Ukraine worn down by relentless Russia

AS the Ukraine war enters its second year, the infantry of 59th Brigade are confronting a bleak reality: they're running out of soldiers and ammunition to resist their Russian invaders.

One platoon commander, who goes by his call sign "Tygr", estimated that just 60 to 70 per cent of the several thousand men in the brigade at the start of the conflict were still serving.

The rest had been killed, wounded or signed off for reasons such as old age or illness.

"The weather is rain, snow, rain, snow. People get ill with simple flu or angina as a result.

"They're out of action for some time, and there is nobody to replace them," said a company commander in the brigade with the call sign "Limuzyn".

"The most immediate problem in every unit is the lack of people."

On the cusp of the second anniversary of its Feb 24 invasion, Russia is in the ascendancy in a conflict that combines attritional trench combat reminiscent of World War 1 with high-tech drone warfare that's sending tens of thousands of machines into the skies.

Moscow has made small gains in recent months and claimed a major victory at the weekend when it took control of Avdiivka in the hotly contested eastern Donetsk region.

A spokesperson for 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, one of the units that tried to hold the town, said the defenders were outnumbered seven to one.

Reuters spoke to more than 20 soldiers and commanders in infantry, drone and artillery units on different sections of the 1,000km frontlines in eastern and southern Ukraine.

They spoke of holding off a larger and better supplied enemy as military support from the West slows.

A commander in the 59th Brigade, who gave only his first name, Hryhoriy, described relentless attacks from groups of five to seven Russian soldiers who would push forward up to 10 times a day in what he called "meat assaults".

"When one or two defensive positions are fighting off these assaults all day, the guys get tired," Hryhoriy said as he and his exhausted men were afforded a brief rotation away from the frontlines near the Russian-occupied eastern city of Donetsk.

"Weapons break down, and if there is no possibility of bringing them more ammunition or changing their weapons, then you understand what this leads to."

Kyiv relies heavily on money and equipment from abroad to fund its war effort, but with US$61 billion in US aid held up by political bickering in Washington it is looking more exposed than at any time since the start of the invasion.

A soldier serving in a GRAD rocket artillery unit, whose call sign is "Skorpion", said his launcher was operating at about 30 per cent of maximum capacity.

"It's become like this recently. There aren't as many foreign munitions."

Artillery shells are also in short supply as a result of Western countries' inability to keep up the pace of shipments for a drawn-out war.

Michael Kofman, a senior fellow and Russian military specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank, estimated that Russia's artillery was firing at five times the rate of Ukraine's, a figure that Hryhoriy of the 59th Brigade also gave.

"Ukraine is not getting a sufficient amount of artillery ammunition to meet its minimum defensive needs, and this is not a sustainable situation," Kofman added.

Moscow controls almost a fifth of Ukrainian territory including the Crimea peninsula it annexed in 2014, even if the frontlines of the war have largely stagnated in the last 14 months.

Ukrainian armed forces number around 800,000, while in December Vladimir Putin ordered Russia's forces to be increased by 170,000 troops to 1.3 million.

A new law aimed at mobilising 450-500,000 more Ukrainians is slowly making its way through Parliament, but for some soldiers fighting now, significant reinforcements seem a distant hope.

Moscow's defence spending dwarfs that of Ukraine.

In 2024, it earmarked US$109 billion for the sector, more than twice Ukraine's equivalent target of US$43.8 billion.

* The writer is from Reuters

Most Popular
Related Article
Says Stories