RFE/RL visited the front lines to capture the lives of Ukrainian troops as they battle through the fourth winter of war against Russia-backed separatists.
In December 2017, photojournalists Andriy Dubchak and Maryan Kushnir were granted access to a front-line position on heights near the town of Zolotyy, in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine.
The hilltop position has a view out toward the lookout points (top right) of the separatists. The village in the foreground lies in no-man’s land, though it is still partly populated.
A Ukrainian soldier squeezes bullets into an ammunition cartridge. The 20-year-old told RFE/RL he had watched Russia-backed militants engaged in an apparent gun-battle with each other during a recent night watch.
A separatist flag waving inside the village. Ukrainian soldiers claim that separatists regularly sneak into the village to shoot at the Ukrainian position. The pro-Kyiv forces are ordered not to fire into the village under any circumstances.
Ukrainian troops often receive text messages from the separatist-held region, like this one reading, “Peaceful civilians can die from your weapons."
In a break between combat duties, soldiers drink tea and relax inside a fortified dugout.
This time, dinner for the soldiers is a fairly tasty selection of omelet (far left), cheese (foreground), sausages, and herring served with onion.
Bedtime inside the dugout.
At dawn a soldier watches for movement in the separatist positions, around 1,500 meters from the Ukrainian army lines.
Near the dugout, improvised sports equipment like this punching bag form a rough-and-ready outdoor gym.
Another essential part of this static front line are toilets. Some are fortified with sandbags...
Others are scrappy wooden shacks covering a hole in the ground. The soldiers joke that the danger of defecating in vulnerable shacks like this one makes the process a lot easier, especially when a bullet zips nearby.
A dog known as “Badass” (Zaebis) relaxes on the relative luxury of a wooden floor. The dog was born into the war and has been with the brigade all his life. He’s known for being utterly unafraid of gunfire.
One of the brigade’s cats. As well as companionship, domestic animals in fighting positions like this help with hygiene by keeping rodents at bay.
Andriy Dubchak (right) working at the front. While photographing this story, the RFE/RL correspondent recorded two near-misses: In the first, a sniper’s bullet struck near a 28-year old soldier called Oleksandr as he was being interviewed. Later, on a night patrol, Dubchak’s microphone recorded the sound of several bullets tearing through the air as he and several soldiers were pinned down by separatist shooters apparently equipped with night-vision equipment.
A few days after Dubchak and Kushnir left the front line, Oleksandr (pictured), the same soldier who had been filmed under sniper fire, was shot in the head by another sniper's bullet. As of January 18, he was hospitalized in serious condition.