The battlefield stretches through the dense forest on the banks of the Siversky Donets River in Donbas Region.
Soldiers with Ukraine’s 79th Airborne Brigade crawl out of sandy trenches, preparing their 40 mm under-barrel rounds.
Barrels up, they aim at an imperceptible enemy line running some 300 meters away, hidden behind a wall of tall pines.
“Three, four, fire!”
The ensuing whistle and blast merge with the never-ending thunder of artillery barrage on either side.
“Those f*cks should know we’re still here and ready,” the paratroopers say as they lay down their weapons to rest and seek cover.
Here, as in many other parts of Donbas, Ukrainian fighters rarely see their enemies’ faces.
The largest and bloodiest battle in Europe since World War II is, in many ways, a cutthroat duel between Russian and Ukrainian artillery. Russia has a clear numerical advantage in this fight, gradually securing its gains by eliminating the Ukrainian lines that stand in its way.
The decisive battle has been going on for nearly 40 days. Russia is slowly and painfully pressing through Ukrainian defenses, turning villages to ashes in its wake.
Now, amid recent progress by Russia, the situation in the region is reaching a critical point.
Despite heavy losses, Ukraine’s military continues to fight hard, trying to wear out Russian forces. Surprisingly, given the circumstances, morale remains high among Ukrainian troops.