A few kilometres away from the eastern Ukraine frontline, lies an abandoned industrial complex in Avdiivka. There, trucks and other discarded machinery litter the floor.
There are signs warning of danger from snipers and doors to the old factory hall are crammed with bullet holes. This is a war that has claimed the lives of 14,000 people, according the United Nations.
After Moscow annexed Crimea, the Russian-backed separatists declared Donetsk (or Luhansk) as independent from Kyiv.
Since that time, separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces. But the intensity of fighting has declined in recent years due to attempts to reach a peace agreement.
Avdiivka remains quiet at the moment, although the US has warned of a Russian invasion in Ukraine. Moscow has denied this allegation repeatedly.
Lieutenant Oleksiy (22) navigates his way through a factory hall. He told Euronews it was difficult.
“Every day they open fire from enemy positions – sometimes it is aimed, sometimes not,” he said. “They’re trying to catch us somewhere. They often show their presence here. They don’t hide anything.”
According to him, the greatest problem for 2022 will be snipers. Another soldier is setting up a scope at an outpost to view the Russian-backed separatist positions from 70 metres away.
“We try to move as little as possible but they try to lure us. They’ll shoot in a certain direction, and then the sniper will wait for us to return fire. Then they take a shot,” Oleksiy adds.
The soldiers here don’t believe that Russia will launch a new invasion of Ukraine despite the more than 100,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border with artillery, missiles, and aircraft. Russia recently stated that its troops were returning to their garrisons. NATO and the US both claim that they haven’t seen any evidence..
NATO stated that it will not send troops to Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion. Instead, the West has warned of harsh sanctions, such as the closing of Nord Stream 2’s gas pipeline and personally targeting Kremlin officials with sanctions.
Recent days have seen several meetings between Western countries to plan sanctions. After a visit to the USA, Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, stated that Germany and the US were “absolutely united in their response to Russia.”
Earlier in the week, the French President Emmanuel Macron met Vladimir Putin in Moscow to discuss a way forward for avoiding war. Russia has been demanding security assurances from the West including stopping NATO enlargement, restricting military drills in Eastern Ukraine and declaring publicly that Ukraine will not become part of NATO.
These demands were not met by the USA.
The trenches are deep, slippery, and muddy. They are scattered in several locations with the enemy. The landscape is covered with mud, snow, and ice. Sergeant Oleg, 44 years old, stands at the end a long trench.
“The situation now is stable and calm,” says Oleg, who has heard the news about a potential new Russian invasion of Ukraine, “This news is not news to us. It doesn’t impact us. Russia could attack us, but we will not. My opinion is that Russia will not attack.”
“Our business is to stand here in positions, which is what I am doing. The rest, everything around, that is none of our business,” he said.
Olga Popova (50), lives a few kilometres away from the frontline. She spends her days helping elderly Avdiivka residents, including her mother.
“I have spent time in Russia before and I can tell you this,” Popova said, “No common people on this side of the border or in Russia wants this war. It is about politics.”
Popova claimed that she dreamed of peace, but that it is not possible for her.
“Us, who are here, we have no influence.”
One of the problems between Russia and Ukraine is the so called Minsk II Peace Deal, signed in 2015. It stopped most of the fighting within eastern Ukraine and set out a road map for lasting peace.
Russia and Ukraine, however, have taken a different interpretation of the deal. Minsk II suggests that there should a vote in the separatist areas to decide their fate. However, while Ukraine may want to regain control of the area before such a vote is held, Russia insists that they should remain as it is.
“The war was so terrible back in 2015. I cannot think about it even starting again,” said Popova.
Lieutenant Oleksiy, who was walking among the abandoned buildings and factories, said that he knows that many locals simply want peace. As investment has stopped and factories closed, the situation has become worse for those living near the frontline.
Many of these communities are facing water shortages and power outages. Oleksiy said that he can understand that residents want peace but he doesn’t believe Ukraine can sacrifice too much to get it.
“We need to take back our territories. He said that peace will only come when Ukraine takes back its territories. “When everything returns to the boundaries of 2013, then it will all be over.”