War rages on in Ukraine's east as Russia remains determined to take the Donbas region
ITV News filmed with a Ukrainian unit in the Donbas region where soldiers are making use of Nato-supplied weapons to hold back the Russian invaders. Senior International Correspondent John Irvine reports.
The Ukrainian T-72 tank lurched out of the trees and quickly gathered speed on the muddy track. Where no car could go they managed more than 30mph. The crew had broken cover to open fire on the nearby Russians. When out in the open everyone here moves fast because in places on this eastern front the enemy is just a kilometre away.
The tree lines are vital on this battleground. They separate vast fields of wheat and sunflowers. The portions of forest are left in place to protect seeds from the wind. These woods were now protecting us and our Ukrainian Army hosts.
The trees are great defensive positions. The landscape is a bigger version of Normandy in 1944, when after D-Day, the Allies found it tough going through the fields and hedgerows, or bocage as the dense thickets were known.
Luckily the weather is awful. Low cloud and heavy rain protects us from the gaze of Russian drones. It’s much safer without a clear blue sky.
When some of our team manage to reach the most forward firing position an exchange of gunfire ensues.
Machine-gun bursts over no-man’s land are filmed by camera operator Sean Swan and security expert Martin Flynn.
We follow the tank and watch as another joins it and the pair unleash almost 40 rounds. Their target is a Russian armoured column sheltering in a large wood a couple of kilometres away.
The two T-72s arrived from Poland last month. Indeed every weapons system the unit is using came in from abroad. We see British and American anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. They are using Italian mortars. It’s obvious that without the help of Nato countries Ukraine simply wouldn’t be able to wage this war. The other essential component is Ukrainian bravery and willingness to fight. We meet one mortar team made up of a father, his son and two nephews. When the boys were called up, Dad decided to volunteer. “I had to come and keep an eye on them,” he told me.
During our time in the Donbas we have seen the death and destruction wrought by Russian missiles. One apartment building was levelled by several ballistic missiles. They struck when everyone was in bed to maximise the death toll. We watched as bodies were dug out. As I write the death toll from this single attack stands at 47. In the early days the war turned eight million Ukrainians into refugees. Now the relative calm in the west of the country has allowed some to return home.
You will see tearful reunions in the train and bus stations in Lviv and Kyiv. The contrast with what’s taking place in the one train station still operating in the Donbas could not be more stark.
Here every day hundreds of people are boarding the evacuation train. The carriages are cramped and sweltering. We notice a pug panting breathlessly at his master’s feet.
I ask 83-year-old Volodymyr if he thinks he will ever see home again. “Of course I would like to come back,” he tells me. “I want them to bury me where I have lived my life, but I now fear that’s just a pipe dream.”
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know