Surrender or die: the ultimatum facing loyalists in E.Ukraine
Sitting beside a trench, the smoke of nearby combat visible, "Batya" looks towards the besieged town of Ilovaysk and considers the options of the pro-Kiev fighters there battling for survival.
Their only option, according to this battle-hardened pro-Russian rebel, is to surrender and accept that this town too in eastern Ukraine, can no longer be protected by the Ukrainian army.
"Anyone who surrenders and waves the white flag, will not be shot," explained his comrade, a 57-year-old miner who goes by the name "Klasik", in Troitsko-Khartsisk near the fighting. Officers' orders, he added, although he says they will become prisoners.
Fighters loyal to Ukraine have been battling against the rebels here for over a week.
Smoke can be seen rising from the rebel side, a sign of shelling from loyalists holed up in the town.
But the tide seems to have turned: after days of fighting, the rebels returning from the front now raise their fists in victory. They feel they are getting closer.
At the end of the road, their positions protected by sandbags, rebel snipers train their guns on Ilovaysk, a former transport hub usually just a one-hour drive east of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk.
The rebels' confidence seems to have been matched by a growing sense of despair from those trapped inside.
On Thursday, in the capital Kiev, protesters gathered outside the Ministry of Defence to beg for more help, amid claims that the army is beginning to abandon parts of the east.
While the army says that back-ups are already in the region, the leader of the pro-Kiev volunteer "Donbass battalion" claimed Thursday that troops and fighters faced being "abandoned".
"I am addressing Ukrainians to help save our brothers," Semen Semenchenko, who fought in the area before being injured by shrapnel earlier this month, said on Facebook.
"If they were abandoned by the high-ranking generals, I believe they will not be abandoned by the people of Ukraine," he wrote.
Ukrainian war photographer Maxim Dondyuk, who is embedded with the Donbass battalion, said the situation was increasingly desperate. "They have still not received any help. They are being shot at with Grads and mortars."
- 'Kill the mercenaries' -
Kiev sees the hand of Russia behind the recent turnaround of fortunes in the east, accusing Moscow of a "direct invasion", although Russia insists none of its soldiers are on Ukrainian soil.
In Troitsko-Khartsisk there was no sign of Russian fighters among this particular ragged but excitable group of rebels.
But while the fighters battling on opposing sides here may all be Ukrainian, there were few signs that this is anything other than a fight to the end.
"We should kill the mercenaries, anyone wearing a black uniform," said "Klasik", when asked what he would like to do to his opponents. He calls the Donbass volunteers "nazis" and "fascists".
As "Batya" showed off unexploded rockets that had landed by the houses nearby, he claimed that the loyalists "kill civilians".
"It is our country, our land, and they have come to us," said another rebel fighter, "Komar". "The soldiers want to live. Little by little they will understand that they have to surrender."
"These are young men, for the most part, their mothers don't even know they are here," he added.
"Batya" said he believes that the final fall of Ilovaysk is not far off. "It's a question of a few days... The circle is almost closed."
Komar agreed. "The Ukrainians are at the end. We will finish the job," he said, confidently. Asked how long he thought it would take, he said one week. "Maximum."
© 2014 AFP