The fighting around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has been going on so long that even recently delivered Western weapons like the German Pzh2000 howitzer are showing wear and tear.
The city fell to Russian forces in May after an eight-month struggle that saw heavy casualties on both sides, especially among Moscow’s Wagner mercenary force leading the assault.
But the fight did not end there.
With Bakhmut itself in Russian hands, Ukrainian units quickly changed tack, pressing forward on the northern and southern approaches to the town.
While elsewhere in Ukraine newly trained brigades equipped with NATO-supplied tanks prepared a broader counteroffensive, outside Bakhmut older, tired but battle-hardened units fought on.
Assault infantry brigades are now making slow but steady progress in the woods and fields around the city, backed by heavy artillery targeting Russian trenches and positions.
The 43rd Artillery Brigade is armed with the German-built Panzerhaubitze 2000, a self-propelled howitzer that looks like an outsized tank with a huge 155 mm gun.
Donated to Ukraine last year by Kyiv’s western European allies, it has proved to fire more accurately at longer ranges than the country’s previous Soviet-designed guns.
But fewer than 30 Pzh2000s have been delivered so far, and Ukraine’s gunners have kept up a far higher rate of fire than the German engineers had bargained for.
Units like the gunnery team led by a young officer using the call sign “Pravda” have already set one howitzer back for servicing, and mechanics have to work hard to keep its replacement running.
The turret of the gun is pock-marked with shrapnel from a Russian shell that exploded among tree branches overhead, and the complex automatic loading system needs constant maintenance.