2014 conflict, UAF sniper establishment was chiefly equipped with the Dragunov SVD rifles, adopted in 1963. Naturally, these weapons were insufficiently effective against distant targets, though were quite suitable for city fighting. Sniping was never a priority in Ukraine, the army looked upon it coolly, with the SBU spetsnaz and the 3rd and 8th Special Operations Regiments of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukrainian MOD being the main proponents of sniping.
It was a sniper from the 3rd Regiment who claims the first recorded effective shot from a sniper rifle on May 25, 2014 near the Donetsk airport. For the sake of completeness, one should add these specialists also had a very small number of examples of Western sniper weapons bought before the coup. Moreover, Ukraine’s MVD had semi-automatic Fort-301 rifles built by the Vinnitsa-based Fort plant. This weapon uses the NATO 7,62х51mm round, and is a copy of the Israeli Galil Sniper rifle which in turn borrowed design features from the Soviet AK. Fort-301 is not a weapon for positional sniper warfare but rather for tactical support of small units at short and medium ranges. The National Guard took over the whole output of these rifles.
Developments in Donbass fighting demanded new weapons for snipers, longer-ranged ones with greater lethality. Starting in late 2014, Ukraine began receiving the famous US Barret M82 in the M82A1/A1M and M82A3 models. Ukrainians were familiar with them since 2010, when they purchased a few from the US. The powerful 12.7mm cartridge allowed killing Novorossia militia fighters at up to 1800m, which somewhat changed the tactics of the “anti-terrorism operation”. Ukrainians liked this idea and started mass training of snipers not only for the spetsnaz but also for line formations.
Ukrainian snipers with their Barret M82
As a response, the militia obtained deliveries of Russian-made Orsis T-5000 which one can view as highly precise weapons with ranges of up to 1800m. The weapon is designed for .338 Lapua Magnum (8,6-мм), .300 Winchester Magnum и .308 Winchester (7,62 мм) cartridges. The most notable T-5000 user in DPR was a Serb, Deyan “Deki” Beric, who now has a prize on his head in Ukraine. It is he who said in one of his many interviews: “Once Ukraine obtained good thermal imagers, one cannot stay in the same position for several hours and build up a strong position, even with camouflage”. Ukraine is actively obtaining high-class equipment allowing it to fight at any time of day and in any weather, and also to conduct effective counter-sniper efforts.
Deyan “Deki” Beric and his Orsis T-5000
Even after accounting for the flood of lies and propaganda pouring from Ukraine’s media, one should acknowledge that UAF sniper skills and tactics are one of the areas of greatest improvement. They incorporate experience from the many mercenaries fighting on behalf of Kiev, and also from NATO specialists at retraining bases. Graduates of the Baltic states’ sniper schools, who excel in both professionalism and cynicism, also come to shoot at people. According to a militiaman with the call-sign Yozhik (from the book “War on the Donbass. Weapons and Tactics” written by A.B. Shirokorad), already in the Soviet era the Baltic States had an outstanding regional biathlon training system with strong instructors who, due to lack of other work, became sniper trainers. On the Donbass, the Lithuanian female snipers are called “Baltic Witches” due to their characteristic style of shooting at the extremities in order to cause unnecessary suffering. Still, such information should always be regarded with considerable skepticism. The high level of Ukrainian sniper professionalism is testified to by the attempt to assassinate the DPR Prime Minister Aleksandr Zakharchenko (who was recently killed in a different plot) on January 30, 2015 in Uglegorsk. The failed attempt which cost the life of a bodyguard was claimed by the “Shadows” partisan unit.
Lobaev Arms DXL-4 «SEVASTOPOL», an expensive high-class weapon which is supposedly being used by LDPR snipers.
The wide variety of sniper weapons on both sides is characteristic of this war. LDPR uses modernized SVDs, long-range 12.7mm ASVK, and Lobaev Arms DXL-4 «SEVASTOPOL». However, so far the information on DXL-4 use is unconfirmed, and comes only from circumstantial evidence from Ukrainian sources. According to Lobaev, only experienced professionals could use such an advanced weapon system, and the limited skill-set of an army sniper would be insufficient. Ukrainian specialists likewise claim the militia uses Pulsar thermal imagers, 9mm Vintorez silenced sniper rifles, and 12.7mm Vykhlop rifles.
Ukrainian industry also has something to offer against the imagined Russian sniper threat. Say hello to the 7.62mm Gopak, displayed for the first time at the XII International “Weapons and Security” Exhibition in Kiev. The name is not a reference to the famous Ukrainian dance but is rather an abbreviation of “portable operational rifle based on AK” which fully reveals its nature. It’s clearly similar to the Russian silenced Vintorez, though is inferior on account of smaller caliber and the lack of semi-automatic action which was removed in order to reduce noise signature.
Konstantin Konev’s Zbroyar Z-008 sporting rifle served as a basis for creating a more serious Ukrainian sniper weapon named VPR-308 using the 7,62х51 (.308 Winchester) cartridge. There is also the VPR-338 variant using the more powerful 8.6mm .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge. It was tested in the Ukraine National Guard 1rst Brigade in July 2014, but entered series production for ATO-serving units only two years later. It’s apparent the VPR series is the Ukrainian equivalent of the Russian T5000 and has similar battlefield applications. But what about large-caliber long-range weapons? Or will Ukraine merely use US gear?
Snipex .50 BMG «Rhino Hunter» promotional brochure
The Snipex .50 BMG «Rhino Hunter» is, according to its developers, a wholly Ukrainian design with a longitudinally sliding bolt and using the NATO 12,7х99 мм (.50 BMG) cartridge. This heavy (up to 16kg) XADO-manufactured rifle can kill individuals and destroy light armored vehicles out to 2500m. The first samples of Snipex .50 appeared in October 2016. LDPR have an answer to this weapon in the form of the 12.7mm Dovchanka rifles made on the spot using Utyos heavy machine gun barrels. There is fragmentary information suggesting LDPR has mastered the construction of barrels with acceptable tolerances.
Both sides use similar tactics and techniques, consistent with internationally recognized best practices. Snipers work in pairs with spotters at ranges of around 400-500m, with positions predominantly on elevated terrain. Sniper teams frequently have 5-7 man security teams attached for protection and drawing enemy fire through small arms fire, grenade launchers, and mannequins. In order to hunt enemy snipers under conditions of positional warfare, snipers are also used as bait. When maneuver warfare prevails, every means available is used to suppress sniper positions, up to MRLs and 152mm artillery.