IMAGINE you are holed up in an isolated trench. Hungry, thirsty and cold to the bone.

Now imagine gunfire. Sporadic shots from overhead drones and distant snipers.

You are on the front line of a war that has raged since February 2014.

This is the daily reality for Newport-born Michael Jenkins, who voluntarily enlisted in the Ukrainian army to fight in a conflict just under 2,000 miles from home.

The Ukrainian military has been locked in a war with Russian-backed separatists since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

In November 2016, the International Criminal Court officially ruled that the war is an “armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation”.

To date, more than 13,000 people have been killed.

“You are stuck in foxhole, just waiting for something – there is a lot of paranoia and anxiety,” Mr Jenkins, who serves in the Ukrainian marines, explains over the phone.

“You just don’t know when your number could be up.”

At home, his four-year-old daughter Esther Jenkins thinks her father is “fighting monsters for the Queen”.

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He admits it has been hard leaving his four-year-old daughter.

Leaving his daughter to fight in a war Britain plays no active part in may seem perplexing – and it wasn’t a decision he took lightly.

“I don’t know why, but I felt an urge," he said. "I saw some videos of civilians dying that I just couldn’t believe.”

According to the United Nations, 3,344 civilians have died as a result of the Ukrainian crisis.

“It was just something I felt, I just kept thinking about it," said Mr Jenkins.

“For me, it wasn’t anything political. I just saw those videos and it was heart-breaking.

“I thought about it for about a year.

“It was not something I did randomly.

“I miss my family very much and I’m grateful to them for their support.”

He joined the British Army in 1999 and after leaving in 2005, he re-enlisted in the territorial army in 2017.

Once he decided to volunteer, he set out on a 1,637-mile drive to Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine.

“I travelled for six days," he said. "I went through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and then into Ukraine.

“I probably slept twice.”

But when he was at the Ukrainian border, officials detained him for several hours.

“Of course, I was driving into a country at war with a helmet, armour, military equipment.

“They pulled me over, looked at the back and said, ‘Get out’.

“They spent four hours ripping my car to pieces because they thought I was a Russian spy or weapons smuggler.

“I spent four hours in custody having question after question.”

After some checks, however, they realised this suspected weapons-dealer-cum-spy was simply there to help.

They needed it. Following training, he was sent out to the front line in Eastern Ukraine, near Donbass.

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Houses have been left decimated by the war

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“The Ukrainian army is about 500,000 strong but they are totally stretched to the limit,” he says.

“The front line is about 220km long, which is big.

“It is flat, lots of farmland and even when the fighting is going on, farmers are just wandering about.

“If you can imagine trenches just like World War One, we are just digging and vying for position.”

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The front line is full of WW1-like trenches

He admits he has moments of self-doubt.

“Sometimes I think, what am I doing here?

“I can be lying in bed and wake up with five mice on me.

“In winter it is hard because it goes down below freezing and the wind is cutting.”

And those doubts were magnified when he found out the results of an innocuous x-ray.

He had gone to hospital complaining of a cough – and given the high rates of tuberculosis in Ukraine, was immediately sent for a scan.

“They said, ‘We have good news, it is not tuberculosis, but it is cancer’.

“I was like, how is that good news?”

He has a stage one tumour on chest but will soon have an operation to remove it.

“My family have said I need to come home.

“But for me, what sort of man would my daughter think I am if I came home?

“I know she is proud of me regardless, but I came here to do a job.

“If she needs to look up to somebody, she needs to look up to somebody who does things no matter what.”

He’s on medical leave but his company is going back on the front line soon and he wants to join them.

And despite there being an official ceasefire in place, danger lurks.

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He is due to go back onto the front line soon

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He says he is not coming home until the 'job is done'

“The Russians are re-advancing. They have taken all the positions that were Ukrainian territory.

“We are under a lot of pressure, it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

“The violations are going on everyday.

“We are under strict orders from the Ukrainian military not to return fire.”

A fresh ceasefire was agreed in December, but Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “The ceasefire has been declared 20 times over the past five or six years and 20 times it has been violated,” the Financial Times reported.

In February this year, Halit Çevik, Chief Monitor of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission, told the United Nations security council that the daily average for ceasefire violations stands at 520.

While Ukraine is a “very split, divided country,” it is still a “really kind nation of people,” Mr Jenkins said.

“Everyone is so willing to help, as soon as they know you are British, they do anything to help you.”

In fact, when he first arrived in Kyiv, two Ukrainians put him up for three weeks and didn’t ask for anything in return.

“They were ringing up their families, asking if they could do anything for me. It was such a nice thing to do because they didn’t have to do anything.

“It was overwhelming.”

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As for Ukrainians, life tries to go on as normal, he says.

“The main cities are peaceful, quiet.

“The country is absolutely stunning, when you are in the west, you would never believe what is going on in the east.”

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His company out on a training mission

He is the first ever Welshman to serve in the Ukrainian military, something which made him feel “really proud”.

It’s a little-known fact that Donbass region – where the bulk of the fighting is taking place – spawned from a city founded by a Welshman.

In 1870, businessman John Hughes and around 100 workers sailed in eight ships to Russia, building iron works and collieries in the newly-established town of Hughesovka.

It is now known as Donetsk, a city of one million people.

“When I found out this story, it was crazy,” Mr Jenkins said.

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“I don’t know, am I Welsh soldier coming to liberate a Welsh town?” he says with a chuckle.

“I have two-and-half years to go on my contract.

“I came here to do a job, once the job is done, I will come home.”