NEAR SOLEDAR: On a road near Soledar, members of Ukraine's territorial defence launched a surveillance drone towards the front line, where fighting is raging to hold back waves of fierce Russian attacks.
Ukraine conceded on Wednesday (Jan 25) its troops had pulled back this month from Soledar, a town in the eastern Donetsk region that saw some of the fiercest battles of Russia's nearly year-long invasion.
"For two or three days we lost positions but now we are working to push back to what we had before," said Igor, part of the aerial reconnaissance unit involved in the attack.
Compared to the rest of the industrial Donetsk region - whose capture Russia has made its military priority - Soledar has seen some of "the worst fighting" over recent days, Igor said.
Russia's notorious mercenary group Wagner claimed to have spearheaded the offensive for Soledar, claiming its capture on Jan 11.
Two days later, Russia's defence ministry announced Moscow's forces controlled the salt-mining town with a pre-war population of around 10,000.
Moscow's capture of Soledar was its first battlefield victory in months, and came on the back of a slew of humiliating defeats on eastern and southern fronts.
Ukrainian military spokesman Sergiy Cherevaty told AFP that Ukraine's forces left Soledar after weeks of heavy fighting focused on the town, "and retreated along the outskirts".
Some Ukrainian troops were holding the edges of the city, he said, and others were "building a defensive line, fortifying new points, while at the same time delivering a massive blow to the enemy".
FIGHT TAKING A TOLL
He did not disclose when the pull back happened but said it had been carefully planned.
There was no "mass capture" or "encirclement" of Ukrainian forces, he added.
The commander of Igor's unit, a senior sergeant with the call sign "Alkor" said there had been "a strong battle on the front line", with Ukrainian troops raining shells down on Russian forces.
But, he said, Kyiv's troops were outnumbered.
"We shoot and shoot and shoot, but after five minutes another wave of 20 enemies is coming at us ... their numbers are huge. They use people as cannon fodder."
The good news, he said, was, "The Russians prevail only in number."