18:03 Aug. 10, 2016
The number of civilian casualties nearly doubled in June to 69, including 12 deaths, and rose again in July, when eight civilians were killed and 65 wounded
MARYINKA, Ukraine - Framed by a tiny cutout in the fortified bunker, this particular piece of no-man's land is tinted a blood-reddish orange by the setting summer sun.
It's hot as hell, and it's about to get hotter. When the sun goes down, the guns start blazing. And all that separates the men at their triggers is a grassy patch of land the size of a soccer field that is heavily mined. If you're a Ukrainian soldier here, you don't need binoculars to observe the enemy -- you just look in his direction.
It starts with a single shot from a Kalashnikov: Ziiip. Then another: Ziiip. And three more: Ziiip. Ziiip. Ziiip. Each shot whizzes dangerously closer. In the time it takes to boil an egg, the situation escalates as the rifles are joined by 50-caliber machine guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades that explode with hollow thuds against the earth or cottages where the soldiers eat and sleep, showering everything with shrapnel. Within an hour, shells from howitzers and tanks -- and eventually surface-to-surface Grad missiles, whose name is Russian for "hail" -- begin pummeling the scarred steppe.
Reload. Fire. Repeat
The "disco," as the soldiers and the few residents left in this forsaken town call it, is in full effect. The relative calm that dawn brings seems a lifetime away. All are at the mercy of the darkness.
This is eastern Ukraine 28 months after the start of a conflict that once seemed unthinkable, and a year and a half after the signing of a second cease-fire deal, known as Minsk 2, that was supposed to bring lasting peace to this war-torn edge of Europe and reintegrate it with the rest of Ukraine.
But the armistice is unraveling fast as fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists has escalated to levels not seen since more furious phases of the conflict in the Donbas -- where the separatists hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- in 2014 and 2015. Casualties, both civilian and military, are mounting.