"No One Will Change with Us, It's Worse Than Hell": A Day on Ukraine's Eastern Front

Amid relentless artillery fire and the constant buzz of drones, Ukrainian soldiers like Viktor endure unimaginable hardships on the front lines, facing a daily reality that's described as worse than hell

by Sededin Dedovic
"No One Will Change with Us, It's Worse Than Hell": A Day on Ukraine's Eastern Front
© John Moore / Getty Images

Artillery fire on the front begins just before dawn. A Ukrainian soldier steps into the darkened trench and lights a cigarette, carefully cupping the flame with his free hand. In the distance, the crash and crackle of fire can be heard.

Viktor, an infantryman, ducks his head under a canopy of camouflage netting and looks up at the glowing sky. The constant buzzing of a drone is heard overhead, moving about ten meters from one end of the trench to hover just above him.

A moment later, the buzzing continues. "One of ours," says the 37-year-old Ukrainian soldier, bringing the cigarette back to his lips. The sun finally rises, and the sounds of war intensify. Viktor has barely slept for weeks as Russian drones and artillery continuously bombard his position.

During the day, he monitors any attempts by Russian troops to cross the minefield that separates the two sides. At night, he takes a shovel to dig and fortify his trench, according to Reuters. "They're always firing, always probing.

We have to survive somehow and hold the line. I see my friends, what has happened to them, what we are fighting for. It's hell, worse than hell," he says. This is the start of another day of war on the eastern line of the Ukrainian front.

For seven months, Viktor's unit has held this section of the front, repelling relentless Russian attacks. Now, in the third year of the war, Ukraine's top military leaders openly acknowledge that the situation on the battlefield on the eastern front has worsened.

Two years of war have depleted Ukraine's ammunition and manpower, while last year's failed counteroffensive crushed morale. Ukrainian soldiers tell Reuters about an acute shortage of ammunition and the urgent need to replenish troops.

A new Moscow offensive earlier this month near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, is likely to divert precious ammunition and personnel from other parts of the front, further straining Kyiv's army at a critical juncture in the war.

In the past, Viktor thought of death as a distant possibility. "But in war, you are completely unprotected. Death can come at any moment. I'm starting to get used to the thought of death, that it can happen, and there's no escaping it," he says.

More than anything, he wants to go home, but he says the chances of another soldier replacing him on his front line anytime soon are slim. The final mobilization law passed in April did not include a provision from an earlier version that would rotate soldiers who have already served 36 months.

Ukraine's Ministry of Defense is now considering new legislation to address demobilization. Even with mobilization, many young men from Ukraine do not want to be sent to the risky front-line trenches like Viktor's, soldiers and officers in his brigade say.

"No one wants to switch with us. Who would want to come here?" says one soldier.

Ukrainian 10th Mountain Brigade troops stand near a frontline position© John Moore / Getty Images

Tattooed with the words "hate" and "revenge"

Another Ukrainian soldier, Roman, witnesses the horrors of the war on the front.

Despite his mother and wife's pleas not to, Roman volunteered for the war. His childhood friend was killed in the conflict with the Russians. After that, Roman tattooed the words "hate" and "revenge" on his arms. The unit commander, Yuriy, says that one of the problems is that even after all the horrors of the past two years of war, there are still so many people in Europe and the US who do not grasp what Putin and the Russian military are capable of.

Fighting is the only choice

Terrible images of civilians massacred in Bucha after its occupation, the devastated cities of Mariupol and Bakhmut. Tens of thousands killed, endless portraits of dead Ukrainian soldiers shared on Facebook and Instagram, endless funeral processions for fathers and brothers, videos of children draped over coffins.

"It’s impossible, I suppose, to understand the horrors of this war just by looking at photographs," says Yuriy. But Oleksiy, a soldier in an artillery unit, says that Ukrainians have no choice but to keep fighting. "Our whole history, we've been fighting," he says, wiping dust from his eyes.

The men fall silent. They sit side by side on narrow military cots. Suddenly, the radio crackles to life with an order. The soldiers leave their dugout and prepare for the attack, reports Reuters. As the soldiers brace themselves for another day of combat, their thoughts linger on the lives they left behind and the uncertain future that awaits them.

Each man knows the weight of the sacrifices they make daily. Their resolve, forged in the crucible of relentless battle, stands as a testament to their enduring spirit and unyielding determination to protect their homeland.