Russia wants to annex Vuhledar, a mining town in Ukraine

a soldier in Vuhledar carrying a mortar round

Beast, the commander, appeared to be worn out.

His eyes were surrounded by shadows beneath his green helmet. Fighting had kept him standing all night. He is war-weary and battle-hardened, like many soldiers on Ukraine's eastern front.

This is challenging. People don't sleep nearly enough. 20 hours are spent standing. The conflict is ongoing constantly. More information is not permitted because it is confidential. We are unable to reverse course, though. ".

He is a member of the 35th Brigade of the Ukrainian army, which is defending Vuhledar. There were once 15,000 residents living in this prosperous mining town, whose name means "gift of coal.". On Ukraine's 1,300-kilometer (807-mile) front line, it is now one of many wasteland areas. .

Over deserted streets, towering apartment buildings are blackened. With its roof peeled off and windows broken, a church has been reduced to a mere shell. At the front, a cross that has been damaged by shrapnel still stands. In the playground, the slide has bullet holes. Children of Vuhledar are no longer living.

The town is located in the fiercely disputed Donbas region in the east. From here, Ukraine can go after the Russian rail lines that are used for resupply. This bastion must be held by it. It must go to Moscow. Here has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting lately.

The commander had to say it again over the rattle of heavy, this time outgoing machine-gun fire, "The front line is one kilometer away.".

We don't have any armor, and they're pushing.". We are moving forward while we wait for Lend-Lease, a US program that provides military hardware. "That's a common refrain on the front lines here as Ukraine waits for the Western battle tanks that its allies have promised.

Commander Zvir
Beast, the commander, claims that the Ukrainian forces are holding off on moving forward until they receive Western weapons.

The Vuhledar defenders are currently employing their resources.

A few soldiers sprint into position in order to engage the enemy. They launch mortars—along with profanities—then quickly flee to avoid becoming targets themselves.

We carefully advance to within 500 meters of the front line. The Russians are unable to see. Buildings are securing us. However, a shout of caution suddenly sounds. At a wall, we have to hide. Something overhead, possibly a Russian drone, has been heard by the troops. Our cue to back off is that.

Despite having better firepower and eyes in the sky than their adversaries, the Russians face criticism at home for their lack of foresight.

This month's unsuccessful Russian invasion attempt resulted in significant losses and humiliation. On a plain with no obstructions, a column of tanks and armored vehicles advanced toward Ukrainian positions while navigating minefields. Similar to how it stopped an armored column from approaching Kiev last year, Ukraine stopped them in their tracks. If the Russians had taken any lessons from that, Vuhledar didn't demonstrate them.

About 300 souls still cling to their memories in this abandoned town without heat or light, frozen in place by advancing years. Oleh Tkachenko, a cheery evangelist pastor wearing combat gear, brings aid here twice a week, and he is the source of consolation. .

Pastor Oleh greets a local woman with a hug in the eastern Ukrainian town of Vuhledar
When providing aid in Vuhledar, Pastor Oleh (on the right) distributes food and hugs.

He arrives in the early hours of the day, before the shelling picks up. His armored van soon draws a line of people wearing winter coats and hats, both men and women. As hands extend toward freshly baked bread, he says, "Hang on.". Each person gets their own loaf. ".

73-year-old Valentina waits patiently for her turn. She has a headlamp around her neck and is a small woman who is hunched over a walking stick. She claims there is nowhere else for her to go.

Naturally, we are scared, she says. However, we must accept it and live with it. They have their job, so you can't tell them "Don't shoot!". Our lives exist. "  .

Before the invasion, she remembers her life. "The town was orderly, tranquil, and peaceful. People made money by working. It was a nice town, that's all I can say. Her tone becomes shaky, and she stops speaking.

Only 300 people still live in the troubled town, including Valentina.

Pastor Oleh gives people a hug and some advice at the van before rushing them off. Targets include crowds.

He says, "There's always shelling.". "We make an effort not to amass a large crowd. We make sure to carefully park in the most secure areas close to a structure where people can seek refuge. It's a life or death situation, so we assist. The reward — saving lives — is great, but so is the risk. "  .

He is saddened by what happened to Vuhledar, his home of three years. I think it's crystal clear that Russia despises Ukraine, he asserts. It is destroying everything it despises while hating our cities and our people. Regardless of what it says, Russia's actions always speak louder than its words. ".

In many locations along the eastern front, the Vuhledar story is repeated. Ukraine is struggling, every sinew being strained. The Russians are not succeeding, but they are also not giving up.

On the front lines, a stark reality exists. Nearly a fifth of this enormous nation is still under President Putin's control one year after his invasion.

Major offensives are imminent, according to both sides' signals. The crucial months will be coming up.

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