The 300 metre (980 feet) high hill has changed hands between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army several times as each has clawed back territory from the other before being taken by the rebels late last month. 

"History repeats itself," said Oleksandr, a 32-year-old Ukrainian separatist who came to pay respects at the site with friends, some in camouflage and some in civilian clothing, though many still carrying their AK-47s. 

Now the imposing 30-metre obelisk at the top of the hill, along with the cast iron Soviet soldier raising his rifle triumphantly over his head, has been reduced to a stump.

Faces of the metal Soviet soldiers on pillars around it are now missing eyes and show damage on their chests and arms, while nearby fields are still littered with debris and trees torn down by the vicious fighting in July and August. 

The memorial, built in the 1960s, depicts episodes from a series of long and bloody battles for the height in August 1943, in which Russian troops beat off soldiers from Nazi Germany. 

For pro-Russian rebels, the historic parallels at the site build on the widespread notion that their insurgency is directed against "fascist" invaders from Kiev.
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"We'll complete it with a wing for our heroes from this summer. It's the same fight. They have died in the same place as their grandfathers, for the same cause."