The Russian military is concentrating its efforts on securing complete control over the entire Donbas region in eastern Ukraine – and from what we’ve seen, there’s little that can stop them right now.
A large part of the industrial center fell into the hands of the Russian military, allowing President Vladimir Putin claimed a major victory after his army occupied the Luhansk region with the capture of the city of LysychanskUkraine’s last stronghold there.
The Russians already control much of Donetsk, the second half of the Donbas, and signs suggest they are moving toward seizing the rest of it.
Over the past few days, attacks have increased on the cities of Sloviansk and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region – and the frontline towns of Krasnohorivka and Marinka are also particularly vulnerable.
These areas have been bitterly contested for the past eight years, and Putin launched a “special military operation” in February after unilaterally declaring Donetsk and Luhansk “independent”.
The governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said: “The loss of the Luhansk region is painful because it is the territory of Ukraine. For me personally, this is special. This is where I was born and I am also the head of the region.”
The Ukrainian military with whom we are speaking has told us many times that they feel overwhelmed and overwhelmed by the overwhelming amount of Russian heavy artillery they are being bombarded with.
They hoped the arrival of foreign-supplied heavy artillery from the US and Europe could turn the tide, but it may be too late for the Ukrainians to keep holding the Donbas.
We were the first British journalists allowed access to see the French-made Caesar cannons currently being used to try to hold back the Russian army in the Donbas.
French President Emmanuel Macron provided 12 Caesars and after the G7 summit he pledged to provide 6 more. Heavy artillery is prized for its accuracy and can reach targets much further away – up to 30 miles away.
Ukrainian soldiers from the 55th Brigade, who we tracked using Caesars, told us that these guns are much more versatile and give them mobility that helps keep the crew safe. .
The gun can be ready to fire in about 60 flat seconds, and even for a shorter time (about 40 seconds) it can move again to stay out of the enemy’s return range.
The truck driver said his men spent 10 days learning how to operate the weaponized truck in France. “What we need are more guns like this,” he told us. “More people to help train us. All we need is more ammunition and then everything else we’ll do ourselves.”
They know they’re in a tough spot right now but still have a very high level of optimism about the long-term future here and he sent this message to the Russians who are still busy celebrating their capture of Luhansk. “It won’t be long,” said the commander, “we’ll kick you out and get it all back.”
For the towns that lie right on the edge of Russian control, where they have been fighting for the past eight years, the future looks grim.
We saw relief boxes unloaded for the people of Krasnohorivka and watched aid workers go through a long list of some 6,000 people who they said were in dire need of help.
One of them was Valentina, who told us she saw her neighbor die the day before a shell landed near her house. The inhabitants felt caught in the middle of this land grab and attacked by both sides.
She said: “When you’re in the basements, fear just takes over. It’s fear and terror. It’s just horror.”
We asked her who she thought was attacking her. “They said it was coming from that side (she was pointing in one direction) but we thought it was coming from the other side (she was gesturing in the opposite direction). It was hard to tell. It was really scary and I mean, we just want peace…”
Her voice broke and she sobbed unashamedly at the dire situation here.
We see a hospital that has been bombed several times. It barely worked, there were very few patients and even fewer medical staff, the drug quickly ran out.
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In Marinka, which is even close to the Russian army, they say that the Russians are using all kinds of artillery and all kinds of missiles.
The police showed us part of what they said was an air bomb used to shoot phosphorus, an explosive that produces flames that last longer to stick to its target.
Once again, we see the very familiar and scary Russian tactics – hit, hit, hit, destroy and level and then slowly move forward.
Those are tactics that are proving successful in the Donbas, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting since the start of the war in February, and where Putin has concentrated his military might since his defeat. failed to capture the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
Alex Crawford’s team is cameraman Jake Britton and producers Chris Cunningham, Artem Lysak, Jake Jacobs, Misha Cherniak and Misha Petrenko.