With bawdy songs and violin solos, a live concert near Ukraine's front line gave troops a chance to unwind and clear their heads of warfare.

Performed by fellow soldiers, the intimate show was staged at a recovery centre for Ukraine's 23rd mechanised brigade in the eastern Donetsk region.

The unit is deployed around the war-battered industrial hub of Avdiivka, which the Kremlin has been trying to capture for nearly two months.

"While listening, I wasn't thinking about the trenches," said Oleksandr, a soldier recovering from a sinus infection likely due to hypothermia.

"There are songs or rhythms that remind you of something, of good memories," the 31-year-old, who declined to give his last name citing security concerns, told AFP.

A handful of musicians worked their magic on the piano, violin, guitar and bandura -- a traditional Ukrainian string instrument -- for an audience of a couple dozen.

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The performers were from Cultural Forces, an association that has put on more than 2,500 concerts for troops since the beginning of the war in February 2022.

"We offer the guys a chance to take their minds off things through music, song, jokes," said Roman Rameniev, the guitarist that day.

"They forget where they are for a bit... and unwind," said the 43-year-old, who fought in a brigade before joining the association in June.

Founded by singer Mikolai Sierga, the association has a roster of 60 military and civilian artists who perform at the front-line medical facilities.

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- 'Shell shock' -

At first, the soldiers at the recovery centre listened indifferently, with vacant gazes and tired faces.

When the violinist called out for requests, the servicemen struggled to come up with songs.

"I've forgotten everything my parents sang when I was kid," said one.

"We don't remember anything, we've had shell shock," added another.

It took a bawdy number about their higher-ups for the men to crack a smile and loosen up.

But the war was back soon enough. During a smoke break outside, the conversation turned to life on the front line.

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"You never leave the trenches because of the goddamn drones," said one soldier to another.

"You fire at them, shoot one down but shit, it gets worse: the enemy spots and shells you," he added. "There's nowhere to hide".

Later, a unit deputy commander handed out medals and a priest delivered a sermon -- formalities not normally part of the association's concerts.

"We (usually) show up at their houses -- there's like 10 people and we get to know everyone," said Rameniev, the guitarist.

"We talk about the quiet life, civilian jobs, what they used to do, what they do now, their dreams. It's less a concert than a conversation," he added.

- Special guest -

Oleksandr, the soldier, gave the show a thumbs up.

"I enjoyed it. It's been a long time since I heard music or had contact with civilisation," he said.

He said the men spent all their time in trenches or village houses used as military bases.

"I used to listen to music all the time. Sometimes I'd fall asleep with earphones in. But I've stopped listening. Don't feel like it anymore," he said.

The show concluded with a special guest.

Daniela Zayushkina, lead vocalist of Ukrainian rock band Vivienne Mort, showed off her soulful voice in a solo performance.

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"The main goal is to entertain. Even if for five minutes, if it works, then I'm happy," she told AFP.

It was her third show for the association. She also has a foundation of her own that raises funds to buy drones for the war effort.

"My priority right now is to help the troops," she said. "Once we win, there'll be time for other things."

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