By Max Hunder
DONETSK REGION (Reuters) - In Ukraine's war-ravaged Donetsk region, soldiers dug in near the front line described how Russian artillery had intensified significantly in recent weeks, but said it remains below peaks seen a year ago as both sides struggle to advance.
With the sound of outgoing and incoming artillery crashing in the distance around him, one of three artillerymen operating a Hiatsynt howitzer, 22-year-old Vitaliy, said he had felt the increase after coming back from leave last month.
"Probably about a month ago, that's when you started feeling it everywhere," Vitaliy said.
Reuters was asked not to reveal their exact location or name their brigade due to the recent outbreak of intense fighting on their part of the frontline.
All three crew members operating the howitzer, captured from Russia last year and still showing a "Made in Russia" tag on its tyres, said they had noticed the increase.
However, the crew of the Hiatsynt, as well as other Ukrainian soldiers on different parts of the front, told Reuters that the longer-term trend has been a significant decrease in Russian artillery shelling from a year ago.
The crew's commander, a straight-talking, gold-toothed 45-year-old named Oleksandr, said they could only guess where Russia had sourced the additional shells.
"I don't know where these shells are coming from, but they are flying in," he said, gesturing in the direction of several recent craters near his position.
The intelligence service of South Korea said on Wednesday that its neighbour North Korea has supplied over a million shells to Russia since August.
Moscow and Pyongyang have denied that arms are being transferred from the North for use in Russia's war against Ukraine.
"The fact that, if true, they received quite a few shells from (North) Korea, we definitely feel it," said Vitaliy.
Despite the increase, there has been very little movement in the front lines.
"The war became more positional than before, everybody stands on their positions, there's no movement," said Volodymyr, 43. "Neither we advance anywhere, nor do they."
(Reporting by Max Hunder; Editing by Conor Humphries)