Donbass is feeling the weight of recent Russian military failures.
The president of the country, Volodymyr Zelensky, says the twin regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine are “turned into hell”. He is right. They are.
The towns and cities here are battered; homes and businesses are destroyed by this war.
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Their inhabitants are terrified. Families are divided. People are being killed and maimed and tens of thousands are running for their lives.
Severodonetsk in Luhansk is the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance and the Russians want this town so they can complete their takeover of all of Lugansk and then move on to Donetsk.
Their catastrophic attempt to cross the Donets River at the village of Bilohorivka recently to encircle Severodonetsk and seize the whole of Luhansk, meant a dramatic rewrite of the military plan.
And reformulation means changing tactics and picking up the pace.
Ukraine’s military has allowed little at the site of what it claims is its biggest military victory since World War II.
We were led through forest roads by Ukrainian military guides to the area that will go down in Ukrainian military history books as a key strategic victory against their far greater enemy.
The area is now a cemetery for Russian military vehicles.
“A kind of suicide club”
There are spent rounds of ammunition, unexploded ordnance, grenades, and burnt-out hulks of army transporters strewn across the scorched farmland on the west side of the river.
This is where Ukrainians say hundreds of Russian soldiers died in a botched plan.
They attempted to build pontoon bridges across the river using smoke as cover, but the Ukrainians waited and launched a fierce defense – showering what they say was a Russian battalion, wiping out around 70 vehicles and hundreds of soldiers .
“Looks like they were some kind of suicide club or their commanders didn’t care about them,” Yuri tells us.
“It’s strange. They just sent them off to die…and they followed stupid, stupid orders from their commanders.”
The bodies had been removed by the time we were allowed in, so it’s hard to verify the number killed, but there was definitely a fierce attack here.
The impact has been to boost the morale of Ukrainians while seemingly drawing real substantial criticism from the Russian leader himself, Vladimir Putin.
He also seems to have pushed the Russians to change tactics.
After the failures to encircle the capital kyiv or the second city of the country Kharkiv, the humiliating disaster of Bilohorivka. caused a change of direction.
Collect baby food from the ruins
The Russians refuse to give up their ambitions to take Severodonetsk.
They have just moved a few kilometers south and are intensely focused on the town of Soledar, which could be a prelude to the Severodonetsk cut.
Soledar pays the price in rockets and missiles. The main street has a huge crater in the middle. The city theater is practically in ruins.
We saw men carrying bags with whatever they could find among the debris inside.
A man, calling himself Alex, told us how he had recovered baby food and packets of pasta from the ruins of the theatre. It had been used to store humanitarian aid before the bombings a few days earlier.
With sweat streaming down his face from carrying bags of theater merchandise, Alex tells us he doesn’t believe the bombs were Russian anyway.
“It’s Ukrainian bombs here,” he said. “Not Russian”.
He goes on to say that he thinks the only way to stop the war is for Ukraine to give up Donbass – and he insists it should.
This is a completely anathema result for most Ukrainians, starting with President Zelenskyy.
But the toll of this war on the country is enormous – in human sacrifices and economically. And the president predicts that the final stages will be the bloodiest. He is almost certainly right.
Alex Crawford reports from Donbass with cameraman Jake Britton, producers Chris Cunningham, Artem Lysak, Nick Davenport and Misha Cherniak.