On the frontline with a Ukrainian artillery unit as it targets Russian forces

Russian forces are being pounded in the east of Ukraine. ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine and his team, Mike Field, Lutfi Abu-Aun, Martin Flynn and Andriy Glushko, were given exclusive access to a Ukrainian artillery unit on the frontline of the war, as it targets Russian forces near the Ukrainian city of Izyum.

Every ferocious bellow from the Ukrainian army howitzer was an attack on the Russians and an assault on the senses of the gun crew and those of us watching them work.

The muzzle flash, the roar, the earth shaking and the dust – all of it happened in a split second. Then, after a slick reload, the gun fired in anger once more.

We were with an artillery unit on the eastern front. These days you can’t get much closer to the war than this.

Street fights on this vast agricultural landscape are few and far between. Here the war has evolved into an artillery battle.

“That shell weighed 53 kilos, just shy of eight and a half stone, and this gun can propel it over 10 miles” - John Irvine watches as Ukrainian soldiers fire a howitzer towards enemy targets

The soldiers were firing 152mm howitzers. They propel shells that are just a little lighter than me over a range up to ten miles.

These are the biggest guns in Ukraine’s arsenal until Western supplied 155mm cannons join the battle. They have a much longer reach.

The gun crews were firing at a cluster of Russian tanks. The day before at the unit HQ we watched a computer screen showing live pictures of shells fired from the same guns destroying several armoured vehicles.

The Ukrainian soldiers firing 152mm howitzers. Credit: ITV News

The real-time images were provided by a drone hovering over the target area. The precise oversight allowed for almost instant aiming adjustments if required.

For two days we were the guests of citizen soldiers. Most of the artillerymen (we didn’t come across any women) had ordinary jobs before the war.

They either volunteered for duty or were mobilised because of previous military experience.

In a maintenance yard, we saw mechanics working on several vehicles and four of the big guns. They require a lot of attention off the battlefield because they are so busy and because the youngest of them is almost 50-years-old.

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They are Soviet-era weapons and, at some stage, the Ukrainians will run out of ammunition for them.

The nation’s supplies are almost used up and the stockpiles provided by other Eastern European countries are finite.

The new Western-supplied 155mm guns, and the 183,000 rounds being sent with them, could play a decisive role in this war.

When the howitzers we watched had completed their salvo the crew ordered us to hurry into a dug-out.

The ITV News crew were with an artillery unit on the eastern front. Credit: ITV News

Counter-battery fire is commonplace and they feared Russian artillery would open up on our position.

Thankfully they didn’t. But Russian jets in the area also posed a threat.  We saw the plume of an airstrike on our way here and the streak of a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile on the hunt.

The territorials hosting us were very appreciative of the UK contribution to Ukraine’s war effort.

But they still have many needs, like those bigger guns, lorries, drones and uniforms.

There are no shortages when it comes to resolve or fighting spirit.