A veteran British soldier defending Ukraine has told how «he wouldn’t be here today» if it wasn’t for his Lanarkshire comrade helping him to safety during a Russian drone attack.
Former sniper Gary Bonini, from East Kilbride, has been fighting in the warzone since March and is part of the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine, which is made up of military reservists.
The 30-year-old was one of four vets targeted by a Russian drone last Monday (June 13) while carrying out a reconnaissance patrol in eastern Zaporizhzhia.
His comrade, amoured combat engineer and bomb disposal expert, Josh Griffiths, was badly injured in the attack which saw mortar munitions fired from a modified drone.
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Speaking exclusively to Lanarkshire Live from his hospital bed in Kiev, the 30-year-old hailed Gary a hero for saving his life.
«If it wasn’t for Gary I wouldn’t be here», admitted Josh.
«I got hit first. We were patrolling about 100m from a tree line when we were spotted by a drone and had four 82mm mortar rounds fired at us.
«By the time I heard the whistle there was only two seconds before impact.
«Unfortunately, where it landed it cut me off from the rest and I got hit first. The impact half-lifted me in the air and when I landed, I’d fractured my shin with a deep laceration and wounded my left thigh.
«I couldn’t stand up so I dragged myself across the floor to get to cover. Gary turned round to get back to me and a round landed near him, causing deep shrapnel wounds to his right shin.
«Gary managed to dive for cover with our other two teammates and I crawled to a concrete wall where another one landed close, just a few metres away, breaking my collar bone with a deep tissue injury in my left shoulder and leaving me with deep shrapnel in my right arm and helmet.
«If I wasn’t wearing my helmet it would have been game over.»
Josh continued: «One more mortar round landed as I got to cover. I started assessing my wounds while trying to figure out if any more were coming. There was a lot of blood pumping out my shin and thigh and I started to lose a lot of strength.»
Josh applied a tourniquet to his left leg to stem the bleeding, as Gary and Ukranian military soldiers operating nearby made desperate attempts to reach him.
Gary managed to get Josh safely back to their vehicle and started the evacuation to hospital.
Josh began to lose consciousness on the journey there but came round when Gary managed to stop the bleeding with another tourniquet.
«I could feel myself going», added Josh. «My eyes were rolling to the back of my head and I was losing consciousness. If it wasn’t for Gary I wouldn’t be here.
«He was injured himself but stayed with me the whole journey. Just shouting his name while I was going in and out of consciousness gave me a boost.
«This is what we’re used to but I know the flashbacks and hearing the whistle of the mortars will haunt me.»
Gary was treated for minor shrapnel injuries to his shin and spent three days in a makeshift hospital with Josh, before being transferred to Kiev Hospital where Josh now awaits further surgery.
Once strong enough, he plans to fly back home to Surrey but won’t be able to return to his day job as a telecommunications engineer due to the extent of his injuries and will need financial support for his rehabilitation while he looks for other work.
Gary, who joined the Royal Regiment of Scotland at just 16, has vowed to stay on and keep fighting for Ukraine’s freedom.
He has set up a JustGiving page to help with equipment and unexpected costs while he is out there.
Appealing for the support of his country, Gary shared the link online, and wrote: «Three days ago one of my friends and myself were on a reconnaissance patrol and unfortunately after being spotted by a Russian drone we were engaged by some form of airborne munitions.
«Two of our patrol including myself were injured and thankfully everyone survived. I am currently still in hospital with minor shrapnel wounds and hope to return to my team in the coming days.
«We were able to keep everyone alive due to the vehicle that our unit sourced through donations. I’m sharing this page again to highlight the importance of every single one of your donations and shares, I’m eternally grateful for every penny people have spared.
«Thank you to everyone who already knew about this incident and your messages of support.»
A veteran of two tours of Afghanistan, Gary has been operating in the Ukraine since March 5 in areas such as Irpin, Chernobyl, Bucha, Hostomel and many regions unable to be named.
Working alongside many hardworking foreign fighters, he highlighted the publicity around ‘TikTok’ soldiers and foreigners not engaged in combat and the «endless funding and equipment» they receive over the «silent professionals» working on the frontline every day.
Gary said: «We fight alongside Ukranian professional soldiers of all tiers and achieve substantial goals against the invading force. I request you help all of us in raising funds to better equip each of our guys to perform our role safely and more effectively.
«We require urgently nightvision, long range optics, drones and vehicles.»
At least 47,000 people have been killed and 15 million displaced since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24. It has caused Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.
Josh described the morale within the specialist international defence unit as «brilliant» but insisted the British Army should be doing more to help stop this «inhumane» war.
He said: «The UK government is doing what it can within reason but more help is definitely needed out here.
«I have seen how slowly it can take for high demand equipment to get to the frontline where it’s needed.
«Some of the things I’ve seen out here have been disgusting. Bodies of women and children left lying in the streets. How can people turn a blind eye to that? It’s inhumane.
«It’s disgusting what Russia is doing and not even half of it is being reported on. We should be out there fighting.»
Make a donation to Gary’s Crowdfunder here and support Josh’s rehabilitation here.
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