In a basement in eastern Ukraine, young men sit at a long table strewn with laptops, their eyes glued to a television screen an arm’s length away.
They watch black figures on a bleak winter hilltop, which appear to panic, then run across the frame. It’s a live video feed from a small Ukrainian drone several miles away — a spotter for artillery teams trying to kill Russian soldiers in their trenches.
Plumes of smoke rise from the near misses of Ukrainian salvos.
All along the eastern frontlines, in basement command centers hidden behind unmarked metal doors, bookish Ukrainian soldiers direct artillery fire in a desperate attempt to hold off a Russian advance.
This is a real-life testing ground for shoestring, innovative 21st century warfare. The men use cheap, commercially available drones and consumer chat programs to identify and communicate targeting for weaponry that in many cases is multiple decades old.
Their fiercest fight is taking place for the city of Bakhmut, besieged for months by Russian forces.