Muddy water trickles slowly from a filthy drain into a filthy container — and with each passing second the risk increases that Emilia Budskaya could lose life or limb to Russian artillery shelling her town, located on the front lines of battle in eastern Ukraine.
The huge holes left by shrapnel in the courtyard walls around her are proof of the dangers of venturing outside — exposed and without the armored vests used by Ukrainian soldiers defending Vuhledar when they emerge from their trenches.
But Budskaya and her daughter need water to hold on to life, to survive another day in the ruins.
So they wait, drop by drop, for the container to fill up and Budskaya can pour the water into the plastic bottles, drop by drop, and start the process over and over again until they fill their bottles.
Picking their way through the rubble and mud, they carry their loot back to the dark basement that has now become their home.
“We have no water, nothing,” says Budskaya. “I accumulate rainwater to wash dishes and hands.”
On a virtually immobile war front between Russian and Ukrainian forces that stretches for hundreds of kilometers (miles), from the Black Sea in the south to Ukraine’s northeastern border with Russia, Vuhledar has become one of the most lethal of war
It has joined Bakhmut, Marinka and other cities and towns, particularly in eastern Ukraine, as evidence of destructive attrition warfare and as symbols of fierce Ukrainian resistance.
By defending its ruins, Ukrainian forces are slowly costing Russia its efforts to extend its control over the entire Donbas industrial region of eastern Ukraine. It became the target of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s conquest after his forces withdrew from the capital kyiv and northern Ukraine in the early stages of the war a year ago.
Ukrainian soldiers are paying a huge price, but they say their sacrifices are wearing down the waves of soldiers and equipment Moscow is sending to the front lines.
In Bakhmut, a soldier who identified himself only by his nom de guerre, “Expert,” said the pulverized city in the Donetsk region of Donbas “has become a stronghold” for Ukraine.
″Did you see what they did to him? he said of Russian forces that have besieged Bakhmut for months, advancing slowly, despite massive casualties, in their bid to seize a prized city that, if it falls, could allow Moscow to make the case that the invasion is moving forward .
The battlefields around Vuhledar, southwest of Bakhmut and also in the Donetsk region, bear witness to the valuable equipment and manpower Russia is spending, with little territorial gain. Tanks and other armored fighting vehicles destroyed by mines or slowed down by Ukrainian attacks cluster on the devastated and cratered terrain.
Although Russia has seized most of the Luhansk region, which is also part of Donbas, the adjacent Donetsk region remains roughly divided between Ukrainian and Russian control.
Ukraine’s military said on Sunday that Russian attacks in the east remain focused on Bakhmut and other targets.
The Russian forces include mercenaries from the notorious Wagner Group, a private military company that has recruited fighters from prisons and sent them into combat, with high casualty rates. Its millionaire owner with ties to Putin, former convicted felon Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Saturday that his forces had advanced on a settlement on the northern outskirts of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian military disputed that claim, stating that the Russian forces were repelled.