ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports from Bakhmut, the scene of the war's longest battle
Is this the big moment?
That is the question asked of every Ukrainian leader, and every Ukrainian soldier we have met here.
Their spring offensive, the great counter-attack, has been talked about since the freezing depths of last winter.
Now the warm weather is here, the rains have stopped, and the dried-out earth is perfect terrain for mechanised warfare.
On the eastern front, we have seen evidence of a build-up of Ukrainian forces – a column of French-made AMX-10 RCs, tank-busting armoured vehicles.
Add the long-range Storm Shadow Cruise missiles and the hundreds of attack drones that are Britain’s latest contribution.
So it is close. And around the town of Bakhmut, perhaps it is already unfolding.
This is the scene of the war’s longest battle. Ukrainian forces hold just a sliver of the town’s western fringe – where the exclusive ITV News pictures were filmed for tonight’s report.
It is rightly described by one veteran we spoke to as "hell on earth."
"Everything is on fire," he told us.
But on the northern and southern flanks, the Russian have been in retreat these past few days.
We joined an artillery unit in woodland a few kilometres from the front line.
They’re using British-made light artillery to hunt down Russian positions.
It’s a nervous game of cat and mouse, for they too are being hunted by the enemy.
‘’We have been fighting back,’’ says Bogdan, a gun commander. ‘’Not quickly. And it is not a big area but we are slowing moving forward.‘’
Chasiv Yar is Bakhmut’s neighbouring town. In the Russian battle plan, it is the next scheduled for their military wrecking ball.
Its battle scarred eastern suburbs have been deserted by civilians. Here Ukrainian soldiers are dug in.
The incessant thump of artillery punctuates our conversation with Skif, who has been fighting since last summer.
He has seen too much to draw conclusions from the latest shift in fighting.
‘’It is war. Anything can happen,’’ he tells me.
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