NewsWorldDeep in the forest of eastern Ukraine, this group...

Deep in the forest of eastern Ukraine, this group of volunteers waits as the Russian army sneaks up

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The importance of Snake Island to Ukraine 1:30 Near Slovyansk, Ukraine (CNN) — Maxym is waiting. For just over a month, he and his comrades have been sleeping in dirt shelters, eating tin cans heated over campfires and following news from the Russian army a few miles away. “Of course they come,” says Maxym. “There are many more of them than us.” They are deep in this dense forest in eastern Ukraine, not far from Slovyansk, and they are part of Ukraine’s territorial defense: non-professional soldiers, most of whom signed up in the first days of the Russian invasion in February. Until now, they have avoided contact with the enemy, spending their days under camouflage nets, next to giant pyramids of bottled water. But every moment of every day is lived with the dull roar of artillery. Their wooded camp is regularly showered with cluster munitions. Shortly after CNN’s visit, a cluster attack severely injured some of the soldiers. And while they are well supplied with the anti-tank weapons that were so instrumental in containing Russia’s initial incursion, those are not the weapons they need at this stage of the war. “You can hear it,” says Maxym’s comrade Mykhailo, as heavy weapons rumble in the distance. Like others in this story, he asked to use only his first name for privacy reasons. “For every one of our heavy shots, they do 10 or 20. It’s because we lack artillery.” Donbas is where the conflict with Russia began in 2014. And after Ukraine defeated Russia’s attempt to behead the government in Kyiv earlier this year, Donbas is once again at the center of the war. His enemy advances, albeit slowly. Further east, Russian forces have captured the industrial city of Severodonetsk and appear close to encircling Ukrainian forces in neighboring Lysychansk. That puts pressure on Ukraine’s most important remaining population centers in Donbas: Bakhmut, Slovyansk, and especially Kramatorsk. The territorial defense unit is just one in a network that the Ukrainian military is using to plug gaps in its defense. When they have direct contact with the enemy it will mean that the artillery has not been able to stop the Russian advance, and that Slovyansk is in real danger. Mykhailo looks over the edge of a trench to show why his unit has been placed here. He points to the road. “If a convoy arrives,” he says, “our job is to stop it.” A Ukrainian territorial defense position in eastern Ukraine. Mykhailo says that he and his comrades lack artillery. The civilians they hope to defend are increasingly suffering from Russia’s advance. The rockets launch their deadly cluster charges at apartment blocks, supermarket parking lots and suburban homes. The mini-bombs go through windows and doors and through any human unlucky enough to be caught unawares. Igor, in his 30s, was one of them. He said goodbye to his wife on Monday and walked from his first-floor apartment in a Soviet-era building to the taxi he drove for a living. He never made it. “I was standing here crying,” said Valentina, 76, his neighbor. “He was a good guy. His name was Igor. And my husband’s name is also Igor.” The blasts scattered debris on her bed, and now her husband, a former builder, is cutting a plywood board to cover a broken window above the door of his building. “It’s very scary,” she says. “At night, I cover myself with a pillow.” Slovyansk bears the brunt of Russia’s advance from the north. To the south, Bakhmut has been paying an even higher price. Marina is in the courtyard of her building, collecting the glass that had been shattered by a Russian bomb just a few hours before. Maxym is part of the Territorial Defense of Ukraine. As he waits for the Russian troops, he says he often thinks of his pregnant wife and his unborn child. Western anti-tank weapons in a position on position in eastern Ukraine. “We didn’t hurt anyone,” he says in agony. “We are simple people. My husband has been an ambulance worker for 45 years, saving lives.” It’s mostly older people who stay on this street. Many of his sons and daughters have long since left, unable to convince their parents to join them. “We don’t have gas, we don’t have electricity, we don’t have water. But we just want the shooting to stop.” Back in the forest, waiting for the Russian troops, Maxym says that he often thinks of his pregnant wife, his hometown of Kharkiv, and his unborn child. “We will throw them out of here, and he will know it: that we do not stay here doing nothing. It is our land, and they have no right to come here.”

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