Ukraine's frontline: Where lives depend on distant decisions

Men search for the best cellphone signal in trenches covered with snow and tinged by soot to hear from distant capitals. This will determine their fate.

Ukraine's frontline: Where lives depend on distant decisions

Moscow, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna. Sometimes Kyiv. However, it happens occasionally.

These Ukrainians are far away from the Russian vessels heading to a naval exercise off Ireland's coast, from American-built fighter planes streaming to the Baltics and the U.S. aircraft carriers steadily sailing the Mediterranean.

Soldiers and civilians wait in Kyiv as Western-supplied weapons arrive by the planeload. They are unable to anticipate decisions by those who don't know much about the lives of the people on the eastern frontlines. This battle-worn region is where Russia has gathered tens of thousands in soldiers in a troop buildup that U.S. President Joe Biden claimed could lead to the largest invasion since World War II.

Since years, the soldiers of Zolote 4 have been fighting against Russian invasion. They are only a few hundred metres from pro-Russian separatist fighters who are located on the other side a checkpoint that is impossible to cross. They assume they are the snipers, but have never seen any.

After three days of no shooting, they suddenly opened up with grenade launchers as well as firearms after three days. One mortar shell flew in front of us and fell on the field behind. Between our position and the next, two more mortar shells were fired. Everything was quiet again after 15 minutes. Why? Why? Who knows? "And that's how it's around here," Oleh Surhov, an Ukrainian soldier who fled Crimea after the Russians took the peninsula in 2014. After his wife, children, and grandchildren were evacuated to western Ukraine, he joined the war effort.

Zolote 1-5 were given their names during the Soviet era. The name "Golden" means "Golden". They were units of a local coal mine operation. Today, 1 through 4 are located in Ukraine. 5 is less than a kilometer away (half-mile), across the checkpoint.

Katerynivka is also affected by the feeling of waiting for others to make decisions. It still bears the scars from eight years of shelling. It now has trenches that are warmer thanks to rough wood stoves. Their warmth attracts nearly as many cats and dogs as soldiers. Soldiers take the most fortunate trench cats back when they leave the front.

"Hope is the last thing that will die," we joke. We all wait for peace. Liubov, who is a local woman and wouldn't reveal her last name, said that neither our grandkids nor children can visit us." "We speak on the phone, and that's all. Let's hope for peace!

If war does come, it will likely strike first in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists are in control since 2014. Russia is home to more than 100,000 troops, while thousands more are preparing for military exercises at the border with Belarus.

Moscow denies that it plans an attack, but the United States, its NATO allies, and NATO members, are planning for a possible war. They have increased their presence in the Baltics, and placed 8,500 American troops on higher alert to prevent them from being deployed to Europe. Multiple planeloads of weapons have been sent by the United States and Britain to Ukraine.

Officials from Ukraine have accepted the assistance but have been left out of high-stakes diplomacy rounds that have so far failed to yield any breakthrough. After one such meeting, U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken stated that "nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine"

The White House summoned European leaders including NATO's Secretary-General to a videoconference on Monday about Ukraine. They discussed U.S. ideas for responding to Russia's demands.

"We shared these ideas with our European allies. We will be taking their feedback. Ned Price, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said that we are including their feedback in our written response.

The videoconference was not open to Ukraine. The president of Ukraine was left fuming on Twitter last week as Biden discussed how to deal with a "minor intrusion."

"We want the great powers to remember that small nations and minor incursions are not tolerated." As there are no minor casualties or little grief after the loss of loved one," President Volodymyr Zilenskyy wrote.

Russian and Ukrainian diplomats will meet in Paris Wednesday to discuss the prospects of a 2015 peace agreement that France and Germany brokered to end the conflict in Ukraine. Ukraine's east, while it sometimes seems like an afterthought to the countries that decide its fate is far more important than the center of power.

Vesele is a separatist region in eastern Donetsk. Little has changed since 2014. There are still signs warning about minefields. Concrete block buildings have crumbled more in the years since being shelled and no one has ever come to haul away cars that were left behind by gunfire.

"There is virtually no one here because everything is broken. Vladimir, a local man, refused to reveal his last name but said that there was light, gas and water supply, but no life. He believed that the Ukrainian troops were approximately a kilometer (half-mile), away and he wanted them to leave so that people could choose their fates.

"If they would completely abandon and liberate the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, then we could decide. He said that he believes nobody wants to be part of Ukraine.

He believed, as most easters, that those decisions were in the hands of someone else.

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