UKRAINIAN troops at war ground zero struggle to hold a key village after driving out the Russians.
The Sun is the first newspaper to visit rural Ruska Lozova – nicknamed the Glue as it ties northeastern Ukraine together.
Just 15 miles from the Russian border, the village was one of the first to be captured in February’s invasion.
The hold gave Vladimir Putin’s soldiers access to key bridges and allowed them to shell the nearby city of Kharkiv.
Russian troops also used their occupation to unleash a sickening spate of murder, kidnapping and rape against the population of 5,000.
But fighting Ukrainian forces recaptured Ruska Lozova last month – and they are determined to hold the village.
If the Russians managed to regain control, they would win a massive propaganda victory, using the area as a springboard to launch offensives in northeastern Ukraine.
There is a heavy military presence in the area, but the village – with shops, houses, roads and bridges destroyed – has been all but abandoned by its residents.
While Russia’s armed forces throw everything they can at the village, we’ve been granted exclusive access to commanders and troops.
An indication of how close the enemy is came within seconds of our arrival when we were called into a building for cover amid fears Russian drones were circling in preparation for an attack.
Commander Kostiantyn Zhydkov, 45, explained how his forces controlled and defended the area.
He told The Sun: “The Russian army considers this area crucial and very strategic.
“When they initially invaded, it gave them a stepping stone to fire more directly at Kharkiv and launch ground offensives.
“They took over and raged. They killed local people, raped them and took local people back to Russia. A lot of people are missing.
“The recapture was a huge priority for us. It gave them a great advantage.
“We regrouped and launched an attack. There was very fierce fighting and many Russians died.”
Commander Zhydkov leads Battalion 228, which consists of experienced troops and special forces.
They counterattacked and recaptured the village on May 10 after days of fighting.
He said many of his troops were fighting when the Russians invaded in 2014, so they are experienced.
He continued: “Russia threw a lot at this place. It was intense – shelling, shelling, artillery combat, machine guns and lasted a while. Many locals fled or hid in basements while the attack continued.
“As a result of the attacks, the village is now deserted.”
A soldier described the village square as “no man’s land” as the Russians continue to plunder the area day and night.
Commander Zhydkov added: “They are shelling us every hour.
They have drones marking locations and the fire keeps coming. We fight back hard.
“This is a very important area. We have it under Ukrainian control and we want it to stay that way.”
A Major named Alex, 43 years old, told us: “They are always and everywhere firing.
I am very proud to defend my country here – we all are. We know how important that is.”
https://www.the-sun.com/news/5486833/ukrainian-troops-battle-key-village/ Ukrainian troops are valiantly fighting to hold a key village 15 miles from the Russian border