Lieutenant-Colonel YuriyTrubachiov slid through thick snow to show me his camera tower and anti-tank fence, as well as the mounds made of shovelled dirt and razor wire fencing that separate Russia from Ukraine.

He told me that “We are the first line of defense for our country.” “We are preparing for any scenario to protect our borders.

This might seem a daunting task with huge numbers of Russian troops massing beyond the fields and forests in the distance and amid rapidly escalating talk of invasion – but the veteran border officer said his men are ready to repel Vladimir Putin’s forces.

“We have been preparing for this moment for 8 years. It would come, we knew that it would. We are prepared for any eventuality.

The Kremlin supported separatists from the east of Ukraine in 2014 and an attempt to seize Kharkiv was made. However, the troops were defeated. The country’s ex-capital remained loyal to the Kremlin unlike two other large cities in Russia’s eastern region.

Now Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that Russia might target Kharkiv again – so the border guards standing with Lt-Col Trubachiov on this frozen frontline 25 miles from the city have the forbidding job of stopping Putin.

Journalist Ian Birrell (pictured) standing by the Russian border on January 25

Ian Birrell, a journalist standing at the Russian border (pictured), January 25, 2009.

There are an estimated 127,000 Russian soldiers – armed with the latest military technology and a terrifying arsenal of weapons including drones, missiles and tanks – poised to strike Ukraine.

We are only protected by a 6-foot-deep moat and 4ft wide mounds of earth. The razor-topped wire fencing supports us as we slink along the snowcovered fields. There are also surveillance towers, trenches, and reinforced concrete bunkers.

Walking along the fortifications alongside Ukrainian border guards (whose prior duties had been to handle smugglers or illicit crossings), my question was whether such a large invasion force could actually be prevented by these defences. Lt-Col Trubachiov said cameras, satellites and ten-mile sightlines offered good warning if Russian troops advanced – and that his task was to delay any invasion until Ukrainian reinforcements arrived.

The officer stated that if Russia is at large, they will try to stop them long enough to allow the army to arrive. 

Built along Kharkiv’s border of Russia and Ukraine for 175 miles, the fortifications are meant to prevent mechanised vehicles from crossing. They will require specialised equipment to cross. According to Lt.-Col Trubachiov, “This would take them a while.”

Ukrainians have an anti-tank weapon-wielding reservist unit that they can summon at any time. 

Although some analysts believe that Russia prefers to fight when it is possible for their troops and tanks to be moved quickly across icy ground over which they are able, Lieutenant-Col Trubachiov thinks the snow-covered landscape gives him a better view of all movements on the terrain.

Yet as I looked across the border into Russia – my face and fingers pained by the sub-zero cold and my boots sodden after stomping though the snow – this must be one of the least enviable postings on the planet. 

This lieutenant colonel has served 25 years as a soldier in the State Border Guard of Ukraine. He was asked if it scared him. He said, firmly, “We are not afraid,” although the current situation was alarming. “We will do whatever is necessary. This is our job.

Spoken as a soldier.

Meanwhile, the closest substantial build-up of Russian military is reported to be at least 125 miles away – giving his men some warning of any significant Kremlin invasion and advance on Kharkiv.

A Russian paratrooper attending a military exercising at the Pesochnoe training ground in the Yaroslavl region, Russia

Russian paratrooper at a military exercise in Yaroslavl, Russia’s Pesochnoe Training Ground

Combat helicopter drills are carried out in the Leningrad region which lies west of Russia

Helicopter combat drills take place in Leningrad which is west of Russia.

The Baltic Sea's battleship is spotted leaving towards the Atlantic Ocean

A battleship from the Baltic Sea is seen leaving for the Atlantic Ocean.

Russian forces are pictured launching rockets during their artillery drills in the Kemerovo region

Russian forces were pictured firing rockets during artillery drills held in Kemerovo.

Today, Ukraine security forces said that they had arrested two Russian-backed terrorists plotting to attack the region. 

Many fear Putin will use such ‘provocations’ as an excuse for a military response – a stunt he used in 2014 to seize Crimea and foster the bloody insurgencies in Donetsk and Luhansk. 

Sergiy, a middle-aged man, bought cigarettes in a small shop that sold bread, cakes and sausages. He was located 25 miles from the frontline.

He said that friends from a nearby village, who were picking mushrooms, had been stopped by Russian soldiers. He said that they believed they were trying escape. “So, we know that their troops are here.

He was worried. He replied, “Why should we be worried?” He replied. He replied, “The Russians would arrive in ten minutes because we are so near the border.” We’re not moving anywhere. This is where we are. We have no place to go.

Natasha Bilyk 46, the shopkeeper stated that many people don’t anticipate war with Russia. However, the store is stocked with cereals and sugar since residents have been reported to be stockpiling goods.

She was proud to fly the Ukrainian national flag and the yellow one from her window in the 2014 conflict, when many troops were stationed in tents on the streets.

For she estimates half of Veseloe’s 1,500 residents are pro-Russian – including the man living above her shop where we talked with our hands wrapped around cups of hot coffee. 

‘If – God forbid – the tanks roll in, I worry about half the people here will go with flowers to greet them,’ said Bilyk. 

“I believe we’d be executed, because my husband served seven years in the military and I’m pro-Ukrainian.” 

They are poor villages with declining population and low quality jobs. As inflation rises and energy prices skyrocket, they are experiencing rising expenses. Putin’s embargo has also caused a fall in currency value.

A Russian soldier attends a military exercising at a training ground in Moscow

Russian soldiers attend a military exercise at a Moscow training ground

Russian troops take part in a drill in the Samara region amid rising tensions with Ukraine

Russian soldiers take part in drills in Samara, amid growing tensions between Ukraine and Russia

Tanks are positioned in a military district which borders the Ukraine amid escalating tensions between the two nations

In the midst of increasing tension between the two countries, tanks are placed in an area that borders Ukraine. 

A helicopter flies over Leningrad in the west of Russia during training exercises

During training exercises, a helicopter flew over Leningrad (West Russia) 

This is why it’s not surprising that such areas are susceptible to Kremlin propaganda promising a better future. 

Bilyk was not only patriotic but also critical about the inability of her leaders to provide assistance for poorer residents. Ironically, the name Veseloe translates as ‘Joyful’ – yet the struggle of such towns was clear as one elderly woman, already obviously worse for wear, entered the shop to fill a plastic container with hard liquor.

Oleksiy Zimoglyg is the elected leader for the commune. 

But he added that ‘our worst enemy is the snow’ – words that struck a chord with me as temperatures hit -8C (18F) in Kharkiv last night. 

Oksana (27), a shop worker from the village, said that she cannot bear to see the TV news because of the danger of war.

She stated that war was terrible. It was madness to see all that military hardware and armored vehicles rolling down the streets of 2014! “I hope that it doesn’t come back.”

These are chilling times here – in more ways than one. It is unknown if Putin will send his war forces to the streets. However, Lt.Col Yuriy Trubachiov promises his troops will stop any attempt to unleash the Russian military machinery.