In a conflict dominated by artillery, Ukrainian soldiers fighting for control of the eastern town of Marinka have been coming unusually close to Russian troops.
Russia has made a priority of capturing the industrial Donetsk region where Marinka is located, and Moscow’s nearly year-long invasion has become a grinding war of attrition between long-range weapons.
But among the pancaked buildings in Marinka, which had a population of around 10,000 before the war and is now cut down the middle by the front line, Ukrainian soldiers have been coming suddenly face-to-face with the enemy.
“They could appear from behind a wall 10 to 20 metres (33 to 66 feet) from you, unexpectedly, climbing through the debris,” said one member of Ukraine’s 79th Brigade, who declined to give his name.
The soldiers fending off Russian troops in Marinka told AFP that, with no buildings left to shelter behind, they are fighting from basements, crouching behind chunks of remaining walls, rubble or debris.
“There are no trenches. There is nothing. I even had to hide behind a refrigerator,” said another soldier, 34-year-old Vitaliy.
Press officer Colonel Yaroslav Chepurny said the brigade had suffered “the most losses” there.
- ‘We shoot back’ -
At the trench position near Krasnogorivka where AFP met some of the soldiers, 26-year-old Volodymyr pointed to where their Russian adversaries were among trees some 500 metres away.
“They shoot at us with machine guns. And then we shoot back at them with RPGs and they’re quiet,” he said.
Members of the brigade, who have been fighting in Marinka for five months, take breathers to escape the cold and recoup at a nearby base.
There, their young commander Dmytro said it was a burden to “decide people’s fate”.
The 29-year-old junior lieutenant, who was a game developer before he joined the military in May 2022, earned the call sign “Good” for building morale before he stepped in for the wounded squadron leader.
“You decide whether the body of a dead soldier should be pulled out from the position or not, because you often have to do it under enemy fire,” he said.
They do everything they can to retrieve the wounded, but under the cover of darkness.
Squad member Valentin was one of those who made it out after being wounded in the arm and leg.
Back with his platoon at the base, he pulled up aerial photos of the ruins of Marinka, the broken walls of buildings barely visible under a thin blanket of snow.
“It’s hellish out there,” he said.