Ukrainian soldiers ride on an armored personnel carrier (APC) on a road of the eastern Luhansk region on June 23, 2022, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. - On the road between the towns of Siversk and Bakhmut, AFP journalist witnessed several shellings on the route, which is now the main itinerary being used to reach the city of Lysychansk, since a highway has long been under shelling. Driving out of the devastated eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk on June 23, the journalists twice had to jump out of cars and lie on the ground as Russian forces shelled the city's main supply road. The three shelling incidents they witnessed took place on a stretch of road approximately 5 kilometres (3 miles) long. (Photo by Anatolii Stepanov / AFP)

After Russian forces seized control of eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region, many defenders seek shelter in Bakhmut in Donetsk region or gather strength for the next battle while Russia continues its offensive in Donbass. Bakhmut is located 64 kilometers southwest of the Russian-occupied city of Sieverodonetsk. There, the AP news agency spoke to some Ukrainian soldiers about their experiences at the front.

“If there was a hell on earth anywhere, it was in Sievjerodonetsk,” Artem Ruban of the AP describes the situation at the front. For about three weeks, the Ukrainian troops in Sievjerodonetsk fought an increasingly hopeless battle against the Russian attackers. “These were not human conditions,” added the soldier. “The inner strength of our guys allowed them to hold the city until the last moment.”

His deputy commander still considers the battle for Sieverodonetsk a “victory.” The defenders managed to limit losses in the former frontline town and held up the Russian advance longer than expected. “Their army suffered enormous casualties and their offensive potential was wiped out,” Lieutenant Volodymyr Nazarenko explains his assessment. But now the city resembles only a “burnt desert”.

Both the lieutenant and the soldier reporting to him expressed confidence that Ukraine would recapture all occupied territories and defeat Russia. They stressed that morale remained high. But not all Ukrainian soldiers who the AP news agency spoke to in Bakhmut are so confident. They don’t want to give their full names.

“On TV they show nice pictures of the front, of solidarity, of the army, but the reality is very different,” says Oleksiy. His battalion ran out of ammunition after just a few weeks of fighting. The soldier believes that the delivery of weapons from the West that has now been announced could not change anything about the current course of the war.

In the first three days of fighting alone, his unit would have lost 150 soldiers. Many of them died of blood loss because they could not be transported due to the constant attacks. Oleksiy also spoke to the news agency about psychological challenges. “The commanders don’t care if you’re mentally broken. If you have a working heart, if you have arms and legs, you have to go back.” According to his own statements, he has been fighting the pro-Russian separatists since 2016.

Two former office workers from Kyiv, who only joined the army after the start of the Russian war of aggression, attested to the “terrible organization” and “illogical decisions” of the Ukrainian armed forces. Many comrades would have refused to fight at the front. One of them added that he smoked marijuana on a daily basis. “Otherwise I would lose my mind and desert. It’s the only way I can deal with it.”

“It’s hard to live under constant stress, under sleep deprivation and malnutrition,” agrees a former teacher from Sloviansk. “To see all those horrors with my own eyes – the dead, the limbs ripped off. It’s unlikely that a person’s psyche can withstand it.” Nevertheless, his motivation to defend Ukraine remains undiminished, he affirmed in an interview with AP.