An elite Ukrainian sniper unit called the Ghosts of Bakhmut is hunting high-value Russian targets.
Their commander Ghost told Insider that the job is grueling and dangerous, but patriotism fuels them.
He claims his unit has killed 558 Russians, of which he is personally responsible for 113.
On the outskirts of Bakhmut, a deadly team of snipers move stealthily through the forests and fields to take out Russian targets.
"It's nothing like American films that romanticize the work of snipers and show it as very glamorous," their commander, who goes by the call sign Ghost, told Insider.
"We work 24 hours a day, we don't differentiate between day or night. There are no weekends," he said. "You're totally exhausted, all the juices are squeezed out of you, and when you come back from a mission, you're a complete mess."
Ghost, wearing his signature face covering with a skull print hiding the bottom half of his face to protect his identity, spoke to Insider from near Bakhmut via video call.
He said his unit has taken out 558 targets in the past nine months, and he's personally responsible for 113. Insider could not independently verify those figures.
The number of enemy combatants Ghost says they have killed equals an entire battalion's worth of soldiers.
Throughout the history of modern warfare, there have been stories of near-mythical snipers who take out scores of enemy targets with laser-sharp precision.
The Ghosts of Bakhmut — who take their name from their commander — have similarly fostered a fearsome reputation.
A BBC correspondent and cameraman visited the unit at their base camp earlier this summer.
The team typically hunts high-value targets. Once the target has been eliminated, they kill any other Russian soldiers they see in the vicinity.
The Ukrainian sniper's primary weapon is the US-made Barrett M107A1
"We are thrown into the most hot spots," he said. "When there is an offensive or a counteroffensive planned, our task is to go in first and clear the area."
They head to their missions in lightly armored Humvees before silently proceeding toward their targets on foot.
The shots are recorded electronically through the sights of their rifles, and the team continues to observe the target for three to five hours after a kill to make sure they are dead.
Ghost said that all of their missions are memorable and dangerous, but the most difficult are when the target is another sniper. "It's the task of hunting the hunter," he said.
The team strikes targets from distances starting at about 230 feet away, and their last confirmed target was 2.5 kilometers, or 1.5 miles, away, Ghost said.
That distance is roughly three times the length of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and would place it among the furthest sniper kills in history.
Their primary weapon is the American Barrett M107A1. They also use the Barrett MRAD, and some Ukrainian rifles, including the UAR-10 and the Snipex Alligator.
Insider made contact with Ghost via the Separate Presidential Brigade, which his sniper unit is a part of.
Ghost would not reveal how many are in his unit but hinted that there are a few dozen of them.
The unit went through intensive training for 10 months before coming to Bakhmut in February, where they have remained ever since.
While good marksmanship is, of course, a vital skill, Ghost said there's much more to the job than the art of the shot.
He said that 10% of their training was focused on learning how to shoot and 90% of it was learning how to survive.
"You learn how to calculate, you do the math. You learn how to camouflage yourself, you learn about the environment. You can shoot perfectly well, but if you can't survive, there is no value in that," he said.
Ghost handpicked the members of his unit and said that having faith in the cause is one of the most crucial qualities.
"Bravery is something that can be nurtured," he said. "One has to be sturdy, one has to be very resilient, very focused, psychologically very resilient, and obviously patriotic. This aspect of patriotism is very important because a person has to understand what he or she is doing it for."
He said that it does not trouble him to take lives because he is motivated by a higher purpose.
"We do not suffer psychologically because we protect our home and do a noble deed. Plus, it's just a job," he said.
"We are absolutely self-reliant"
Despite their difficult work in some of the most combat-heavy locations, Ghost said he has not lost a single man.
Only he and another sniper have been wounded during combat, he said. During a mission in Bakhmut, a mine exploded near him, sending shrapnel into his leg, which left him hospitalized for 12 days.
Ghost believes the secret to their success is that their team is self-sufficient and tight-knit — they stay together and always go on missions as one.
"I am absolutely confident in each and every man who works with me," he said. "We are absolutely self-reliant. Every element of our task is fulfilled by our own members — we have our own drivers, we have our own truck repairers, everything that we do, we are doing ourselves. We are not relying on anyone outside of our unit. Which is probably why we are all still alive and together."
The group is still operating around Bakhmut, which has been the site of some of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war.
Russia's mercenary Wagner Group took control of the fiercely contested city in May, and it has remained under Russian control ever since.
In recent months, Ukraine has stepped up offensive operations around the city as part of its counteroffensive to take back territory occupied by Russia.
Ghost said that the fighting has now shifted from urban warfare inside the city to the fields in the surrounding areas.
Both types of combat pose unique challenges, he explained. In an urban fight, you have walls to protect you, but you are bombarded with missiles and have to change positions every 10 to 15 minutes.
In the field, it's a different game — snipers have to be very well camouflaged and can spend up to 16 hours lying in wait in one position.
The work is demanding, both physically and mentally, and dangerous, with the unit often operating within the range of Russian artillery.
In another life, Ghost was an entrepreneur
Despite their skill and effectiveness, Ghost stressed that they are humans who feel fear, just like anyone else.
"As long as we have fear, we're acting like humans, and we are more reasonable," he said. "As soon as somebody has lost their fear, that's the beginning of the end."
When they return to their base from the front lines, they find surprising slivers of normalcy. In his spare time, Ghost said he likes to write and sing songs and speaks to his young daughter on the phone.
He said the unit keeps their morale up with the help of their pet husky, Lola, whom Ghost called their "antidepressant."
In another life, Ghost was an entrepreneur. He said he took up arms when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014. That was when "I became what I am," he said.
He was trained as a sniper by instructors from the US, UK, Canada, and Lithuania in 2016.
He used to be known as Casper, and said he got the call sign Ghost when Russia invaded the country in February 2022.
"People used to call me Casper — you remember the cartoon about the lovely little blue, kind ghost Casper? That was my name. But then, when the war started in February 2022, I became an angry ghost. So I'm no longer Casper," he said with a laugh.
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