A soldier from Ukraine trudges through the tall grass, one leg dangling aimlessly behind him. A few meters away, a flash of bright orange and a cloud of white smoke indicate the location of the latest land mine explosion moments later.
Another severely wounded soldier is seen struggling to climb onto an armored personnel carrier nearby as a thick stain of dark red blood marks his agonizing progress. His arms are flailing like a swimmer trying to grab hold of a lifeboat.
A drone operated by the Ukrainian army that was circling the frontlines south of the city of Bakhmut last week captured all of this in real time. The cratered minefield appeared to be covered in a haphazard rash of dark brown crop circles when viewed from above.
Mines are dreadful. More than anything else, they terrify me, said Artyom, a 36-year-old soldier with the 108th Territorial Defence Brigade of Ukraine. Two days prior, two of his coworkers had stood on "petals," which are tiny, green anti-personnel mines that have recently been dispersed by Russian rockets across a field.
"Our team members had experience. However, keeping eyes everywhere is difficult. Both have lost a leg. Each leg is one. Artyom, a trained sapper, explained that the rockets allow Russian forces to plant new mines in areas that have already been liberated and cleared by Ukrainian forces. "We have [mine] injuries after every fight," he said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that Ukraine's long-awaited counterattack was moving "slower than desired," and a variety of soldiers we've spoken to on various frontlines have attributed at least some of that delay to Russian minefields.
The leader of a nine-person sapper squad with the call sign Dill said, "Of course, it slows down the movement of troops. He had recently completed a demining mission on the front lines near the small, abandoned village of Predtechyne, outside of Bakhmut. He took care to avoid being seen by Russian drones flying overhead as he spread out a variety of deactivated Russian mines on the ground beneath a tree.
"The enemy shows no compassion to its own troops. They serve as ammunition for cannons. But from the safety of a nearby bunker, Lieutenant Serhii Tyshenko of the 3rd Assault Brigade said, "We're trying to advance with the fewest number of casualties possible.
A powerful anti-personnel Claymore mine that had been concealed close to an electricity pole and was ready to send shrapnel into infantry or vehicles was being carefully deactivated by Ukrainian sappers as they drove three hours further south across a series of lopsided pontoon bridges.
Moments after he had finished making the mine safe, Artyom, a red-bearded former garage mechanic, said, "I hate this job. As a Russian artillery shell impacted nearby fields, there was a whistle followed by a boom.
Beyond the recently captured village of Rivnopil, Ukrainian infantry were moving slowly southward over the brow of a nearby hill. The "sly" mentality that Artyom believed must be behind the act of laying mines and booby traps rather than engaging your enemy "man to man" was the source of his rage, which was not just a reaction to the dangers of minefields.
The soldiers later complained about a lack of mine-clearing tools and a shortage of sappers, four of whom had recently suffered injuries, at their temporary base in a cottage some distance away.
However, Artyom then displayed a sizable antenna to us and produced a laptop to start playing recordings of what he claimed to be recent radio intercepts of Russian soldiers. The profanity-filled messages seemed to point toward some degree of disorder and low morale.
"Our car was struck by our kamikaze drone. One person is dead and another is hurt. Remove the [expletive] from that area. ".
"[The soldiers] are escaping. 50 people fled; some of them are stealing cars. They fled, using an expletive.
The radio intercept implied that following a Ukrainian artillery barrage, Russian soldiers were fleeing their positions.
This occassionally occurs. Russians disappear and leave without permission in groups of 10 or 20. The Russians are aware that we can listen in on their conversations, but occasionally they forget," Artyom said.
Regarding Ukraine's counteroffensive, he referred to himself as a "realist," contending that too many people "in the media and in society are in a hurry" and expecting quick results.
"I think there's always a chance for the worst scenario. Slow [progress] is the worst, he claimed.
An audible roar from two Ukrainian fighter jets was followed by a series of booms from the frontlines further south. We then heard artillery and what appeared to be a longer-range HIMARS rocket system pounding Russian positions.
At this point, Ukraine's counteroffensive might be gradual and cautious. One officer, however, predicted that this cautious strategy would soon pay off dramatically as long-range strikes destroyed Russia's capacity to resupply frontline units and low Russian morale allowed Ukrainian forces to make tactical advances.
You'll soon see this, he promised.
Dill, the sapper squad commander near Bakhmut, was quiet confident about the extensive stretches of minefields that still stood in the way of Ukraine's counterattack.
We are developing our ability to improvise and come up with solutions to create quick, secure routes through minefields. But we are up against an extremely vicious foe," he said.