Ukraine conflict: Inside crisis-hit towns of Donetsk and Luhansk

View through a hole in a wall caused by shrapnel shows destroyed building and burned out car in Marakove Buildings in Marakove had been badly damaged by mortars or shells

Inside eastern Ukraine's conflict-hit towns, the BBC's Daniel Sandford finds homes destroyed, streets deserted and the food is running out.

When we passed through the last checkpoint held by armed men loyal to the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic, they warned us that the Ukrainian forces ahead were a bit "jumpy".

But that did not prepare us for what we found in Makarove.

As we drove into the small town half an hour up the main road from Luhansk to the Russian border, the cars became fewer and fewer. Then it was just us.

When we reached the end of the town, we found the aftermath of what had clearly been heavy fighting.

The petrol station was destroyed, as was the "cheburyeki"- the pie stall. Other buildings had been badly damaged by mortars or shells. There were craters in the road.

Completely destroyed

Where the town ended and the forest began there was a roadblock. Not a checkpoint that vehicles could drive through, but a wall of concrete, and behind it soldiers loyal to the Ukrainian government and a group of armoured personnel carriers.

Villagers told us that the shelling was coming from behind those lines.

Roadblock manned by Ukrainian government soldiers Ukrainian government soldiers stand guard at a roadblock
People filling up water bottles Water and electricity are running out in some towns

Running parallel to the main road was a dusty lane, and there we saw two small houses that had been completely destroyed. Villagers told us that at least two people died there.

The fighting in Makarove has barely been reported, but a man walking through the eerily empty streets told us that it started a week ago.

"It's been going on since Friday," he said. "Before then there were exchanges of fire but nothing on this scale.

"It's happening every day. You can see the damage, big holes in the buildings. We are too scared to approach the Ukrainian checkpoint."

Damaged restaurant roof The fighting has left the restaurant's roof in ruins
Destroyed bridge Separatists blew up a bridge to stop Ukrainian forces advancing on Luhansk

As the Ukrainian government forces try to seal the rebels off from the supply lines from the Russian border, this is developing into a small war.

Driving back to Luhansk we discovered that the main road was blocked in another place. This time it had been done by the rebels.

While we had been in Makarove, they had blown up a footbridge, crashing it down on to the highway. This means that all the traffic on the road now has to detour across a small bridge controlled by the rebels.

They are preparing their defences in case the Ukrainian government forces try to advance on Luhansk.

'Heavy artillery'

On another road north of the city there has also been heavy fighting around the town of Metalist. This is where two Russian TV journalists were killed this week.

Manning a checkpoint on the brow of the hill leading down to Metalist we found Igor.

He is a 24-year-old who has taken up arms against the government in Kiev, after being convinced by the propaganda that they are fascists who hate Russian-speakers.

With a young face, blond hair, and blue eyes, he held an automatic rifle across his chest. He used to work in the mines but he now has the bearing and the attitudes of a hardened soldier.

Igor, a pro-Russia fighter Igor, 24, believes he must protect Russian speakers from the Ukrainian government

"We will defend our town to the last man," he told me. "We won't let them advance a single metre.

"The Ukrainian army are fascists, there's no other word for them. They are hitting us with heavy artillery, armoured personnel carriers, mortars, and shells that explode in the air.

"They haven't managed to advance though. They are still holding the same positions."

Deserted

Slowly the fighting is producing what could become a humanitarian crisis.

Towns are running out of water and electricity, and in some cases food.

The German Red Cross is bringing in stretchers and medical supplies in case the conflict gets worse.

In a temporary dormitory in Donetsk, we found 47-year-old Alyona Slastina sitting on a single bed with two bags of belongings she had brought with her.

After weeks of mortars landing on Sloviansk she had decided to leave, but many in the town have stayed behind.

"There are still many people in Sloviansk," she said through her tears.

Alyona Slastina who left Sloviansk. She is pictured crying Alyona Slastina decided to leave Sloviansk because of the fighting

"They don't have any phones, water, electricity, and the only thing in the shops is mayonnaise.

"But they say they won't leave. People shouldn't be dying there. They should be leaving. They didn't do anything to anyone."

While we were in Sloviansk we found there was some food in the shops, and people were able to come and go through the checkpoints on local buses.

But in the middle of the day the streets were deserted, as people peered out of their apartment windows at the damaged city.

This conflict did not start suddenly. It has slowly crept up on eastern Ukraine. But in places it is a now a low-level war.

The numbers killed are still in the hundreds. If peace does not come soon it will rise to the thousands.

There is not yet a humanitarian crisis in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, but it may not be far away.

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