A volley of gunfire breaks the silence of a foggy day on the frontline in Ukraine, but no one really pays attention.
More than the shots, it’s the possibility that President Volodymyr Zelensky will be making concessions to Russia that has soldiers here worried.
“Pulling us out would be like pissing on the graves of our boys,” says Mykola, a 41-year-old private in the trenches near the city of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine.
“They gave up their lives so we could be here.”
Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be meeting in Paris on Monday for their first face-to-face talks since the Ukrainian comedian-turned-president took office in May.
The meeting, mediated by the French and German leaders, aims to revive efforts to resolve Kiev’s five-year conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
On duty in his trench, surrounded by an apocalyptic landscape of workshops and homes torn apart by bullet and mortar fire, Mykola leaves no doubt about his opinion on the talks.
“This won’t bring anything good,” says Mykola, a thin and bearded five-year veteran of the conflict who goes by the nom de guerre “Hacker”.
He says Ukraine “is in a weak position” going into the talks, and many here agree with him.
– ‘Anxious’ about talks –
Many in Ukraine have warned Zelensky against giving ground in the talks, which Zelensky says will focus on agreeing a ceasefire and a prisoner exchange.
After the withdrawal of some frontline forces in recent weeks, opponents fear Zelensky will be convinced to accept a general pullback along the more than 400-kilometre (250-mile) frontline.
Avdiivka is only six kilometres (four miles) north of Donetsk — the capital of one of two breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine — and was the scene of fierce fighting in 2017.
Serving in an industrial zone on its outskirts, 24-year-old sergeant Faina says she feels “anxious” about Monday’s talks.
“Zelensky is a political novice, he could be easily influenced,” she says, her long black braids and perfect manicure in stark contrast to her fatigues.
“I’m afraid that we could lose territory retaken since the start of the war.”
Mykola says he has no trust in France and Germany to look out for Ukraine.
“They will put pressure on Zelensky,” because Russia is more important to their economies, he says. “Europe has always cared only about its well-being.”
In Avdiivka itself — a town of about 20,000 that has been heavily damaged by the war — teacher Maryna Marchenko disagrees with the soldiers.
Marchenko, 75, is well-known in Ukraine after Australian mural artist Guido van Helten painted her face on a nine-storey apartment building in Avdiivka.
– ‘Like a bad dream’ –
“Their brothers gave their lives, and what? They want to give more lives?” says the teacher of Ukrainian, whose husband was wounded during bombing and whose apartment was destroyed by mortar fire.
“I want this to end like a bad dream… Everyone is so exhausted here,” Marchenko says, calling for “mutual concessions” and convinced that Zelensky has “enough brains” not to make the wrong decisions.
Her principal Lyudmyla Silina, whose school corridors are covered with posters and patriotic drawings made by the students, is less ready for compromise.
“We need peace to be restored on our terms,” she says, with the withdrawal of Russian forces that Kiev and the West say are supporting the separatists, and Ukraine regaining full control of its borders.
Others are simply disillusioned, like Oleksiy Bobyr, a top manager at the coke factory that is the area’s main employer.
“I hear shots every night,” Bobyr says. “Who can guarantee that no one will shell my building or my factory?”
Here are 7 embarrassing arguments Republicans have tried to use to defend Trump
With the Senate impeachment trial in full swing, Republicans have launched an aggressive if scattershot campaign to defend President Donald Trump and discredit the Democrats’ case.
It’s not going well. Multiple recent polls have found that a majority of the country thinks Trump should be removed from office and many more think he has done something seriously wrong, even if they think he should remain in the White House until the next election.
While the Democrats have unleashed a torrent of facts and compelling arguments for the charges that Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress, Republican replies have been all over the map. Many of their arguments are completely beside the point of the case, and the sheer weakness of their defenses is an embarrassment to the party.
Trump’s legal team is going to be ‘scrambling’ to respond to the Democrats’ case: Law professor
ABC News contributor and law professor Kate Shaw, who served in the Obama White House, said Thursday that President Donald Trump’s lawyers are going to be “scrambling” to respond to the impeachment case Democrats are putting forward in the Senate.
“I think they’re trying to figure out how to respond to what was a pretty powerful presentation today, in particular by Chairman [Jerry] Nadler, on the Constitution and the law,” she said of the Trump legal team. “He cites founding documents; the previous impeachments, both presidential and judicial impeachments, scholarly consensus, consensus by a lot of players, right? All the constitutional law professors who testified in the House, and then, of course, many members of the president’s team, all seem to say abuse of power is under some circumstances enough to warrant impeachment and removal.”
Genocide expert breaks down how all of the ‘warning signs’ are present in Trump’s America
Defense research scientist and genocide expert Brynn Tannehill laid out a terrifying warning on Thursday about President Donald Trump's administration.
As the United States Senate conducted an impeachment trial for the commander-in-chief, Tannehill posted an extended Twitter thread examining the situation in America from her perspective as a researcher studying the conditions that lead to genocide.
Here is what she wrote:
I study genocide. It's been a theme in my academic endeavours for nearly 30 years. More accurately, I study the conditions in the lead up to genocide, be they cultural, social, political, economic, etc... 1/n