It is a long, nervy and treacherous walk to the frontline trenches around Bakhmut.
As we make our way through woodland, the war crashes and booms around us.
Although Ukraine has made small gains in the open ground around the flanks, its hold inside the city is looking increasingly desperate.
Ukraine war latest live as soldiers uncover drones
Russia has captured at least 95% of the buildings and is still pushing forward.
To get to the defensive positions outside the main city means leaving cover and traversing farmland.
Russian drones are looking for movement – targets for their artillery.
As we move we hear shells screeching overhead and then the heart-thumping moment they smash into the ground just a few hundred metres away.
In the trenches, the soldiers are hardened to the dangers – and from here you can see the city up close.
Bakhmut appears like a vision from a nightmare.
The buildings are just blackened bones of a place where people used to live.
On the horizon, we witness a smoking wreck of rubble and death.
If it falls it will be a pyrrhic victory for Moscow – they’ve lost tens of thousands of soldiers here.
But it will be a major military and psychological blow for Ukraine nonetheless – Kyiv has invested a huge amount in its defence.
Read more on the battle for Bakhmut:
Ukrainian city a smoking ruin as Russians forced back in disarray
The battle of Bakhmut is not about seizing vital ground
‘We will fight to the end’
From a covered position we watch as shell after shell is unleashed on this city under siege.
Bakhmut has seen the fiercest urban combat of anywhere in the world since the Second World War.
The men who are its defenders tell us they are only holding on. But they will not give up.
One soldier tells me: “We are on our land and we will protect this land.
“We have a great motivation, a very great motivation, to protect our land.
“And I think that the enemy understands that we will fight to the end.”
Further along the frontline is the city of Chasiv Yar and with Russia controlling nearly all of Bakhmut, it could be next.
From the window of a shattered apartment block, the troops here show me where Vladimir Putin’s forces are moving.
Use the sliders below to see Maxar satellite images of Bakhmut 12 months ago compared to today
‘It’s a scary situation’
The crisp spring day is fractured by the thunderous sound of shells exploding nearby.
Large plumes of smoke mushroom over the tree line.
Ukraine’s main counteroffensive may not have started but the fighting remains intense.
At the command centre, they know the big push is looming – but until it starts they must keep Russia from advancing further.
It is not easy.
The Deputy Section Commander, Andriy, speaks candidly about the reality of this grinding conflict.
“Enemy forces attack our positions every day, night and day… we fight for all the power we have, and I don’t know – it’s actually a very difficult and scary situation.”
This war is exacting a terrible price on Ukraine.
Every building is battered – and it’s getting worse
The most savage fighting, in the Donbas, has forced the majority from their homes – here shells land in streets without warning.
As we drive we see a vehicle on fire. It’s just been hit by artillery.
Every building is battered.
And Moscow’s indiscriminate use of violence is getting worse.
It’s becoming a nightly occurrence – towns and cities are being hit with barrages of missiles and drones.
In Kramatorsk, we see frightened people clearing up after a large bomb exploded in their neighbourhood in the middle of the night.
There’s no military target here – just apartment blocks – and civilians who are terrified.
Valentyna was sleeping at the time of the explosion.
She tells me: “I trembled, could not stand up, and take at least one step. I was shaking.
“My son dragged me into the bathroom. When we left, there was dust everywhere – terrible.”
Each day in Ukraine brings more carnage and each day this war goes on there’s a little less hope.