Ukraine before the counteroffensive: A 750-mile journey along the front

EL PAÍS traveled along the country’s eastern border, from Kharkiv to Kherson, to portray the daily life of soldiers and civilians 15 months after the war began

Two Ukrainian soldiers on the Chasiv Yar front near Bakhmut
Two Ukrainian soldiers on the Chasiv Yar front near Bakhmut.Luis de Vega

After months of preparation, the Ukrainian counteroffensive has begun in the east of the country, a key front for the Kyiv government. The Ukrainian armed forces have been preparing a large-scale operation aimed at breaking through Russian defenses and reconquering territory lost after the invasion.

Two weeks before the counteroffensive, a team of four journalists from EL PAÍS covered the 750-mile (1,200 kilometer) front line that runs between Kharkov to Kherson. It was a journey through the daily life of civilians and soldiers, who shared their fears and hopes after 15 months of a war that has reached a decisive moment.

The team visited cities such as Kupiansk, Izium, Zaporizhzhia, Nikopol and Kherson, where life and death live side by side in this strange conflict, which has shocked all of Europe. Here are more details about the different stops of the trip.

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1. Ukraine, the decisive moment

EL PAÍS traveled along the 750 miles of frontline in Ukraine, collecting testimonies from civilians and soldiers. The people residing in these embattled areas share their thoughts about the ongoing counteroffensive, which could decide their destiny.
Ukraine war

2. Ukrainians track Russian missiles on Telegram between beers and snacks

This stage of the trip focuses on the abnormal normality of the country's second-largest city and the small towns in ruins along the front line of the war.
Ukraine war

3. A 30-mile tour of Ukraine's highway of horror

The road linking Izium to Sloviansk offers a desolate panorama of villages that were on the front line of the war and are now razed to the ground.
Ukraine war

4. Video games, tea and drones on the front lines: The waiting war in Ukraine

Artillery and infantry units in the eastern Donbas region spend hours and hours awaiting orders and monitoring the movements of Russian troops. ‘Every day here is the same,’ says a sentry.
Ukraine war

5. Zoom classes between artillery bombardments at the gates of Bakhmut

Over a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, girls like Diana and Yuliana are still unable to return to normality, confined to their home in the front line city of Kostiantynivka
Ukraine war

6. Life under the shadow of Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia

Inhabitants of towns and villages opposite the plant, under permanent siege by Putin's troops, fear that the conflict could lead to disaster.
Una mujer en las calles casi desiertas del centro de Jersón, objetivo casi diario de ataques rusos.

7. Mission: capture Russian collaborators in Ukraine

Authorities in Kherson and other cities liberated by Ukrainian troops now face the problem of detecting informers loyal to Moscow

About this project

A multimedia team of four journalists from EL PAÍS traveled across eastern Ukraine, covering 1,200 kilometers between Kharkiv and Kherson, in the weeks prior to the counter-offensive that will determine how far can the country go in its quest to liberate the territory conquered by Russia. 

Dozens of testimonies from civilians and soldiers collected along the front line portray the impact that a long-lasting war is having on the day-to-day life of the population: drinking beer in a bar while receiving a Telegram notice that a missile will fall on you shortly; life in a line of towns that have become part of the battle front; what it is like to celebrate your golden anniversary in the middle of a devastated city; the daily life of the soldiers, which also consists of many moments of waiting; the fear of living across from the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, now occupied by Russia, in the middle of a conflict; being a teenager and living 12 kilometers from the dangerous Bakhmut front, confined at home and receiving online classes; and finally Kiyv's search for Russian collaborators. 

It is a series of seven reports about how life goes on despite everything, in the middle of the violence and destruction of war, at a decisive moment for Ukraine: a counter-offensive where its destiny is at stake. 

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