‘We’re ready for Russian onslaught’

The sound of Russian artillery grew louder to a Ukrainian frontline position in Luhansk. The rumble of shelling interspersed with the occasional burst of small arms fire within 500 metres of the Russian positions.

This may be a conflict in the 21st century but, at times, with its maze of trenches, it feels more like something from the First World War.

Russia’s military offensive in eastern Ukraine was already intensifying. It could be seen in the long queues of traffic driving west towards relative safety; It can be felt in the deserted streets as you drive through the towns and cities of the Donbas; and you can hear it with the increasing sound of Russian artillery.

Russia was redeploying more of its forces from northern to eastern Ukraine. The objective was to step up the battle in the Luhansk and Donetsk – parts of which were already controlled by Russian backed separatists. Russia would take advantage of its shorter supply lines – something which proved a problem in its failed offensive on the capital, Kyiv.

Russia and its proxies now controlled around 90 per cent of Luhansk and more than half of Donetsk – the old industrial heartlands of Ukraine. There was smoke rising across a landscape already scarred by mining and factories.

Ukrainian forces have been fighting a war here for the past eight years. Their units included some of the country’s most battle hardened troops. Western officials said Ukrainian forces stationed in the Donbas were the best trained and equipped units.

As the Russian offensive pushed from the north, east and south, there was a real danger they may soon be encircled and cut off.

Ukraine had already lost ground to Russia. But they were digging in for the fight as people travelled east towards the frontline and saw new defensive positions and trenches being dug.

Anatoly, a 52-year-old soldier, peered through a periscope from his trench to view the Russian positions. He told me “I see the Russians, they look like me”.

But he was ready to hold the line. He said “if they try to take our position, I will kill them. If I don’t kill them, they will kill me. It’s the rules of war.” -BBC

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