Dmytro podvorchanskyi, a soldier in Ukraine's Dnipro 1 Battalion, said that "Right now we have two big battles." He says that the first battle is an artillery one, while the second battle is one of technology.
Dmytro is fighting in the second, mostly unseen conflict. Dnipro 1's drone Intelligence Unit is his unit, which he leads with just 10 soldiers. Dmytro prefers to refer to it as "IT guys who fight". They are all volunteers. They all have backgrounds in information technology and were familiar with each other before the war began.
One of the team members shows us drone footage from Russian targets that they have destroyed. It's their "greatest hits"
Dmytro lists the following: "One tank," three to four artillery guns and two mortar positions. There are also five to six ammunition dumps.
He smiles and says, "Good results for only 10 people." They have been fighting in Rubizhne, Severodonetsk, which were captured by the Russians. They are now preparing to defend Slovyansk.
One of his colleagues says that Slovyansk is the next major target for Russia. I asked him if he believes they will be able stop the Russian advance. He says, "Yes."
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, have been widely used in wars but not on the same scale. These drones are key weapons for both Russia & Ukraine. Each side has larger military drones, such as the Orlan-10 from Russia or the Bayraktar drone made by Turkey. These drones are often more complex and expensive, but they can be easier to shoot down and target.
Commercial drones are the most common drones in this fight. These drones can be bought off the shelves. They are also inexpensive and easy to replace.
They are used by both sides to identify enemy positions and then direct and correct their artillery fire at a target. These small drones can also be fitted with explosives.
A team of soldiers from the drone intelligence group show us how they deploy the drones behind the frontlines near Slovyansk.
Dmytro claims it's a job that's for his "smartest men". They also research open source intelligence and track communications.
As the team prepares to launch the drone in Slovyansk's vicinity, we are reminded that this can be a dangerous game of hide and seek. The sound of an airplane in the distance is heard by the troops. They advise us to hide under trees. Both sides are concerned about the safety of their drones and operators. It turns out that it was a Ukrainian helicopter.
They told me that Russia could use Aeroscope, a drone-detection platform capable of identifying UAV communication links in real-time, during the initial stages of the conflict. This allowed Russian forces to quickly locate the drone's pilot and location.
According to the Ukrainian soldier who was operating the drone, they have learned how to stop it but the Russians "still have a lot of stuff for blocking drones and blocking our signals". They've only lost five of the small commercial drones.
Russia outnumbers Ukraine's troops and has a lot of experience in electronic warfare. Russia has been jamming and blocking Ukraine's military communications systems.
Rusi, a UK think tank, recently highlighted this challenge to Ukraine. "Russian electronic warfare denies Ukraine a sufficiently quick kill-chain to eliminate Russia's artillery." According to the Rusi report, the average life span of Ukrainian UAVs is seven days.
However, the Ukrainian forces are working to change that. Elon Musk provided thousands of Space X's Starlink satellite communications systems. They have a secure internet connection to their command posts that allows them to receive live drone feeds as well as target information.
Dnipro 1's overall Commander Col Yurii Bereza smiles and thumbs up. "Elon Musk, The Best!" He is as beloved by the Ukrainian troops as was Boris Johnson, the outgoing UK Prime Minister.
The colonel said that despite the UK's current political turmoil, he hopes it will continue to support Ukraine in its war. "We are defending Western values here. He says that Great Britain will also benefit from an upgrade of its army and sufficient weapons.
Dmytro podvorchanskyi believes that despite Russia's advantages in electronic warfare DmytroPodvorchanskyi believes that his troops' IT background and commercial experience will give them an advantage.
He believes that the Ukrainian military is more creative than the Russian army, but he does not believe they are as rigid in their military doctrines. He believes they will surpass the Russians in just a few years, but it is crucial to determine if they have lasted long enough to turn the tide.