Ukraine despatched tanks into the rolling terrain of the Donbas basin on Monday, putting its biggest guns back on the scene of the biggest armoured clash in history.
It was in this bleak but fertile landscape along what is now Ukraine's border with Russia that the Red Army routed Nazi Panzers to turn the course of the Second World War.
But as Ukraine's dilapidated tank units moved to muddy berms in the fields south of Donetsk city as part of face-saving mobilisation, the guns of T-64 and T-72 models were this time pointed towards Russia.
In responding to a reported Russian military build-up, however, Ukraine's military immediately ran into groups of activists who tried to obstruct their movements.
In the village of Elenvola on the edge of the great plain, there was anger at the manoeuvres from their own countrymen.
"Russians and Ukrainians don't want to fight each other," said Ivan Inozemev, a prison warder.
"We would be happy to be part of Russia if that's what happens."
The result of Crimea's independence referendum came as no surprise but confirmation of the result has provided a spur to Ukraine's defenders in the eastern regions nearest Russia to demonstrate their resolve.
Officials in Donetsk face a battle on two fronts.
Moscow warns it is ready to respond to pleas for intervention and there is a growing local protest movement demanding a Crimean-style referendum.
The billionaire governor of the region meanwhile has announced scarce local resources would be allotted to fund construction of a system of trenches and other defences to show Russia that an incursion would be resisted.
"This is going to cost us as much as the price of 15 new helicopters," said Sergei Taruta, a metals magnate parachuted into the leadership of the Russian-speaking province in the aftermath of Ukraine revolution.
In tandem he announced a tough new approach to policing in the city.
For the first time, Mr Taruta vowed to tackle head on the protest movement that has flourished with Russian-backing.
A day after the demonstrators broke into three buildings in Donetsk, including the headquarters of his own industrial company, Mr Taruta said there would be arrests and the police would break-up menacing gatherings.
"The soft touch is over, we are now going to defend ourselves," he said.
At the front door of the governorate building, his words were immediately put to test.
Russian-backed protest leaders assembled to press their demands.
Clustered in three distinct groups, these were disciplined and determined petitioners.
Following a blast of the Russian national anthem through loudspeakers placed on the steps, Robert Donia, a slight, balding man in his thirties, told his followers that there would be no violent attempts to gain entry.
"We have sent in our demands," he declared.
"The regional assembly must write to Kiev to demand a referendum on our future. They must accept this."
In front of the riot police lines, Mr Donia argued with a representative sent out by Mr Taruta for almost half an hour.
In the biting wind, his followers pushed and shoved and demanded to be unleashed.
The frontman was not taking the bait.
"In Crimea yesterday they called a referendum, Donetsk can have the same. We can succeed," blared Mr Donia.
Ukrainian loyalists in Donetsk had demanded a tougher stance from the authorities after one activist was killed by their rivals last Thursday.
The news that the state was mobilising to fend off the Russian challenge was a rare boost for the beleaguered activists.
"We must make more efforts to defend ourselves against this movement, which has the backing of the Kremlin," said Arthur Shevtsov, the Donetsk leader of the Right-wing Ukrainian party, Svoboda.
"We haven't got Russian troops here. We haven't got men with guns but wearing no badges. We can bring our people out to stand-up for our country if the security forces protect us.
"This isn't Crimea."
Source: The Telegraph