Russian troops are intensifying their efforts to control the entire Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. We have seen very little that could stop them.
After his troops captured the Luhansk region and the city of Lysychansk (the last Ukrainian stronghold), a large chunk of the industrial heartland was already lost to the Russian military.
Donetsk is the second half the Donbas and most of Donetsk is under Russian control. There are signs that they are moving to seize the remainder.
In the Donetsk region, there have been increased attacks on Sloviansk (and Bakhmut) in recent days. The frontline towns Krasnohorivka or Marinka are also at risk.
These areas have been a fiercely contested area for the last eight years. Putin launched his “special military operation” in February after declaring Donetsk, Luhansk independent’.
Serhiy Haidai (the governor of Luhansk) stated that “The loss in the Luhansk region was painful because it is the territory Ukraine . This is a special place for me. This is my homeland, and it’s also where I was born. I am the head of the region.
We have spoken to Ukrainian troops who feel overwhelmed and outgunned by heavy Russian artillery.
They hope that the arrival of heavy artillery supplied from Europe and America will reverse the trend, but it could be too late for the Ukrainians who want to retain the Donbas.
We were the first British journalists to have access to the French-made Caesar howitzers, which are being used to stop the Russian military from the Donbas.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has already provided 12 Caesars. He also promised to provide six more after the G7 summit. Heavy artillery, which can reach targets up to 30 miles from their location, is highly valued because of its accuracy.
We watched the 55th Brigade Ukrainian troops using Caesars. They told us that the Caesars are more versatile and offer them mobility which helps to protect the crew.
It can be ready to fire in just 60 seconds. In 40 seconds, it can move again and be ready to fire again.
According to the truck commander, his men had spent 10 days learning how to operate the weaponized truck in France. He said, “We need more guns like these.” We need more people to train us. We only need more ammunition to do everything we can by ourselves.
Although they know they are on the backfoot, there is still optimism for the long-term. He had this message to the Russians who are still celebrating the seizing of Luhansk. The commander said, “It won’t be for long.” “We will kick your out and take it all back.”
The immediate future is looking grim for those towns that are right up against Russia’s line of control. They have been fighting for eight years.
We watched as boxes of aid were unloaded for Krasnohorivka residents and sat back to watch as aid workers went through the long list of approximately 6,000 people they said desperately needed help.
Valentina, one of the victims, tells us that she witnessed her neighbour die from a shell impact near her home. Both sides are attacking the residents, who feel trapped in this land grab.
She stated, “When you’re down there, fear takes over.” It’s fear, horror, and all that. It’s horror.
We asked her to identify the person she believed was attacking her. They say it comes from this side (she points in that direction), but we believe it is coming from the other (she gestures in opposite direction). It is difficult to tell. It’s really frightening and I want you to know that we want peace …”
She breaks down and sobs unashamedly at this awful situation.
A hospital that has been repeatedly bombed is what we see. It is now barely functional, there are very few patients, and even less medical staff. Medicines are running out fast.
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Marinka, which is closer to the Russian troops than the others, says that the Russians use all types artillery and every type of missile.
Police showed us parts of the air bombs they said were used to fire phosphorous, which is an explosive that produces a more lasting flame and sticks to its target.
We saw again the familiar and frightening Russian tactics of hit, hit and hit, destroy, flatten, then slowly advance.
These are the tactics that are working in the Donbas. The region has seen some of most intense fighting since February’s start and is where Putin has concentrated his military strength since the loss of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, early in the war.
Alex Crawford’s crew includes Jake Britton, cameraman, and Misha Cherniak, producers, Chris Cunningham and Artem Lysak.