Amid the roar of artillery and roaring explosions, DailyExpertNews photographers have graphically witnessed the struggle for survival. These are their stories and images.
Lynsey Addario, Finbarr O’Reilly and
During the three months of the Russian invasion, DailyExpertNews journalists have chronicled the carnage and the courage, the ruin and the determination, across the wide arc of the struggle across eastern Ukraine, where Vladimir V. Putin’s brutal offensive is unfolding. now concentrates.
On the front lines and within easy reach, they have joined civilians whose homes, families and emotions have been shattered, as well as Ukrainian soldiers — hardened veterans and green volunteers — with tools as modern as surveillance drones and as old as trenches.
Amid the roar of artillery, the clatter of small arms and bone-rattling explosions, Times photographers have graphically witnessed the struggle to survive and kill — or just survive. These are their reports and images from the last weeks of that battle.
On the frontline south of Izium, a Russian-captured city just north of the Donetsk region, two Ukrainian 122mm guns thundered across the rolling countryside last week. They belonged to an artillery detachment of the 93rd Mechanized Brigade, which had been called up to fire on Russian troops pinned down by Ukrainian troops.
The camouflaged gunners then worked quickly to hide their position, moving broken branches to hide the smoking barrels of the powerful weapons. A young soldier in a bandana and a determined expression burst out of the greenery and sprinted back into the woods to hide from enemy drones. Soon the team was back to reloading, aiming and firing.
Along the same front, a dozen members of the 95th Air Assault Brigade camped in a concrete building near an abandoned farmhouse. Throughout the night, they took turns sentinel from a trench system that descended a hill and overlooked a valley of rolling wheat fields pockmarked with dark clumps of earth kicked up by the impact of recent shelling by Russian artillery.
Several nearby buildings had been destroyed by shelling, and the drone of artillery exchanges between Ukrainian and Russian troops a few miles to the north rumbled day and night.
Artem Sandul, 20, was pulling a cigarette under the cover of a wood and mud bunker in the trenches as dawn broke. Until Russia invaded on February 24, he had flipped burgers at a McDonald’s. Now he was cooking for his fellow soldiers, while his commander apparently kept him away from the most dangerous shelling a few miles away, where the Ukrainian lines were only 400 meters from the Russian lines in places.
Near Izium, fighter jets, most likely Russian, flew low over Ukrainian positions, fired defensive flares to confuse anti-aircraft batteries, then turned sharply into the trenches and screamed past so low they disappeared behind a treeline before crossing over. the horizon disappeared.
On Tuesday, an artillery team from the 53rd Brigade responded to Russian artillery fire that soldiers say came from a church about four miles away in Vuhledar, about 50 kilometers southeast of Russian-occupied Donetsk.
In Barvinkove, a Ukrainian-occupied town 20 miles southwest of Izium, a bicyclist cycled past blown-out buildings and a barricade, while soldiers at a small base drank coffee and a sniper prepared his rifle for a mission. Nearby, Russian forces attempted to push south, as part of a pincer movement to capture Ukrainian forces in the two eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.
On the seesaw frontline of that pocket is Bakhmut, a largely evacuated town of blown construction shells, rubble and burnt vehicles, where two massive craters enclose the administrative building. In newly fortified defensive positions, Ukrainian soldiers tried to hold off the Russian advance amid the constant noise and ground vibrations of artillery fire fired from both sides.
In that region, Times photographers also found evidence of Russian losses. The territorial forces of Ukraine, mainly volunteer fighters, managed to recapture the village of Novopil. With Russian troops still less than half a mile away, evidence of fierce battle was everywhere, in the wreckage of houses and the stench of dead bodies.
In front of a small shed, the body of a Russian soldier lay where he had been stabbed, his clean, well-polished boots at right angles to the surrounding devastation. His brown suede belt bore the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union.
Near Bilohorivka were the destroyed bodies and tanks of hundreds of Russian troops whose disastrous attempt to cross the Seversky Donets River fell on deadly Ukrainian heavy artillery.
But many of those caught in the destruction were not wearing uniforms. Vitaliy Kononenko, 47, had just built a new home for his family in the Zaporizhzhya region of southern Ukraine, but it was destroyed before he could show his wife and children.
