HAVING recently returned from almost a month of covering the war in Ukraine up close, I’ve tried to step back this past week and take a broader view of where this conflict might be heading.

It was my second visit to the country since the Russian invasion in February and so much has happened in the intervening period that the situation on the ground is scarcely recognisable compared to those early days when Russian tanks and troops were at the gates of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Today though the times are no less dark for many Ukrainians who like much of the world increasingly recognise the true nature of what President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is capable of.

Just this past week the world was presented with evidence of yet more atrocities which have become the military modus operandi of Putin’s “army”.

The grim discovery of hundreds of bodies, some with their hands tied behind their backs, buried in territory recaptured from Russian forces, are echoes again of the massacres elsewhere in places like Bucha that I visited these past weeks.

What happened in both Bucha and now Izyum in Ukraine’s northeast point again to war crimes.

That the head of the pro-Russian administration which abandoned the area last week accused Ukrainians of staging the atrocities at Izyum is yet more evidence too of the delusional mindset which prevails among those who do the Kremlin’s bidding.

And speaking of that mindset what does it say about Putin’s Russia that video evidence also surfaced last week of what appears to be one of his allies Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch and reputed financier of the Wagner mercenaries group, attempting to recruit convicts to fight in Ukraine?

Since July it seems, Wagner has been offering prisoners sentence reductions or cash incentives to sign up to fight. In the video the recruiter who appears to be Prigozhin said that he was looking for “stormtroopers” and warned the prisoners about the dangers of indulging in alcohol and drugs on the front lines, and of what he called “marauding”.

All wars are ugly, but this is as ugly as it gets and stands as another reminder to any who doubt the thuggish, fascist threat posed by Putin’s Russia in the guise of defending itself against “encroachment” or engaging in a so-called “denazification” of Ukraine.

As for where this war is heading, I for one don’t for a minute believe Putin’s latest claim that Russia will do everything it can to bring its war on Ukraine to an end “as soon as possible”.

Putin may be increasingly cornered and facing limited options in response to Ukraine’s remarkable counteroffensive but his capacity to inflict more suffering and destruction remains as much a threat as ever.

In one breath he talks of ending the war, in the next the bullying returns with the claim that “we so far have responded with restraint.”

Over the past month I’ve seen what that “restraint” really means and those countless Ukrainians who have been on the receiving end of it.

Make no mistake Putin will continue to bully and we in turn must do all we can to ensure that Ukraine has the capacity to resist him.