Russian forces gather in large numbers in the east

In military terms, this is called a “breakthrough”. In eastern Ukraine, a major road cutting across the rolling plain is forming to be one of the main battlegrounds for the impending Russian offensive in the Donbass. Connecting the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, this two-track pagoda, dotted here and there with hardwood, is one of the main hubs in the northeast.

It enters like an arrow into the heart of the Donbass still under Ukrainian control, which has become a cauldron surrounded by the two pro-Russian “republics” of Donetsk in the south and Luhansk in the east, and now under Russian pressure steam .. came from the north.

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“We are waiting for them!” So said, with a big smile and a raised thumb, a division lieutenant was busy reinforcing his positions on both sides of this road with timbers.

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hold the asphalt

“We will destroy the enemy who came to invade our motherland, fascist Russia, you can’t call it anything else. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword,” the young officer with dimples and a dagger promises an equal ball. “Let the Western countries give us more vehicles, and help us close the skies[to Russian planes]. And victory will be ours.”

Trenches were dug with bulldozers, artillery pieces and other armored vehicles somewhat buried in the surroundings. The woods, where soft flowerbeds of purple bells herald spring, are full of shelters and other camouflaged gear that promise more sinister showers of fire.

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The fortified road is full of anti-tank obstacles. As the winter ends, and the wet black earth limits the progress of the reservoirs in the neighboring crops, we must carry the asphalt.

Having captured Izyum a few days ago, Russian forces are now camping twenty kilometers north of the twin cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the capital of Kyiv-controlled Donbass.

According to the American Research Institute for the Study of War (ISW), “Sloviansk will be the next decisive battle of the war in Ukraine.”

On both sides of the road between Russian Izyum and Ukrainian Slovyansk, the front line village of Krasnopilia, he settled there for two weeks.

“The Russians are busy, we know they are preparing to attack,” a senior officer said, referring to the increase in Russian helicopter flights over the front, which is usually synonymous with a full-scale offensive.

“We are ready. (…) We have prepared for them some surprises,” comments this powerful 2014 war veteran, who was wounded twice, “almost lost his right leg” and now walks like a man.

Krasnopelia, with its Slavic country houses with fences and wooden transverse windows, is full of soldiers, members of the 95th Airmobile Brigade, an elite unit with an eagle in the emblem. Do they fear the next Russian hurricane? The officer replied, “You know the story of David and Goliath…”.

Another sign of the coming war, ambulances bearing the Red Cross – very important to the morale of the soldier – are stationed under the trees. And when artillery fire shook the ground, one of them rushed forward, with two nurses on board.

“holy mountain”

A few kilometers east of the national road, there is another formation, undoubtedly more suitable for Ukrainians: the meandering Seversky Donets River is a natural obstacle to the invader, in a completely different landscape of little Switzerland made of wooded hills and fir trees.

The Ukrainians opened many of the eight storerooms on the river to make it more difficult to cross. Seversky Donets got out of bed, “his level rose by about two meters,” according to one of the residents.

Bridges were blown up, as happened in the village of Bogorodichin, where only old people remained.

“Everyone is nervous at the moment, and the old people do not want to leave,” says Artur Nazarov, 58, the principal of the local school. “Here is the end of the road, we have made provisions, we are waiting …,” he concludes, to the sound of a cannon in the distance, in front of his sagging bridge.

One bridge was saved, three kilometers from the estuary, in the small tourist town of Svyatogersk, but it is also threatened with destruction.

On the hillside, the Orthodox monastery – under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate – on the “Holy Mountain” usually attracts pilgrims and visitors, who come to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of this spiritual place.

The place is also known for the statue of Comrade Artyom, which in 1927 the Soviets planted on the mountain in honor of the local Bolshevik “hero”.

Below, the one-lane bridge that spans a hundred meters over the swollen waters of the Severski Donets is already mined, ready for vandalism.

discreet lane

On this side of the river, the Ukrainians are in lost time, and they know it. “When the Russians launch their offensive, we will have an hour or two at most to evacuate to the West Bank,” said Andrei Bezruchko, the commander of the local regional defense.

The Russian forces are located a few kilometers to the north, in the village of Pasika in particular. They are not necessarily on hostile territory.

“The locals are 80% pro-Russian,” Andrei says, a kalash slung over his shoulder. In civilian life, the 43-year-old “businessman” is the owner of one of the main restaurants in Svyatogersk.

“Of course when the city is taken, I will lose everything, my job, my house. Everyone knows me here, I am constantly threatened,” he shrugged, showing death threats messages on his laptop.

The forecourt of the Svyatogersk Monastery is also the site of an amazing day trip, an example of the intricacies of this Donbass War.

Every morning, the cars gather to leave in a convoy towards the Russian-controlled area, with the tacit approval of Ukrainian forces. “These people think that they will be safer in the occupied territories,” Andrey comments scornfully.

This afternoon, civilian convoys arrived from the Russian region. Svyatogersk is a corridor and a secret communication area where residents can still move from one camp to another. Andre admits: “Cars go both ways, and everyone still has a choice.”

In this part of the Donbass, the expression dedicated to the “fog of war” is verified again: the belligerents face each other on a national road, and the battle promises to be bloody; A few kilometers away, a pass zone precarious for civilians, will be cut off as soon as the attacker moves.

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