Svetlana Karpenko had just moved her mother Nina to the television room when a Grad rocket slammed down outside her window, raking the elderly woman's bedroom with fire and shrapnel.

"Two steps closer and it would have got us," said Karpenko's husband, Oleg Gostrenko, as the three of them cleaned up debris and artillery boomed in the distance.

Along with a church and a pre-school, their two-storey block of flats was one of more than 100 buildings damaged as at least 40 rockets rained down on the town of Novoluhanske, just kilometres from Russia-backed separatist territory in eastern Ukraine, last week.

With no money to replace their windows, Gostrenko and Karpenko were covering the yawning holes with plastic sheets.


By a stroke of luck, many residents of Novoluhanske were at a concert when the rockets landed, and only eight were injured in the attack.

But more than 10,300 people have been killed since war broke out between the Ukrainian government and separatists heavily backed by Russia in 2014.

Last week, it surpassed the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia as the longest violent conflict in Europe since World War II.

And despite an armistice and peace process agreed in Minsk in 2015, this war of attrition has been heating up.

A special monitoring mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) registered no fewer than 1000 ceasefire violations a day in December.

At least seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the past week.

"It doesn't look like this war will end, because no one wants it to end, not (President Petro) Poroshenko," Karpenko said. "Our guys shoot, they respond. They're shooting on both sides."

Ukraine and the self-proclaimed breakaway states of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics started a "New Year ceasefire" on December 23 and reiterated their commitment to the steps of the Minsk peace process.


Negotiators struggled to finalise a long-delayed prisoner exchange now set for tomorrow.

A Ukrainian soldier was killed within hours of the ceasefire starting, and both sides accused each another of breaking the truce. Alexander Hug, the deputy head of the OSCE mission, has told the Daily Telegraph that both sides "blatantly disregard" the Minsk agreements.

During three days on the front line, the Daily Telegraph heard heavy artillery fire in off-limits areas and spoke with Ukrainian soldiers who argued that they were unable to follow the ceasefire.

"This is a wound that has been stitched up, but it's festering inside," said a female soldier on a windswept hill near Svitlodarsk, who would give her name only as Lena. "A fight is needed, so let's fight."

Despite speculation that Donald Trump's arrival in the White House could help Russia and the US work towards a settlement, antagonism between Moscow and Washington over the conflict has only mounted.

Russian officers quit a joint ceasefire control centre with Ukraine last week after Kiev said it would begin taking foreigners' fingerprints at the border. Kurt Volker, the US special envoy for the Ukraine conflict, suggested their departure was the preface to the "massive escalation" in violence later that week.

Later, it emerged that the Trump Administration had approved the export of US$41.5 million worth of.50 calibre Barrett M107A1 sniper rifles to Ukraine, a move the Russian Foreign Ministry said would encourage "major bloodshed".

The Minsk agreements have stalled not only militarily but also politically.

Key provisions of the peace deal, including local elections, decentralisation of power to Ukrainian regions, and the restoration of Kiev's control of the border with Russia are unimaginable in the current climate.

Hug said the entrenched instability of the ceasefire was due to the opposing forces edging ever closer to the contact line established in Minsk. In one recent creeping advance, Ukrainian troops took control of several "grey zone" villages near Novoluhanske in November.

A Ukrainian commander in the area who would give only his nom de guerre, "Greek," told the Daily Telegraph that in order to protect their soldiers officers were always looking to "get a better position, a more strategic one".

But with the sides so near to each other, any small error can start a firefight.

At a forward post 30m from enemy positions outside Avdiivka, 18-year-old paratrooper Artyom Tymoshenko said Ukrainian forces had "liberated" the separatists' first line of defence in the "Promka", a much-fought-over industrial estate, in November. The two sides are so close they often yell insults at one another.

The other major problem is the 4000 heavy weapons the OSCE has seen in the zone from which they are theoretically banned by the Minsk agreements. Both sides should have withdrawn their tanks, smaller artillery pieces and mortars from anywhere within 15km of the contact line more than two years ago and heavy artillery should have been moved back even further.

But to this day, most casualties die from shrapnel wounds and the soldiers spend much of their time in fortifications designed to protect them from shelling.

Vasil Labay, a spokesman for Ukraine's "anti-terrorist operation" against the separatists, admitted government forces were "improving our positions," but insisted they were following the ceasefire and holding heavy weapons back.

"They shell themselves, and then supposedly it was the Ukrainian side that fired," he said.

The Daily Telegraph repeatedly heard artillery and mortars operating within 15km of the line, however.

Last Monday, incoming and outgoing fire echoed across a reservoir during an artillery duel near government-controlled Svitlodarsk and Novoluhanske. Both sides insist they have the right to return fire, even though the OSCE has said this is not a permitted by the agreement.

"When the lives of soldiers are at risk, you can open fire without orders," explained Zurab Chikhelidze, the leader of a group of Georgian volunteers who fight on Kiev's side in eastern Ukraine to avenge their disastrous 2008 war with Russia.

Although Kiev still hasn't received the Javelin anti-tank missiles it wants from Washington, the sale of sniper rifles and machine guns could help Ukrainian forces address their lack of equipment. The commander of the hilltop position near Svitlodarsk said his troops constantly come under fire but had no sniper rifles or high-calibre machine guns with which to respond.

But more lethal weapons will likely mean more fighting.

In Novoluhanske, Svetlana Karpenko had been planning a New Year's celebration, but "now there won't be any holiday" to save money for new windows, she said, and the best present would be an end to the violence.

"We don't need riches from the sky, just peace," she said. "It's been four years of war, but we have nowhere else to go."