I trudged through WW1-style trenches as Russian bombs thundered but another sound is most terrifying, says brave Sun man

THE SUN has joined brave Ukrainian forces fighting for their country in WW1-style trenches amid fierce fighting with Putin’s hordes.

Amid the mud and the rain, and with Russian bombs exploding nearby, we approached the besieged city of Bakhmut on the Ukrainian frontline.

Chris EadesUkrainian soldiers are fighting in the trenches against the Russians[/caption]

The SunThey are fighting to defend the besieged city of Bakhmut[/caption]

The SunThe mud and rain make for punishing conditions[/caption]

The SunThe trenches stretch through the countryside around the city[/caption]

As shelling is clearly heard in the background, a Ukrainian soldier leads us through the woods to meet his comrades.

The Ukrainian soldiers compare the muddy trench to a “three-star hotel”, as it comes with a roof.

They also offer their thanks to “all British people for supporting us” since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

“It’s very important for us,” one soldier adds.

“We love you guys!” says a second.

The brave Ukrainian fighters, who have seen over a year of the war, seem unphased and laugh to each over the near-constant sound of shelling.

But by far the most unnerving sound is the wine of the drones flying overhead.

The soldiers in the trenches are fairly sure they are friendly Ukrainian drones, but their presence adds to the sense of danger all around.

A Ukrainian fighter tells us they are just 700 metres from the Russian line, behind some nearby hills.

The soldiers say there has been regular fighting in this area close to Bakhmut, a small city of 70,000 people in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine which has become a major target for the Kremlin’s forces.

These forces were originally part of an anti-tank battalion, but they have been drafted into infantry work as part of the defence of Bakhmut.

That says a lot about the way Putin‘s forces have changed their strategy in this latest spell of fighting.

With the mud making tanks harder to move, the Russians have been using them more like stationery artillery guns, lobbing shells at the Ukrainian trenches from behind the safety of the hills, but not trying to advance into battle.

This also suggests the Russians have learned their lessons from the earlier months of the war when a graveyard of Russian tanks was left behind as a monument to the failed advance.

We’re not going to sacrifice all of our people just for nothing

Alexander RodnyanskyEconomic adviser, President Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukraine’s forces have likewise had to change their strategy, and rather than use their Javelin anti-tank missiles, they have been forced to adjust to a more drawn-out form of fighting.

Bakhmut has become a site of critical importance to the Russians, who have thrown ever more soldiers into Putin’s meat grinder in their desperate bid to take the city.

The situation in the city has been described as “critical” by Ukrainian military analyst Oleg Zhdanov, who warned in a post on YouTube that “there is a danger that our garrison in Bakhmut will be encircled”.

It comes as the Russian death toll in Ukraine tops 150,000 since February 24 last year, according to Ukrainian sources.

Bakhmut is now almost completely encircled by Putin’s forces, including his private army, the Wagner Group.

Roads leading into the city are under almost constant fire, as speculation grows that the Ukrainians will be forced to withdraw.

Zhdanov went on: “The enemy is attempting to sever the routes used to supply our forces in Bakhmut and halt all movement along them.”

He added that the Russians “cannot win street battles in Bakhmut or take the city by attacking head-on. The only way they can take the city is to surround it”.

The Russians are using phosphorous munitions and anti-tank guided missiles as part of their agonisingly slow choking off of Bakhmut.

APBakhmut has seen weeks of fierce daily fighting[/caption]

APThe city of 70,000 people has been decimated[/caption]

AlamyPresident Zelensky’s adviser has warned that the city may be abandoned[/caption]

Speaking earlier this week, Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, was realistic about his army’s chance of holding the city.

“Our military is obviously going to weigh all of the options,” he said. “So far, they’ve held the city, but if need be, they will strategically pull back.

“We’re not going to sacrifice all of our people just for nothing.”

And even if Bakhmut does fall, some experts believe that it would be nothing more than a symbolic victory for Putin’s forces, at the expense of huge numbers of Russian lives.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said that reinforcements have been sent to the city to buy them some time while they strengthen firing lines on a higher position in Chasiv Yar, around nine miles (15km) west of Bakhmut.

Trench warfare may seem like something out of World War One over a century ago, but it has proven to be a key element of the fighting in Ukraine.

NATO forces recently took part in exercises in Estonia, just 80 miles from the Russian border.

A snow-covered Winter Camp in Estonia was the backdrop for the exercise with Britain, FranceDenmark, the US and Estonian troops all taking part.

The Sun was given first-hand access to the drills as our soldiers stand alongside their comrades from across Europe while international tensions run high.

In one striking exercise, the Estonian forces, playing enemy combatants, had to defend a series of trenches carved into the ground of the Central Training Area military base, around an hour’s drive east of Estonia’s capital Tallinn.

The Estonian troops aimed their Browning machine gun and R20 RAHE assault rifles at a line of trees some 30 feet from their trenches.

Dramatic pictures showed them “open fire” on the approaching French troops, who were the NATO contingent in the exercise.

Although firing blanks, the sound rattled through half a mile of crisscrossing trenches – their walls supported by huge tree trunks.

All the evidence points to the war being a drawn-out conflict, with Putin willing to risk everything to avoid a withdrawal.

And as the winter weather passes and the temperatures rise, the fighting is only likely to intensify.