Despite a pledge from new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to broker a ceasefire, there is no end in sight to the military offensive in the east of the country, where self-defense forces have organized improvised training camps.
The scene from the village of Semyonovka, located in the suburbs of the federalist city of Slavyansk, draws parallels to areas devastated in WWII.
The town has been almost completely razed to the ground by intense artillery fire and multiple rocket launchers used by Ukrainian army troops storming the rebellious city.
There is barely a building left that has not been damaged. Though the streets look deserted, self-defense forces are ready to repel Ukrainian troops.
Self-defense troops in the regional capital of Lugansk are vowing to stand firm against the National Guard and the army, preparing fresh volunteers at secret training camps.
RT's Paula Slier traveled to one heavily camouflaged training base hidden deep in the woods. At the site, new self-defense fighters are taught how to shoot and hit targets with an automatic weapon and how to effectively use a knife in close combat.
The militia consists of people of just about every background – former students, businessmen, taxi drivers, ex-military, and police officers. Those who already have knowledge of weapons are teaching the less experienced volunteers how to survive and succeed in combat.
“This is training for close combat but I hope it won't come to that. The Ukrainian army is not planning on close combat fighting, they hit from the air, bombing with heavy artillery like in Slavyansk and Donetsk,” knife trainer Rika told RT.
The volunteers do not address each other by name. Rather, they hide their identities for security reasons and identify each other by personal call signs. Many still have families inside Ukraine and worry about their safety.
Most of the volunteers are citizens of Lugansk, aged between 20 and 55.
One of the levy commanders, dubbed 'Batman,' used to be an officer with the Ukrainian elite police before switching sides.
Just one month ago, he commanded a team of just twelve men. Today, they number more than 100 – and are growing every day.
“People are very scared. The city is preparing for war. We are evacuating women and children from the city,” Batman said. The sound of sirens is commonplace now, warning citizens of new air strikes.
So far, the militia has managed to keep the Ukrainian army and the National Guard out of the city. However, they are feeling the pressure of the Ukrainian military.
Batman said he has spread his men out across the city, in order to have the best chance at repelling the military troops.
“The attacks are happening everywhere. Most of the attacks happen from the other side we are defending,” Batman said. “We didn't come here with weapons. They are trying to kill us, to conquer us, they try to make us their slaves but we won't allow this.”
“It is not becoming a war. It is already a war,” he added.
“The deaths of our men make our souls stronger. We are fighting for our land and beliefs and our families, unlike the Ukrainian army that fights for money. This is the difference between us and the reason why we will win,” Batman said.
The self-defense leaders are certain they have enough men to take on the Ukrainian troops. However, no one knows how many volunteers need to die before the Kiev government declares that enough is enough.
On Tuesday, the local militia went on a counter-offensive against an army checkpoint preventing communications between the opposition stronghold cities of Kramatorsk and Slavyansk.
They used two armored obstacle removal vehicles to get close to the checkpoint and began fighting with National Guard troops deployed there, RIA Novosti reported.
The militia reportedly failed to destroy the checkpoint, but managed to eliminate two machine-gun posts and captured a howitzer, which it brought back to Slavyansk.
The Slavyansk self-defense forces also eliminated a volley fire Grad missile system used by the Ukrainian army to shell the city, together with unguided missile supplies, the press secretary of the People’s Mayor of Slavyansk, Stella Khorosheva, told Itar-Tass.
The Ukrainian army continues heavy bombardment of the city of Slavyansk, using heavy mortars and tanks. The city's water and electricity supply has been eliminated.
New Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered law enforcement on Tuesday to organize humanitarian corridors for civilians of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, but gave no further details.