Ukrainian forces are under increasing pressure in eastern Ukraine as the Russian military has switched tactics. It has focused its forces and firepower on a much smaller target with a more limited goal: encircling a last crescent of towns and villages that belong to the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, the two breakaway areas where hostilities between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists have simmered for eight years.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
Every few days soldiers from this unit head forward to the front line, which they call ground zero, relieving others who swap out for a break from the pounding artillery. The soldiers are caustic about the type of warfare they are undergoing on the open country of eastern Ukraine. They describe themselves as cannon fodder, and reduced to “cotton” or stuffing under the heavy barrages of artillery.
But their morale seems high and, as volunteers, most said they were convinced of the need to stand up to Russian aggression.
One of the volunteer soldiers is a theater director, another a university economics lecturer.
“It’s much more difficult sitting and doing nothing,” said the lecturer, who goes by the code name Academic.
Maksim Bulgakov, 40, the theater director, said he had never wanted to join the army. “My father, brother and grandfather were artillery officers, but I never wanted to be,” he said. “But it’s such a time. You have a problem and you have to decide.”
The men, and one woman, lie low, sleeping in a farm building and keeping out of sight of Russian drones during the day. They operate artillery guns from the tree lines in the area but did not allow visiting reporters to see them.