Reportage. After Lugansk, Donetsk is also close to surrender. Vehicles and men arrive in Slovjansk and Kramatorsk for the final battle, over a region that seems to have been transformed into a volcanic land.

With Donbass on the brink, Kiev resists but there is no counteroffensive

The Donbass these days is a volcanic land. Everywhere you go, high columns of black and white smoke rise from the ground and sometimes accumulate in midair, blocking the view. Bakhmut Wednesday was like Slovyansk the day before, Avdiivka like Siversk; Slovyansk has had no peace for days, and Kramatorsk continues to shake.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, nine more civilians have died and more than 50 have been wounded. It’s hard to see how some media outlets can speak of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Donbass. Most that can be said is that the Kiev Defense Ministry released a note saying that Ukrainian troops inflicted “significant losses” on the enemies near Verkhnokamianske, Belogorivka and Gryhorivka, preventing their advance. Also, again according to the defenders, the Russians were blocked in Dolyna, in the direction of Slovyansk.

This news can only be interpreted as evidence that the Ukrainian army is not routed and is still able to strike the invaders from a distance, slowing their advance. But anyone in the Donbass these days knows that it is premature, if not clearly misleading, to speak of a “counteroffensive.” Even Toretsk, where the last offshoot of the Ukrainian breakthrough from Slovyansk is probably stationed, was hit by a ballistic missile on Thursday and at least three people are still under the rubble.

In Bakhmut, Kremlin troops continue to target an area of barren fields outside the city to the north. Until a few days ago, these were yellow wheat fields, but they are now marked by black stains on the horizon. Below, there are several rows of trees of the sort used to mark the boundaries of plots. Most likely, hidden under this foliage are Ukrainian firing positions, and that is why the Russians are not sparing any effort.

In that same area, on Sunday, we witnessed the release of an unguided bomb from a Russian Air Force Sukhoi. Shortly thereafter, the entire outskirts of Bakhmut was overrun by a mushroom cloud of dust and smoke, and for hours yet another temporary “volcano” remained active.

A little further north, along the road from Soledar to Siversk, several fields were on fire and the roar of artillery was never silent for more than half an hour. In the few stretches in the shade of wooded patches, the Ukrainians are falling back after returning fire or going out on patrol. One can encounter maneuvering tanks, howitzers and artillery, and trucks for moving troops.

From the center of the village, where the few remaining civilians live in makeshift shelters or in the cellars of buildings, a dirt road runs to Lysychansk. Russian troops are seven kilometers away, just past Verkhnokamianske, near the old border between the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the latter now occupied entirely by the invaders.

The impression is that here, Ukrainian forces have not set up adequate defenses to repel a possible advance, so at any moment a retreat might be ordered. Meanwhile, vehicles and men continue to arrive in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk to prepare for the final battle for the last remaining Donbass territory in Ukrainian hands.

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