Ukraine will suffer ‘insane’ losses if US stops aid, warn frontline troops

By Isaac M December 24, 2023

There is a growing sense of alarm among Ukraine’s frontline forces at dwindling supplies of arms and ammunition and signs that the commitment of international partners is faltering, according to multiple senior Ukrainian military officials.

Ukraine’s military fears Vladimir Putin’s forces could break through its defensive lines and secure victory for Russia within days if the US does not commit to more aid, with intense fighting still taking place and hourly assaults targeting the key industrial town of Avdiivka despite the onset of the country’s bitter winter.

“It is a very difficult situation, very difficult, but the guys from the defence forces are holding their ground,” says Vitaliy Barabash, the head of Avdiivka’s military administration, in an interview with The Independent.

Volodymyr Zelensky has continued to strike a grittily optimistic tone while appealing for more support from allies in recent days, firmly rejecting the suggestion that Ukraine is about to start losing the war when questioned at a news conference with foreign media on Tuesday.

But with the US Congress failing to agree even a smaller Ukraine aid package or temporary relief before breaking up for the winter recess, Zelensky’s frontline commanders have a much more grim warning for the future that awaits the country if it is left to fight on its own.

If US aid comes to a halt, Barabash says it will lead to huge losses among both his personnel and the local civilian population. “The line of defence may change and it will lead to insane losses, as it was at the beginning of a full-scale war,” he says.

Ukrainian tank crews take part in a drill not far from the front line in the Bakhmut direction

(AFP via Getty Images)

Barabash says the fighting in Avdiivka is “very hot right now”, and that Ukraine urgently needs more supplies if it is to hold onto the town, never mind win the war as a whole.

“For the last five days, the enemy has been actively using dozens of pieces of [aerial] equipment. Our military is burning this equipment; almost everything is shot down,” he says.

“The enemy is pressing from almost 16 directions precisely along the Avdiivka defence line. The Avdiivka сoke chemical plant and Stepove direction are the most important for their attacks. And, of course, the direction of Pervomayske, Opytne, Vodyane [villages], where they try to enter from the flanks.”

Russia’s forces appear better prepared for the second winter of their invasion compared to Ukraine, which expended a great deal of effort and resources this summer on a long-awaited counter-offensive that produced only small territorial gains.

Shortages of ammunition are proving the biggest pressure point, Barabash says. “The most important thing we need, not only in our direction (Avdiivka) but in general along the entire line of defence, to stop the army of the Russian Federation is as much ammunition as possible. 155 mm calibre ammunition, more HIMARS are needed,” he says, referring to a US-made mobile artillery system.

Dmytro Lazutkin, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s 47th Separate Mechanised Brigade which is holding the northern outskirts of Avdiivka, says it is no secret that Western arms supplies are what have allowed his military to withstand the onslaught from its much bigger neighbour so far.

A Ukrainian soldier walks along the trench with a dog as he holds his position at the front line in Donetsk

(AFP via Getty Images)

“Of course, Western aid is of great importance,” he tells The Independent. “Our brigade is fighting primarily with Western equipment, we have Bradley [tanks], we have Paladin self-propelled guns, and ammunition for them is crucial for our military to fight effectively.

“At the moment there is something to hold in Avdiivka, and there are powerful means to prevent the enemy from advancing aggressively.”

Lazutkin says Ukraine is facing a ruthless enemy in Avdiivka, with Putin’s forces not even pausing to clear the bodies of Russian soldiers that litter the battlefield from the walls of Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant to the Stepove village railway station.

He points to declassified US intelligence figures suggesting Russia has lost 13,000 soldiers in the fight for Avdiivka just since the beginning of October. “They really do not spare people, their attitude is that the goal justifies any means.” He says the enemy they face appears largely to consist of so-called “Storm Z” units, comprising former convicts and recently mobilised recruits who have just finished training.

Volodymyr Zelensky continues to push for more international support

(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

He says Putin has committed more than 40,000 troops to try and capture Avdiivka, but while Ukraine is outnumbered the town can still be saved. Ukrainians there, he says, fight “not only for their families, for their homeland, for their country, but also for European values, and the European order we are used to”.

Another senior Ukrainian commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the defence forces in Avdiivka had just enough ammunition to hold out in their current positions, but not enough to “make Russia stop” if the situation intensifies.

“Some things cannot be predicted,” he says. “For example, Russians began to use new versions of S-400 rockets to hit ground targets in Kyiv, which means we need more Patriot missiles than we previously expected.”

Russia has succeeded in crippling Kyiv’s industry, according to this senior Ukrainian officer, making it impossible for it to produce the supplies it needs domestically. “This war has become a war of attrition and we have to hold the line for some time to win. We are really depending on international support from the US, Britain, the EU and South Korea,” he says.

“Of course, it does not mean that we will stop fighting without external help. We have too many examples in front of our eyes to know that this war is a genocide, and no one here wants his town to share the fate of Bucha or Mariupol. It’s just about the number of losses we will have in our struggle.”

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