DEBALTSEVE, UKRAINE —
Ukrainian soldiers are reinforcing positions in areas recently reclaimed from pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
With the help of high-tech gadgetry and brute force, government officers say they have claimed the upper hand, but on the front lines of the conflict it appears outright victory for Kyiv's army will not be easy.
At a checkpoint in eastern Ukraine, soldiers apprehend two suspects believed to be working with pro-Russian separatists, part of the daily routine here at a crossroads in Debaltseve, deep in Donetsk province, a place Ukrainian forces reclaimed in late July.
Soldiers check every car and truck coming in and out of nearby Luhansk province, an active hotbed of the ongoing insurgency.
Aid agencies say thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire are living without electricity, water and basic supplies.
Dima, a Ukrainian soldier who declined to give his full name, says he has seen many Luhansk residents fleeing the area.
“As I can see, there's a lot of civilians trying to escape from this territory, a lot of them," he said. "I already saw that a lot of civilian houses were destroyed. You know, these poor people, they are trying to have peace on their lands and it's really a traumatic situation for all of our country.”
Ukraine claims to be closing in on the final rebel strongholds. However, reports that Russia is continuing to arm separatists suggest it will be no easy victory.
Soldiers here say the rebels who retreated from this position were well-equipped, as shown by the destruction to a local gas station and the discovery of remote-controlled mines in the area.
But the military is fighting back with technology of its own, according to the head of a Ukrainian de-mining unit, who spoke on the condition we do not use his name.
“The Ukrainian army has very efficient means of blocking signals, as has been proven in Iraq. This is jamming equipment that completely blocks the whole spectrum of signals to remotely detonated explosives,” he said.
Ukrainian soldiers have a few other high-tech tricks up their sleeves.
The two separatist suspects arrested at the checkpoint were identified by intercepting rebel radio communications.
“We are identifying their position by electronic bearing, defining the possible aim of this radio network, what they are doing, and if possible getting intelligible information if the channels are open," said one Ukrainian troop.
Intelligence gathering is a major priority for the Ukrainian military as it claims to be surrounding the city of Donetsk, site of some of the heaviest fighting and strongest rebel presence since the conflict began in May.
While Russia has denied supporting the rebels, officials here have reported a recent influx of military equipment from Russia into the area around Luhansk.
With more hardware on the ground, a final victory in the long-running conflict may come down to brute force.