The trenches are covered with snow and painted with soot and dirt. Faded colors will cling to them for weeks to come, as the men inside look for enough cellphone signals to hear the latest from distant capitals that will decide their fate.
Moscow, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Sometimes Kiev. But only occasionally.
These Ukrainians are away from Russian ships heading for naval exercises off the coast of Ireland, sailing from American-made fighter jets to the Baltics and from American aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean Sea.
As Western supplied arms descend by planeloads into Kiev, soldiers and civilians alike wait here with helpless anticipation for the decisions made by the people Those who know very little about Ukraine and even less about the Eastern Front – a war-weary region where Russia has gathered thousands of troops to build an army US President Joe Biden said that this could be the biggest invasion since World War II.
Soldiers in Zolot 4 have been defending against Russian encroachment for years. They are only a few hundred meters from pro-Russian separatist fighters who are on the other side of an outpost that no one can cross safely. The soldiers believe that the snipers are there, although they have never seen any gunmen.
After three days of no shooting,” he suddenly opened up with a grenade launcher and firearms. A mortar shell flew off and fell in the field behind us. Two more hits between us and the next spot. After 15 minutes everything was quiet again. Why? why? nobody knows. And it’s around here,” said Oleh Surhov, a Ukrainian soldier who fled Crimea in 2014 when the Russians seized the peninsula. He joined the fighting soon after taking his wife, children and grandchildren to western Ukraine.
Zelot 1 through 5 got their names – the name means “golden” – decades ago during Soviet times when they were labeled as units of a local coal mining operation. Now 1 to 4 are in Ukraine and 5 are sitting less than a kilometer (half a mile) across from the checkpoint.
The feeling of waiting for someone else’s decisions also infected the nearby village of Katerinivka, which bears the scars of eight years of shelling. It has new trenches, heated by charred wood stoves, whose heat draws dogs and cats almost as long as soldiers. Lucky Trench Cats are taken back by soldiers when they walk past the front.
“We joke that hope is the last thing to die. We are all waiting for peace. Neither our children nor grandchildren can come to visit us,” said Liubov, a local woman who would not reveal her last name “We talk on the phone and that’s enough. Wait till peace comes!”
If war comes instead, it is likely not to strike first in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have been under control since 2014. In Russia, more than 100,000 troops are gathering across the border, and thousands more are going to position for what Russia says are military exercises on Ukraine’s border with Belarus to the north.
Moscow denies it is planning an attack, but the United States and its NATO allies are preparing for potential warStrengthening its presence in the Baltics and placing 8,500 US troops on high alert for possible deployment to Europe. Britain and the US have sent several planeloads of weapons to Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials accept help, but find themselves on the verge of several rounds of high-stakes diplomacy Which has not got any success so far. “Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after one such meeting earlier this month.
On Monday, the White House convened European leaders, including the Secretary General of NATO, for a videoconference about Ukraine to discuss US views on Russia’s demands.
“We have shared those views with our European allies and partners. We are taking their feedback. We are incorporating that feedback into the written response,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Ukraine was not invited for the videoconferencing. And Ukraine’s president was left furious on Twitter last week after Biden insisted on how to respond to “minor intrusions.”
“We want to remind the great powers that there are no small incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little sadness at the loss of loved ones,” President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote.
Ukraine and Russia’s diplomats to meet in Paris on Wednesday To discuss the prospects of a 2015 peace agreement mediated by France and Germany to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. If Ukraine is sometimes a consideration for powerful countries to decide their fate, then the country’s east is even further away from the centers of power.
In Vesel, a separatist region in the eastern Donetsk region, little has changed since the fighting in 2014. Signs still warn about mines. The concrete block buildings have only fallen further in the years since they were shelled, and no one has come to remove the cars that were left under gunshots.
“There is practically no one here, because everything is broken. There is light, gas, water supply, but there is no life,” said Vladimir, a local man who declined to give his last name. Estimated that the Ukrainian soldiers were about a kilometer (half a mile) away, and he wanted them to leave so that the people could decide their fate.
“If they will completely leave and liberate the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine,” we may decide. I think nobody wants to be part of Ukraine here.
But he, like most people in the East, believed those decisions were in someone else’s hands.
Lori Hinnant reported from Paris.