Battle in east Ukraine may determine war’s outcome

People in eastern Ukraine know the Russians are about to step up their offensive here. Even the dogs on the streets seem to know, and can be heard barking whenever there’s a heavy thump of artillery in the distance.

Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled to the relative safety of western Ukraine. Once again large columns of Russian vehicles have been spotted by satellite – this time heading towards the east.

Here in the Donbas we’ve also seen signs of Ukraine bringing in more military equipment, including armoured vehicles and longer range air defence systems. But not in the volume of Russia’s reinforcements.

Ukraine may be more tactically astute about their movements, or simply have less. Both are probably true.

Many believe this next phase of the war in the east could decide the outcome of this conflict. Many also expect it to be bloody.

At our request, the Ukrainian army showed us one of their artillery lines that was already shelling Russian positions. The only way to get there was to travel in an armoured vehicle across fields. Much of the war here will be fought across open ground. Ukrainian troops will also take advantage of their already dug-in defensive positions.

We nervously looked up for any sign of Russian aircraft, but Ukraine still has air defences. We saw a vehicle fitted with radar and rockets and anti-aircraft guns which we were asked not to film.

There were more air defences at the artillery positions, including short-range Stinger anti-aircraft surface-to-air missiles supplied by the West. They were out of their box and ready to fire should the Russian drones or jets target their positions.

Such weapons have made a significant impact in this war – while Russia may have an advantage in the air, it still doesn’t have control of the skies.

Ukraine’s artillery was, so far, also proving effective. We did not see long lines of artillery, but instead, a small mobile unit ready to move at a moment’s notice. While the Russians have a bigger army, Ukraine’s forces rely on well prepared defences and mobility.

Volodymyr, a Ukrainian soldier, told me they had to change position regularly to avoid being targeted. -BBC

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