Today, deep in his trench, the young man says that everything is fine.

He is 25 years old, a frank smile and a quiet assurance. On his fatigues is inscribed his nickname, Moriak (Sailor), as well as the popular maxims of soldiers in times of war: “Born to hunt” (born to hunt) or “Si vis pacem para bellum” (If you want peace prepare the war).

After having been at the front in the regions of Sumy and Kharkiv (north), Dima was assigned to this position in the region of Izium, a front line northwest of Kramatorsk, administrative center of Donbass, region of eastern Ukraine, which Russian forces want to take full control of.

And since then he has been digging. Like everyone else here. A trench several tens of meters long, a labyrinth pierced in the black earth, where one cannot go three meters without falling on a pickaxe or a shovel, while the sound of artillery fire resounds outside and , from time to time, the dreadful noise of the Grad, these missiles fired simultaneously from a truck.

“We dig when it’s calm. We hide when it’s shooting,” smiles a soldier. And to hide, there are these burrows that serve as their bedrooms, completely dark cavities of a few square meters where their litters are installed.

The Russian forces are a few kilometers away.

“No pasaran”, shouts in a burst of laughter Ahil, the head of the unit, a veteran smiling but stingy with words.

How many men are there? “As much as I need”.

How is the situation? “It could be worse”.

Arms ? “We never have enough”.

The morale of men? “Good”.

Having fought in the Donbass since the start of the war in 2014, when pro-Russian separatists backed by Moscow seized part of the territory, Ahil admits the situation is now totally different.

“Today is total war,” said the soldier who hopes “to be able to rest when it’s over.” “If I hold out until then,” he adds.

Before taking his leave from the journalists, the man with the weathered face takes off his helmet to reveal a completely shaved head except for a large lock of hair on the side. “Cossack hairstyle. It’s something to be earned,” he laughs again.

The front, one of the most active in recent months, has calmed down for a few weeks. “The Russian army is concentrating its efforts on Sloviansk (further south) and the Donetsk region in general. Here, the enemy is now in a defensive position”, assures “Grizzly”, another trench commander, woolen cap on the head despite the heat, beard and tattoos.

But “this place was one of the bloodiest of the war”, he continues: “Before our arrival, the previous unit lost many men. Up to 40% of them remained in this position , for all time”.

Young Dima also saw comrades fall.

“It’s sad, of course, when it happens to friends with whom you share life in the trenches. And at the same time, it motivates you even more to free these bastards who no one asked to come,” adds the soldier, who confides “of course” regularly thinking that he is going to bed or drinking tea for the last time.

– Kilometer by kilometer –

Outside the trench lies the Ukrainian countryside. A landscape that would be magnificent without these large expanses of burned fields.

The small, cratered roads are bristling with unexploded missiles and lined with wrecked vehicles. Rare military cars speed through the countryside, a T-72 tank rushes and takes a turn in a rain of stones and dust.

A few kilometers to the rear is the brigade headquarters, installed in an almost completely destroyed farm.

Chickens roam the rubble, a cat sleeps soundly on an abandoned chair, bees are still escaping from untended hives. A Tochka-U missile lies in the yard.

At the bottom of a small staircase, the chief officer operates in a room of about fifteen square meters, where maps and radios are installed to communicate with the positions. Three men lying on bunks almost invisible in the dark look at their phones absently.

Oleksandr, the officer, a jovial 34-year-old man, says “the situation is under control”.

“We have been here since the end of April, and after several attempts by the enemy to advance, we are advancing, kilometer by kilometer, we seize “green lines” one after the other”.

The goal? “Total victory,” he replies immediately. Is a ceasefire possible? “No no no.”