At the train station in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, Anna Vereschak, 43, along with her daughters Milana, 5, and Diana, 4, boarded a western evacuation train after being driven from their village by a bombing raid. Another woman, Valentina, led her blind 87-year-old mother, Nina, onto the train.
Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes, especially from the east, taking with them only what they can cram into one or two bags, often after being in basements for weeks or months despite bombing, starvation and isolation. Some of the fiercest fighting is now around Sievierodonetsk, in the Luhansk region, the easternmost city still held by Ukraine.
In Lysychansk, just across the bombed-out bridge from Sievierodonetsk, three police officers braved artillery fire to collect the bodies of the dead, including a 65-year-old woman known to neighbors as Grandma Masha. Her dog growled and barked from his kennel as they loaded her into a body bag and then into their white van.
According to a neighbor, Lena, 39, Grandma Masha could not get the medicines she needed to treat her diabetes. Her son had left with his family and was unable to return when she became ill.
“It’s a completely stupid war — but nobody asked for my opinion,” said Lena, who, like most people interviewed, only mentioned her first name because she feared for her safety.
In an apartment building in Sievierodonetsk, which had already been partially blown up and burned by shelling, residents huddled in the basement and eventually surrendered to the evacuation. They barely reacted to the sounds of explosions and nearby gunshots.
In the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, and the southern part of the Kharkiv region, Times photographers found Ukrainian troops at every stage of everyday life in a combat zone.
In an underground bunker, dozens of members of the Carpathian Sich Battalion were eating, sleeping, cleaning their weapons and chatting with their wives and girlfriends on cell phones. Some gathered around a monitor to watch drone videos of a recent attack. Most smoked.
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
To the ground. Fighting raged in Sievierodonetsk, the last city in the Luhansk region to remain outside Russian control since the war effort shifted to the east of the country. Although most of the city’s civilian population has fled in recent weeks, 12,000 people, many of them elderly, are said to be trapped there in appalling conditions.
The floor and walls of the bunker shook as a tank shell hit a nearby building, and firearms followed. Bullets bounced off walls outside. The Russians were close.
A handful of Ukrainian soldiers stormed out to repel the attack, while others gathered their weapons and waited at the door in case they were needed. They weren’t; the shooting died down.
A soldier lit a stove and started baking buckwheat.
At a well-guarded and heavily fortified checkpoint, fighters built more trenches and bunkers, using sandbags and rough-hewn logs, in preparation for a possible Russian advance in their direction. Warned of incoming artillery fire, they ducked into a bunker, and a medic in the group boasted that their shelters could handle almost anything the Russians would fire at them.
Evidence of war was scattered across the ravaged landscape. Wreckage was everywhere, from collapsed buildings and bent streets to burnt-out tanks. A common sight was the tail of a rocket sticking out of the ground, a reminder of the constant danger from above.
The smells and sounds of war were also everywhere. Civilians were few and far between, but troops were ubiquitous, patrolling, searching, resting, and building fortifications when not fighting.
After their armored vehicle broke down, a dozen soldiers of Ukraine’s 95th Air Raid Brigade recently stood along a road near the city of Kramatorsk, smoking, like stranded commuters waiting for an elevator.
An attempt to tow them failed, so the soldiers boarded another armored vehicle carrying their weapons and headed for the front in the fading daylight.
The men of the 93rd Brigade are at the forefront of efforts to fend off the Russian advance south of Izium. Small units of mortar teams have camped in ruined villages and fought against Russian troops who have thrown everything at them.
They spoke of continued days of near-constant shelling, shelter in damp cellars, surrounded by pots of pickled vegetables.
Thoughts seldom strayed far from the deadly stakes, but in between such harrowing periods, it was striking how the ordinary course of events, such as a highway breakdown, never completely disappeared.
A kiosk in Bakhmut traded briskly, serving coffee, burgers, and sandwiches to soldiers who came and went from the fighting.
In Barvinkove, heavily bombed by Russia, a few local women were still selling vegetables and dairy products under the shade of a tree in the city center. A passing soldier, returning from the front to refuel, asked to buy some spices.
The woman refused to pay for her goods, waved him off and wished him well.