As I entered the small town of Bakhmut in the war-ravaged Donbass region, I couldn't help but feel a deep sense of trepidation. The tension in the air was palpable, and the smell of burning rubble and gunpowder lingered long after the most recent artillery barrage had ceased.
For the past ten months, the Ukrainian military has been entrenched in a brutal struggle for control of this town against the 100,000-man strong Russian military. It's been called the hottest spot on Earth, and it's not hard to see why.
It was here that I met "Monatik," the crew commander of the 120- mm M971 mortar unit, and "Kozak," his spotter. Both men have risked their lives time and time again to defend their homeland, and both have seen more than their fair share of bloodshed and loss.
But as I sat down with them in a makeshift bunker, I discovered that amidst the chaos and devastation, there was still hope – and it came in the form of a civilian Python Range Master monocular.
"Monatik" was an adult man of about 50, with the kind, fatherly demeanor of a schoolteacher. He commanded the respect of his subordinates, who followed his orders without question. As we spoke, I noticed the Python Range Master monocular hanging from his neck and asked him why the military was using civilian equipment instead of their own.
Rumors had been swirling that Western aid to the Ukrainian military was insufficient, and I wanted to know if there was any truth to them.
The mortar commander explained that the Python Range Master had been given to them by volunteers, and it quickly became one of their most valuable tools.
He recounted how, in the unpredictable world of modern warfare, the mortar's effectiveness hinged on the accuracy of its fire. With the Ukrainian Armed Forces experiencing a severe shortage of ammunition, every shell had to count.
However, due to adverse weather conditions and electronic warfare, it was not always possible to rely on drones for aerial adjustments. That's where the Python Range Master came in.
"Monatik" had experience with a wide range of military optics but found that none of them could withstand the grueling conditions of trench warfare for an extended period of time. In contrast, the Python Range Master, with its magnesium shockproof and waterproof casing, had proven to be a reliable workhorse in the harshest of environments.
He likened it to a hybrid of the elegant AR-15 and the rugged, indestructible AK-47, saying, "You don't have time during the battle to think about your expensive equipment when the enemy approaches your positions... the Range Master has become a reliable workhorse for us, he swam in the trench mud and got wet under freezing rains, but was always ready for combat work."
I then turned my attention to "Kozak," the young, short spotter with a broad smile and a penchant for telling jokes. Despite his youthful appearance, his eyes betrayed the weariness of an old man who had lived a lifetime.
He spoke enthusiastically about the Python Range Master, particularly its ability to connect to a smartphone for recording and reconnaissance purposes.
This feature was invaluable for confirming target destruction, range estimation and observation, streaming the content to far away parts through the smartphone without interruptions, especially when other methods of verification were unavailable.
"Direct hit on the Russian T-72B3M with a 120 mm M971 mortar. The strike was carried out by a combat team led by "Monatik". the fire correction and recording was done with a Python Range Master."
"Kozak" laughed as he assured me that the smartphones they used couldn't be tracked due to the absence of SIM cards, but his tone turned serious as he praised the Range Master's optics.
Believe me," he said, "I can see the positions of the Russians at a distance of three kilometers and observe their movements. But what sets the Range Master apart is its lightweight, durable magnesium body. It's truly in a class of its own."
He explained how, during combat, every gram of equipment mattered. With the weight of 35-40 kilograms of gear bearing down on him, even sitting still for a few hours became an exhausting ordeal. In a firefight that could last up to 10 hours, the Range Master's lightweight design was a critical advantage.
But there was one significant drawback: the Python Range Master was not readily available in Ukraine. The monocular had been gifted to them by a volunteer, and they longed to have several hundred more to distribute among their comrades.
Our conversation was cut short as the sudden roar of artillery shook the ground beneath us. In an instant, "Monatik" and "Kozak" leapt into action, taking up their positions while I was hurriedly evacuated from the area. As the sounds of battle faded behind me, I hugged them both goodbye and wished them good luck, my heart heavy with the knowledge that their fight was far from over.
Determined to help these brave men in any way I could, I set out to find the manufacturer of the Python Range Master monocular.
I discovered that the device was produced by a California-based startup called Python Optic.
When I reached out to the company's owner and shared the story of "Monatik" and "Kozak," he was so moved that he decided to send 500 brand new Python Range Master monoculars directly to their unit, free of charge.
Inspired by their courage and perseverance, I too decided to order a Python Range Master for myself. As a journalist, it would be an invaluable tool for my work, and as an avid fisherman, outdoors lover and traveler, it would always come in handy.
Dear reader, if you are interested in supporting the Ukrainian Armed Forces, I encourage you to visit the Python Optic online store, where 20% of the proceeds from each monocular sold will be donated to their cause.
As I write this, I can still hear the echoes of gunfire and feel the earth trembling beneath my feet. I can still smell the smoke and sense the fear and determination in the air.
But in the midst of the chaos, I found hope - hope in the resilience of the human spirit, hope in the unyielding love for one's homeland, and hope in a small piece of technology that has become a symbol of survival and unity.
If you too wish to support these brave men and women, consider purchasing a Python Range Master monocular from Python Optic's direct store (Click Here). With every purchase, you can help ensure that these soldiers have the equipment they need to continue their fight for freedom.
In the trenches of Bakhmut, amid the deafening noise of battle and the heart-wrenching cries of loss, I found a story of perseverance and hope.
The Python Range Master monocular may be a small device, but in the hands of these soldiers, it has become an instrument of change, a beacon of light in the fog of war, and a testament to the indomitable human spirit.