There’s fighting everywhere in Lysychansk city, the last Ukrainian holdout in the east.
The artillery sounds never stop as the city is pounded by the Russians.
The city goes to sleep with the constant rumble of war. We can hear it above ground from the basement where we’ve spent the night sheltering with families. And the city wakes up to deadly sounds of war.
When we emerge from our shelter in the city centre after dawn, the thunder of shells being fired and then crashing close by, sounds significantly and terrifyingly louder.
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The Russian troops are making steady progress in capturing this hilltop city. They are undeniably closing in and eating up territory.
Russian media has now posted video of their troops inside the oil refinery on the city’s southwestern edge where our Sky News team witnessed savage fighting not more than 48 hours earlier. It’s only six miles from the city’s heart.
So, inside the city, there are frantic attempts to try to persuade those still here to leave.
There may not be another chance. And there are an estimated 10-15,000 residents still here, hiding in shelters and their private homes.
The governor of the Luhansk region (one-half of the Donbas where Lysychansk is based) says the Russians are attacking everything – hospitals, civilian structures, ambulances.
“Everything is being destroyed,” Serhiy Haidai said on television. “This is a scorched-earth policy.”
We can confirm that. If, or as seems more likely when, the Russians do enter the city centre, much of what they will be inheriting will be piles of rubble.
On at least one street we saw multiple mangled and smashed ambulances now forming a chicane to try to slow down the invading Russians soldiers.
A string of humanitarian aid centres which were fully functioning just a few weeks ago, are now devastated. It looks very much like an attempt to try to starve the city into submission.
There are undoubtedly many Russian sympathisers in Lysychansk.
The Russian propaganda insists they’ve been held here by the Ukrainians as “human shields” but we’ve witnessed numerous attempts by the city’s police and volunteer aid groups to persuade those still inside the besieged city to leave to safety.
The Luhansk police keep on trying though. They’re risking their own lives being here.
There is very little traditional “police” work to do. They’re mainly trying to gather the dead and organise the collection of DNA so they can be identified or returned to relatives for proper funeral ceremonies at some later date.
It’s not safe enough for anything other than burying those who perish in mass graves right now. Vitaly, who we’ve met several times already during our trips to the Donbas, is exhausted but still, he’s working.
He shows us the roads and roads of fresh destruction, much of which has happened in the past few days.
“There’ve been a lot of deaths and injuries,” he says.
“I think that the infrastructure of Lysychansk will be as destroyed as Severodonetsk infrastructure,” Vitaly goes on. “I think it’s similar.”
Their twin-city Severodonetsk is just over the other side of a bombed-out bridge – now under Russian control since the weekend and much of it is devastated. Lysychansk is on the brink of being next.
We’re with more police as they try to persuade other residents to leave.
“Are you ready for evacuation?” the police ask one man walking the streets.
“I wasn’t going to go,” the man replies, He’s worried about where he goes. “What happens afterwards?” he asks the police. He’s told to expect some intense street fighting.
“You can see it’s getting more intense every day,” the police officer tells him, “So it makes sense to go for a little bit and leave this war zone and save yourself.”
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But it doesn’t look like he’s persuaded him. Alongside a number of others, he appears unconcerned about the possible arrival of the Russians here imminently. Kremlin-backed separatists have been operating in the Donbas since the Crimean war in 2014, trying to persuade residents to the Russian view through coercion, intimidation and old-style Soviet cajoling and propaganda.
And it seems with some success with a number difficult to estimate who shirk the Ukrainian aspirations of joining Europe and NATO – and see the Russians as “liberators”.
We hear a woman singing what sounds like a Soviet victory song as she passes us. Another asks Sky cameraman Jake Britton where he’s from.
The reply doesn’t elicit a warm response. His female questioner replies: “Britain? Ah, you don’t tell the truth. You don’t write the truth.”
The Ukrainian government and all those supporting them with weapons (including anyone from the same country it appears) are seen as “enemies” and viewed suspiciously.
Anton who is down by the lake trying to collect water, tells us he directly blames the Ukrainians for the war.
“It’s them who started this… nobody else.”
And he refuses to accept Russia has anything other than good intentions towards them here. “Russia wants to help Ukraine,” he insists. He doesn’t seem to want to engage in debate over this.
Others like Fedir are deeply sceptical of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president. He definitely doesn’t want Ukraine to join the European Union. All he wants is his life back.
“Who knows if it’s Zelenskyy. Russia is saying its own thing. Zelenskyy is saying his own thing. And we can’t understand.”
He just knows he’s been left with very little to survive. “We haven’t had our pensions for five months now… Zelenskyy isn’t paying us…Russia’s not paying us.”
He has a bunker in his garden which he and his wife Svetlana retreat to when the shelling gets too close. Svetlana weeps as the volunteer driver we are with, hands her some pasta, cooking oil and bread. “Oh bread!” she exclaims with tears running down her cheek. “I haven’t seen bread for so long. I’ve been baking myself but now I’ve got no flour left.”
This war has drawn strangers together and driven families apart.
Tatiana’s no nearer to her daughter but it’s given her a lot of comfort knowing the love that comes with it and the thoughtful endurance of strangers who’ve risked a lot to make sure it ends up in the right place.
She has a beautiful warm smile and gentle manner. She tells us proudly about her grandson fighting in the Ukrainian military for “the defence of his country”.
The citizens in this city are a mix of strong differing views with probably only one desire in common. Tatiana voices it to us: “When will it end? Tell me please? When will this war end? When? We have no strength at all. When will it end?”
We can’t answer her.
As other volunteers risk their lives to transport Lysychansk’s residents out of the battlefield, a mother and her young son stand out to us. Their faces are creased with grief and shock. Alyona tells us she’s just buried her husband in their garden. She and her 13-year-old son, Ned, are now desperately trying to leave.
“We lived through such scary things – through bombings, shellings, rockets, through grads,” Alyona tells us.
“But my husband didn’t make it through the grads. He was completely blown up. We buried him in our yard and today the military helped get us out.”
She’s remarkably composed. This all happened the day before. Her world crashed in an instant. She and her son lived but how they’re going to survive is another challenge.
They leave on a route out of the city which is being regularly shelled now – and tracked by Russian spotter drones…we saw a drone following our small convoy as we navigated our way into Lysychansk.
The small corridor still open in and out of the city is steadily being eroded by the march of Russian troops in a pincer movement which looks set to surround Lysychansk – and soon – and it will take a miracle to stop that happening now.
Alex Crawford reports from inside Lysychansk in the Donbas, east Ukraine, with cameraman Jake Britton and producers Chris Cunningham, Artem Lysak and Jake Jacobs.