HERO’s frontline troops are entrenched just 50 yards from a massive Russian army preparing to invade Ukraine, vowing to fight “to the last breath and bullet” last night.
A team of the Sun was granted access to a Ukrainian unit whose rift was dug in the World War I trenches closest to Vladimir Putin’s 175,000-man force.
And shots rang out as the outnumbered and outnumbered defenders swore to hold back the menace threatens to trigger an escalation of the Third World Warabove.
ONE Russian The heavy machine gunner opened his way through a maze of barbed wire and sandbag defenses through a freezing fog as we hid in a bunker.
But a burly Ukrainian lieutenant grabbed his Kalashnikov assault rifle to counter the threat – and shrugged: “The bastards are sending us Christmas cards again.”
This quote epitomizes the incredible resilience of a group of fighters who have been holding back the power of Russian-backed separatists for nearly eight years.
More than 13,000 from both sides died in the bloody conflict that developed into a Somme-like posture along the 250-mile “line of communication” through the Donbas.
Tensions rose yesterday to the point where 444 long-ignored ceasefire violations were recorded within 24 hours.
Military experts believe that the defensive forces will quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of Russia’s land, sea and air power.
But Ukrainian morale was high in the trenches in the frontline town of Avdiyivka yesterday.
Soldiers of the 25th Crack Airborne Brigade have built an astonishing series of mixed fortifications around the ruins of a bombed industrial site.
The commanders communicated using ancient corded telephones in muddy trenches lined with duck boards that resembled trenches from 100 years ago.
Primitive telephones were used because the Russians could not break into calls.
However, the zigzag line of defense is surrounded by hidden cameras that relay every enemy movement to the computer monitor’s batteries.
‘WE MUST WIN’
And drones from both sides filled the sky ensuring no soldier could operate without the supervision of a hovering electronic eye.
Lieutenant Mihail, 25, who – like all service members here refuses to give his last name – told The Sun: “It looks like we’ve turned back the clock for more than 100 years.
“But technology and battlefield tactics have come a very long way since then, and we have had eight years to prepare to welcome Russian forces should they attack.
“We are well trained and know exactly how we will react – and can guarantee that we will take many lives.
“There’s shooting here every day and there’s never a moment where you feel safe, but we’re fired up and ready to fight back.
“It’s a war we have to win.”
We joined surveillance teams in the midst of a bullet-riddled mess of smashed factory machinery in a hideout just a few feet from the Russians, and watched the enemy through a periscope.
The device was issued with a warning that raising one’s head to look through a window in such close positions would result in instant death from a sniper’s bullet.
Lieutenant Alexander, 27 years old of the Bearded Airborne Brigade, guided us through a muddy swamp and saved the shells to a trench with a clear line of sight for the enemy 100 meters away.
“It was trench warfare just like you see it in World War I movies – but with drones, hidden cameras and computer screens,” he said.
“Recently they spotted one of our CCTV cameras watching them and let us know by sending a drone to do a little dance in front of its camera.
“So we sent their drone out of the sky immediately – and sent a warm greeting to its operator after locating him.
“The Russians knew that we were defending this position rather than attacking and even sent people to mock us by actually banging on the metal door between us and them.
“We’re like next door neighbors who hate each other and try to kill each other every day.”
A steady stream of small casualties on both sides threatens to flood if full-blown war breaks out again. At least 52 Ukrainians have been killed in the trenches since July.
Putin – looking to distract from economic and economic troubles at home – has painted his most Western neighbor as a rogue nation conspiring against him.
More than 1,000 tanks and armored vehicles and more than 2,000 servicemen participated in live-fire drills just 22 miles from the Ukrainian border.
In an even more disturbing sign, Russian leaders have ordered the construction of field hospitals closer to the border, suggesting a bloody conflict is imminent..
And fears of a broader global conflict grew as Russia yesterday conducted our new test of a 6,670 mph “unstoppable” hypersonic Zircon missile.
Ukraine has beefed up its defenses since losing the eastern cities of Donetsk and Crimea to Russian-backed separatists in 2014.
And fears of World War III grew after the leaders of nuclear-armed Western nations warned of “catastrophic consequences” if Putin invaded.
Putin’s forces now encircle Ukraine along its eastern, northern and southern borders amid fears his goal is to march into the capital, Kiev.
His invasion will begin with a strike by fighter jets, rockets and artillery on ammunition depots and up to 15 brigades of 15 trained Ukrainians leading the way in defense. .
Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk will then lead a ground assault – while pro-Putin forces from Belarus to the north attack towards Kiev.
But at least 300,000 Ukrainian veterans have vowed to take up arms and fight a door-to-door guerrilla war.
And Britain, the US and their NATO allies will be under enormous pressure to weigh military support and “boots on the ground”.
SMELL OF WAR
A Ukrainian front-line commander told The Sun newspaper last night that the West must help contain the tide of Russia – or face being overwhelmed by Putin’s mob.
Brigadier General Anatoly Shevchenko told The Sun: “If Putin’s troops capture Ukraine, the whole of Europe will know the smell of war that we have endured for eight long years.
“For us, it is a war we must not lose – to live our lives as civilized people in Western Europe – or be trapped forever in the shadow of Russia.
“We will never be slaves to Putin and will fight to our last breath and last bullet to be free, whatever the conditions may be.
“They have superior numbers and firepower but we have high morale and are always on our side – and a civilian army ready to rise and fight for every millimeter of the ground.”
Shevchenko – a war hero whose commando forces repelled Russian invaders in 2014 until a shaky truce was brokered – added: “Putin should not be under the illusion that hundreds of thousands people will die if this conflict escalates.
“And today I swear that many of those killed would be Russians if that happened.”
Tensions are growing as the British military has been given the green light to join forces with Ukraine in a move that angers Putin’s scheming powerhouse.
The British will side with crack units from the US, Poland, Romania and other countries in 10 battles in the grand war game alongside their Ukrainian comrades.
More than 11,500 foreign servicemen will cooperate with 21,000 local troops in military operations next year.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared a show of force knowing that it would make Russia’s hero Vladimir Putin, who can now order an invasion from the east within the next few days.
Putin has asked the US and UK for strict guarantees that Ukraine will not join the NATO alliance of Western powers while threatening aggression.
US Presidents Joe Biden and Boris Johnson refused to back down, saying membership would be decided by Ukraine and NATO.
NATO vowed to do everything necessary to “defend and defend” Ukraine yesterday (Thursday) amid fears of a Russian invasion.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “We see no sign that this construction is stopping or slowing down.
“It is provocative. It is destabilizing. And it undermines security in Europe.”
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/17062530/inside-ukrainian-unit-trenches-yards-russian-army-invasion/ Inside the crack, the Ukrainian unit dug a WW1-style trench just a few yards from the Russian army on the verge of invasion