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On the frontline of a Ukrainian town as fighting could break out at any moment

It’s the quiet moments that are most unnerving as we move through a war zone that feels like a relic from another century.

The town of Avdiivka borders the contested city of Donetsk which was captured by Russian separatists in 2014.

The hulking tower of the local chemical plant belches white plumes of smoke in the distance.

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This area has faced near constant tensions over the last eight years

This area has faced near constant tensions over the last eight years but the uptick in violence over recent days has left everyone worried.

So much so that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy referenced the town in his address to world leaders at the Munich Security Conference earlier, telling delegates that bombs were falling.

Ghosts of the past

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The weapons of the Ukrainian army defending the frontlines may seem modern, but their defensive network that zig-zags this industrial wasteland looks no different from the trenches that cut through the western front decades ago.

Thick mud clags boots. And with the prospects of an invasion growing, the Ukrainian soldiers are fighting not just for their country’s future but against the ghosts of the past haunting this eastern frontline.

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Ukraine: ‘It’s a little bit scary’

Broken factories have become rat runs, a way of staying safe, moving between positions.

The incoming artillery is more intense than it has been for years – it’s an ominous sign in the face of faltering international diplomacy.

‘It’s an extreme situation’

Ukraine’s leadership has sought to downplay Western concerns over Russia launching a full-scale invasion of his country.

Senior Lieutenant Ivan takes me on a tour of the forward positions
Senior Lieutenant Ivan takes me on a tour of the forward positions

But the soldiers we spoke to here know they would be one of the first lines of defence if Vladimir Putin decides to start a war.

Senior Lieutenant Ivan takes me on a tour of the forward positions. I asked him whether his men are preparing for an escalation.

“It’s possible,” he tells me. “It’s an extreme situation and of course it’s normal to be worried about it.”

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The soldiers can only look out with periscopes; their enemy is just a few hundred metres away.

And as the Kremlin continues to renegotiate Europe’s security through the barrel of a gun they know here that fighting with the Russian-backed separatists could break out at any moment.

What comes next in this grim conflict is still a guessing game. But the soldiers here, as they face another freezing day on the front, say they’re ready to defend their country and their freedom.


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