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‘It’s a kind of hell’: The bitterly contested mining town where Putin hopes to secure his first victory in months

Temperatures are below freezing, and snowflakes swirl on the roads. The landscape is sliced by icy winds that whip like a million knives.

Even in winter, fighting is never slow down. This is evident in Soledar, a salt mine town.

Armoured vehicles move backwards and forwards until they reach the gates of the city, where they fire heavy machine gun fire at an approaching enemy.

Wagner, the leader of the Russian mercenary force, claims that he has taken the town, but the soldiers from Ukraine we spoke to said it is still bitterly contested.


Soledar’s sky is clouded in smoke, and the ground shakes from the incessant thuds of artillery.

Ukrainian drone operators hide in hidden places on the outskirts to gather intelligence, as shells whistle overhead.

Image: Bohdan is a Ukrainian soldier who defends Soledar
Image: Mykola is an elderly resident who has remained at Soledar

Bohdan, a member of the drone team, denies Russia has taken the town.

He said, “The guys are holding their positions in Soledar. The Russians want it to be surrounded via the flanks, but the guys hold it defense, nobody is retreating, it’s our land.”

He shows us footage he took of Russian troops on his smartphone. The image is grainy, but you can see a soldier carrying an injured friend to safety.

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There is no safe place here. Both sides are taking heavy casualties. The war is a grim one. In constant danger are the shell-shocked civilians trapped in the middle. As the frontline gets closer, there is little hope.

“How can you say that anything is okay?” You can see it for yourself. It’s all gone. There is no gas, water, or electricity.

Image A military orthopedic surgeon, Andriy Zoholob has been treating Ukrainian casualties

Some of the wounded from the front come to the hospital in Kramatorsk for emergency treatment. Many of these people have suffered serious injuries. Many of them are engaged in combat with their enemy from distances as short as 30 meters.

Andriy Zholob is a military orthopedic surgeon. He says that it is a testimony to how intense the fighting in the town.

“It’s close combat. We have gunshot [wounds], grenade shrapnel injuries, and so forth, so this type of wounds increased.”

It’s a form of hell

However, Russian forces have seized much of the town. If they win, it will be Vladimir Putin’s first victory in months.

However, it will come at a huge cost to lives.


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