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On the front line in Ukraine, where soldiers are "literally tossing grenades at each other"

On the Ukrainian frontline
Ukrainian and Russian troops battle just feet apart 02:25

Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine — Ukrainian military hardware was on the move Tuesday along the front line north of the embattled town of Bakhmut. They have to keep moving. If they stop, Russia's invading forces will take aim.

Explosions rang out from both incoming and outgoing artillery fire. Jittery soldiers were told not to hang around too long. Their commanders instructed our CBS News team to spread out and get ready to hit the ground.

The Ukrainian troops brought us to the last village they hold before the Russian front line, only about three miles further east. Commanders told CBS News the line itself had moved only a few hundred yards in months in the area. In some cases, Ukrainian troops have been holding off the Russians with no more than automatic weapons. 

The entire time CBS News was near the front line, explosions never stopped ringing out.

It's always like that, said a commander who goes by the callsign "Thunder."

"There's constant incoming," he said. "It all depends on whether they can see what they're shooting at. We try not to get spotted."

A building heavily damaged by fighting in a village just north of the front line near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, is seen in February 2023.  CBS News

The fighting is incredibly close.

"It can get as close as five meters," he said. "We're literally tossing grenades at each other." 

Close enough, the Ukrainian commander said, to find Russian soldiers fighting from trenches the Ukrainians dug, and the other way around.

Russia Ukraine War
Soldiers of the Ukrainian 3rd Army Assault Brigade of the Special Operations Forces (SSO) "Azov" are seen in a trench near Bakhmut, in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, February 11, 2023. Libkos/AP

The fighting across a long stretch of the front line in eastern Ukraine, which spans hundreds of miles from the north to the south of the country, has crawled to a bloody grind for months. 

The Russians have advanced in distances measured in feet. But the cost in human lives has mounted precipitously — on both sides.

Ukraine is battling to hold the ground in the face of a Russian offensive expected to begin in earnest ahead of the one-year anniversary of the invasion next week. That bloody fight will continue, even if there's not much left to hold onto.

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