Ukrainian troops on the front lines in the Donbas have told the BBC that Russian forces are “learning every day and changing their strategy” as they continue to gain ground around the heavily contested town of Bakhmut. But the soldiers also insisted that morale remains high, despite growing exhaustion after almost a year of war.
Peering over a giant map at their brigade’s temporary headquarters, they jabbed at the spots where Russian forces were inching forwards towards a key road.
“They were about 400 metres [437 yards] from us, across the field just here. We’re holding on, but it’s getting harder,” said Sgt Denys Kalchuk from the all-volunteer Dnipro-1 Battalion, going on to describe how Russian infantry, fighter jets and artillery units appeared to be operating with growing co-ordination and effectiveness around Bakhmut.
“The planes are the worst. You can’t hear them until it’s too late. It’s the same with the tanks. Artillery is easier – at least you might have a second or two [to dive for cover] after you hear them coming,” said Sgt Kalchuk.
Assessing the overall state of the conflict across the Donbas is extremely difficult. Access is challenging and dangerous, and dozens of different Ukrainian battalions and brigades are working on separate tasks, amid some secrecy, spread out along hundreds of miles of often fast-changing front lines.