Despite Western arms, Ukraine is overrun in the East

Bakhmut, Ukraine – Hiding in a bombed-out house in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers keep a careful account of their ammunition, using the door as a sort of laser. Scattered in chalk on the door are figures of mortar shells, smoke balls, shrapnel balls and flares.

Despite a heavy influx of weapons from the West, Ukrainian forces have been overtaken by the Russians in the Battle of the Eastern Donbass region, where fighting is being conducted largely through artillery exchanges.

While Russians can fire heavy, sustained fire for hours at a time, defenders should not counter the enemy in arms or ammunition and should use their ammo more judiciously.

Dozens and dozens of mortar shells have been fired at posts in eastern Ukraine. But the commander of the troops, Mykhailo Strebies, who goes by the name de Guerre Geduk, lamented that if his fighters were to come under an intense artillery barricade, their cache would only equal four hours of return fire. . ,

Ukrainian officials say the much-anticipated West’s support for the country is not enough and is not reaching the battlefield fast enough for this grinding and highly lethal phase of the war.

While Russia has kept quiet about its war casualties, Ukrainian officials say 200 of their soldiers are dying every day. Russian forces are moving slowly to the east, but experts say they are taking heavy losses.

The United States stepped up last week with its biggest ever pledge of aid to Ukrainian forces: an additional $1 billion in military aid to help repel or reverse Russian advances.

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But experts note that such aid delivery has not kept pace with Ukraine’s needs, as the defense industry is not producing weapons fast enough.

“We are moving from peacetime to wartime,” said Francois Hesberg, a senior adviser at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research think tank. “Peacetime means lower production rates, and faster production rates mean you have to build industrial facilities first. … It’s a defence-industrial challenge that’s huge.”

The Kiel Institute for the World Economy in Germany reported last week that the US had fulfilled almost half of its commitments in military support for Ukraine and Germany by nearly a third. Both Poland and Britain have delivered on most of their promises.

Many infantrymen say they can’t even begin to match the Russians shot for shot, or shell for shell.

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Earlier this month, Ukraine’s ambassador to Madrid, Serhi Foraltsev, thanked Spain – which trumpeted a consignment of 200 tons of military aid in April – but said the ammunition involved was only enough for a two-hour battle. was.

Ukrainian filmmaker-turned-fighter Volodymyr Demchenko tweeted a video expressing gratitude for the guns sent by the Americans, saying, “These are good guns, and 120 bullets each.” But he lamented: “It’s like a 15-minute fight.”

Part of the problem is that Ukrainian forces, whose country was once a member of the Soviet Union, are more familiar with Soviet-era weapons and must first be trained on NATO equipment.

Countless numbers of Ukrainians have traveled abroad to receive training on Western weapons.

Of the $1 billion pledged from the US, only a little over a third will be rapid, off-the-shelf delivery by the Pentagon, and the rest will be available over the long term. The pledge, which includes 18 howitzers and 36,000 ammunition for them, addresses Ukraine’s plea for more long-range weapons.

This is still much less than what the Ukrainians want – 1,000 155 mm. Howitzers, 300 multiple-launch rocket systems, 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles and 1,000 drones – as Mikhail Podolik, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted last week ahead of the latest big Western pledges.

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Responding to Russian artillery fire is “what the Ukrainians have to do in what military people call a counter-battery operation”, said Ben Barry, a former director of the British Army who is a senior fellow for land warfare. International Institute for Strategic Studies. “To do that, you need precision weapons with a high rate of fire and a range that allows them to be kept out of the way of the other side’s artillery.”

“The Ukrainians are saying they don’t have enough long-range rockets to adequately suppress Russian artillery,” he said. “I think they’re probably right.”

As it stands now, Ukraine has to use a “shoot and scout” strategy – fire, then move on before the Russians can zero in on it.

Better NATO hardware is often welcomed, even in small quantities.

At a nearby front on Saturday, a Ukrainian unit gave the Associated Press rare access to a US-supplied M777 howitzer — towable, 155-mm firing. Weapons – on Russian positions.

A lieutenant going by the call sign Wasp said of the M777’s accuracy, speed of fire, simplicity of use and ease of camouflage, saying the new hardware “raises our spirits” and “depresses the enemy as they see that What are the results.”

Friends of Ukraine are digging in for the long haul.

Time may be on Ukraine’s side, say experts. Ukrainian fighters are both motivated and organized – all men in a country of 40 million have been called to fight, while Russia has so far avoided an army callup, which could largely tilt the war in Russia’s favor. But may not be popular domestically.

As for how long such a battle could last, analyst Heisberg said a war that could last years is “quite possible.”

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