Ukrainian soldiers face Russian-backed rebels on the 'frozen front line'

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers reports from separatist Ukraine, which has been touched by conflict for eight years

The line of contact is a 300-mile-long trench complex that looks, in places, like it could have been dug in the First World War.

This thin defensive line is all that separates Russian-backed rebels in the enclaves around Donetsk and Luhansk from the Ukrainian forces ranged against them.

It’s often described as a frozen frontline but as we found out, it’s anything but silent. The sound of automatic gunfire is frequent. The soldiers on the Ukrainian side have to stay alert to the constant probing of their defences.

At one location, a young soldier tells me social media channels of the rebels had already warned of the arrival of some ‘British snipers’; a misunderstanding of our identity perhaps, but a sign that the separatists appear to be able to access the communications of the army they oppose.

The village of Opytne has endured endured shelling and attacks for eight years.

The local deputy battalion commander, Major Sergei Kozachok is frank about the Russian involvement. He says the Russians aren’t just supplying weapons but appear also to be directing rebel tactics. The incoming fire they receive is too well aimed "for coal miners" he tells me.

The presence of Russian troops in enclaves around Donetsk and Luhansk is officially denied by the Kremlin, but comes as no surprise to military analysts. For eight years, the people living near this frontline have endured shelling and attacks which have forced most to leave.

Ukrainian troops on the 'frozen front line'.

We visit the village of Opytne were once 800 people lived - today 35 remain. They struggled on without electricity for six years trying to stay warm, inured to the fighting which echoes through the streets just a few hundred metres away.

We found one resident, Vlodomyr, who is 72 and helped to clean up the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, smoking outside his bullet-scarred apartment block. He tells me that he and his wife Zena have nowhere else to go and have to survive on a pension of £50 a month. Around him the hollowed out village is slowly being reclaimed by nature.

In the eight years this conflict has simmered, saplings have grown into trees in front of the windows of the emptied buildings. There seems little concern about an impending Russian assault here, but they have lived with the constant threat of war for so long, that perhaps that isn’t surprising.