A few kilometers from the Belarus border, Ukrainian forces are training for what they expect to be a brutal spring.
Ageing T-72 tanks – some twice the age of their crews – fire off rounds into the mist, while ground troops practise storming abandoned buildings. Some of the training takes place in the eerily quiet town of Pripyat, deserted since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.
As the troops are put through their paces, Lieutenant General Serhiy Naiev takes delivery of a dozen pick-up trucks armed with heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns, a crowd-funded initiative to help Ukraine repel Iranian-made Shahed drones, which have caused so much damage to Ukraine’s power infrastructure.
But Naiev, a stocky and affable commander, believes the next phase of this war will be about tanks. And that means not his ancient T-72s but more modern machines such as German Leopard 2s and British Challengers.
Ukrainian officials say they need several hundred main battle tanks – not only to defend their present positions but also to take the fight to the enemy in the coming months.