War 'just a job' for Ukraine frontline soldiers

STORY: ”There is always danger here, but over time you get used to it, and all your senses seem to get sharper. And you no longer feel the fear that you had at the beginning.”

Artem and his comrades have been on Ukraine's southeastern frontlines for months. They watch and wait.

They clear away the endless mud and check the machine guns provided by the United States and Germany.

Despite the regular thud of artillery, and the whirring of a Russian helicopter overhead, things have been quiet lately in these trenches and bunkers dug into the black earth near Donetsk.

Ukraine is planning a major counteroffensive in the coming weeks, which it hopes will shift the momentum.

“We have a place to eat, to sleep, we have a roof over our head. I don’t think we need much more here, once you have the necessities covered. You can sleep, you can eat, and you find yourself in an illusion of safety."

Two of their machine guns killed about 30 Russian troops in a recent attack, the group’s commander told Reuters during a reporting trip to the frontline.

Reuters couldn't independently confirm that.

Artem has been based in the Donbas region for about six months.

He and his comrades, mostly volunteers, rotate through the trenches: four days on, four days off.

The trench cat and her seven kittens help with the mouse problem.

The cramped dugouts give shelter from artillery shelling, mortars and weapons dropped from drones - a threat to both sides along all 750 miles of eastern and southern frontline.

Artem's home city of Chernihiv in the north came under siege soon after Russia's invasion.

“I woke up in the morning (24.02.2022) with the sound of explosions, and I understood that my city would be surrounded, and my parents and my girlfriend live there. There had to be people that were ready to act immediately, and who would think about problems that may develop only later.”

The 30-year-old soon joined up.

Once his loved ones were safe, it became "just a job," he says.

Oleksandr is also from Chernihiv city. He's waiting for Kyiv to launch the counteroffensive - and change the dynamics of a war that has slowed into a bloody battle of attrition.

“We expect that the counteroffensive allows us to retake some part, conquer and hold (enemy) positions, and that our assault units will advance further, encircle (troops), and maybe take some prisoners. Then, we might retake some positions. We’ll keep up the defenses and attack further until we push them to their borders.”

Ukraine has vowed to take back all the territory seized by Russia.

Artem hasn't been home on leave for some time but says he'd rather wait till it's over.

“I don't want to come back here after vacation or go home with a feeling that nothing is over here and that I will have to come back again. Let's hope that some events will speed up with us in the very near future and then it will be clearer when the next time will be that I can go home, to see my loved ones.”