If one did not know any better, it would be possible to think of the Second Battalion's positions as a leisurely place. There was no cloud in sight, and the scorching sun kept the shade temperature well above thirty degrees celsius. Combined with the patchy ceasefire agreement holdig well, the urgency of the civil war had left the minds of the volunteer militiamen on both sides of the divide. The men of Second Battalion spent their days watching their opponents, seeking shade, staying hydrated, and hoping there would be good news from the negotiating table.
When the ceasefire first came into effect, Timoshenko used the opportunity to train his battalion as best as he could for an eventual resumption of hostilities. From dawn till dusk, he turned the workers militias and volunteers into something at least resembling an army. Close-order drill, physical fitness, bounding overwatch, weapons familiarisation, field hygiene, first aid....From dawn to dusk, they were made into soldiers. But by August the line had become much less tense and even Timoshenko concerned himself with little more than Command Post Exercises. There would be no fighting now, he figured. After that, there will be rain and mud and then winter will come, making a resumption of hostilities unlikely until spring. It made the Warning Orders all the more surprising.
There was sense to it all. In the South-West, Odessa was still besieged by the government in Kiev. Resupply by sea was still possible, but humanitarian relief coming into the city was still severely limited. Furthermore, a flurry of activity indicated more troops being moved to the siege of Odessa. At the top, whether that was Kharkov or the Kremlin, it was decided that the initiative had to be seized from them. The first thrust was to be exactly in the sector of the 34th MRR. A lot more vehicles, replacement troops, and stocks of supplies had been coming in and gave Timoshenko and his staff some indication of what was coming, but he did not expect to be the tip of the spear. The surprise for this old concertina-eater was a welcome one, though.
The town of Smila that forward elements of the 34th had been looking down on for a while was an important railroad junction. It was one of two rail lines that led to Odessa from Kiev, but also the only one that led to the vulnerable town of Mykolaiv. The seizure of Smila would allow for a larger offensive in the South of the country that would seize Mykolaiv and lift the siege of Odessa, giving the Kharkov-based government a much stronger hand at any following negotiations. Or at least, that was the intention.
"Politics with bloodshed", Timoshenko remarked as he gathered his barebones staff around him. "There will be a warning order within the hour. We need to make sure everyone is ready to move and square away whatever we can. Are there urgent questions already?"
Captain Makarov, commanding the Tank Company, raised his hand. "There are still infantrymen with under-folding AKMs in the battalion, and I need as many as we can scrounge for the tank crews. They take up much less space inside the tanks than the side-folders."
"The opportunity for that has passed, Captain. First make sure all your vehicles are running-"
"They're not", remarked 1Coy's CO, Captain Marchenko. "We're going into battle on flatbeds if those spares don't come through."
Timoshenko cut him off in turn. "I want everyone to report back the biggest shortfalls and eventual surpluses in your companies within two hours, maybe we can shuffle some things around. Lieutenant Dimitriev, get as many trucks as you can get running back to Brigade and scrounge whatever spares you can for the BTRs and BMPs. They're not keeping books, and we're gonna need it more than just about anyone in the country."
So much for an industrial base. Desertions, lack of maintenance, and a collapsing economy left enormous marks on what remained of either Ukrainian army. Timoshenko simply thought that commanders make their own luck. But more importantly, he wasn't sure anyone would notice.