Pisky village, Ukraine – Rifle rounds zip over the helmeted heads of the volunteers of the Sich Battalion in the last trench before Donetsk.
Just across strategic Peace Street, the main road running through the village and into Donetsk, mortar rounds whistle by, crashing into houses in a constant rain. The explosions thunder off the abandoned houses of Pisky and shattered glass and walls can be heard tumbling to the ground.
One young fighter crawls and slips up the mud bank of the position and peers over its lip and down the sight of his Kalashnikov before squeezing off a round.
Beyond this trench, more reminiscent of WWI than any modern war, is a landscape of broken trees, bullet riddled fences and houses left in rubble. Down the road the twisted metal of a shell pocked mining tower squeals and claps in the wind.
Young men dressed in motley uniforms, helmets and body armour of the volunteer battalions wander and run through the ravaged, snow shrouded landscape.
This is their new normal.
This is their war.
“If we left, there would be no one to take our place and the army would leave,” says Ivan, the commander of the Dnipro-1 platoon.
Bogdan Butkovsky, a 29-year-old volunteer with the Dnipro-1 Battalion scrambles across the road, head pulled into his shoulders, fearing the random death bringers of this war – snipers and artillery.
He leads the way to a position at a disused coal mine on the edge of Pisky used by Pravy Sektor, the right wing Ukrainian nationalist movement.
“What the West doesn’t understand is that if we don’t stop the rebels here in Ukraine’s east, the Russians will be in Warsaw, and Prague and Riga. It will be the Cold War all over again,” said Butkovsky.
Though Butkovsky’s statement is hyperbolic, it is a thought shared by pro-Ukrainian volunteers and soldiers up and down the front line.
With the collapse of the Ukrainian defense of Debaltseve and the new ceasefire ever shakier, it seems likely that the quiet on the front line may soon be shattered.