Ukraine warns the West will fight Russia next if the war is lost

By Isaac M February 24, 2024

In the blasted moonscapes of Ukraine’s front lines, exhausted soldiers fight a war for a world they feel has forgotten them.

Squatting deep in scorched-black mud, with supplies running low, artillery units ration what they fire at Russian positions.

Every day, they face a “human wave” of Russian soldiers, whose commanders seemingly have no qualms about sending men over the top into a battlefield now nicknamed “the meat grinder”.

Two years into Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine – which ignited Europe’s bloodiest war in generations – Kyiv is still hanging onto a buckling 1,000km front line, using every last ounce of energy to fight.

The cost has been desperately high, with tens of thousands of civilian casualties and an estimated 70,000 Ukrainian troops killed in the line of duty.

Often outnumbered and outgunned, soldiers await delivery of military aid packages held up by diplomatic rows over 8,000km away in the hushed halls of Washington DC.

An estimated 70,000 Ukrainian troops killed in the line of duty

(AFP via Getty Images)

In the meantime they make do and keep going.

“I know the war has been going on for a long time, but we are fighting for the West against our common enemy,” says an infantry sergeant – callsign Mandrake – from the hellscape just outside Avdiivka, in Donbas. “It is impossible to keep fighting like that; we are losing too many [men]. The situation is serious.”

“We have shown what we can do if we have enough weapons and ammo,” he added.

Last week, Ukraine announced it would have to pull back from the strategic eastern town after months of ferocious fighting, to avoid encirclement and mass slaughter.

It is a withdrawal, soldiers believe, that is a direct consequence of the delay in delivery of weapons from the West – a fatigue they fear is a sign allies are forgetting the dangers of Ukraine losing a war that has consequence for the whole of Europe.

“We are ready to carry on fighting and spill our blood whatever happens,” says Ivan, part of the 104th brigade deployed along the southeast front line a few hundred kilometres from Avdiivka.

“But we know victory probably won’t be possible without the help of our allies.”

These fears are echoed in the capital Kyiv where the civilian population is bracing for Saturday’s grim milestone of two years at war.

There, a new normal has been patchworked together between the sporadic wails of air-raid sirens: a sign Russia’s deadly hypersonic missiles and long-range drones are on the hunt.

Anya, a volunteer and programmer from Kharkiv, whose family are living under deadly missile fire every day in the north of the country, delivers a stark warning to the UK and the US.

“If Ukraine loses, the West will be the next,” she says. “I don’t want the world to turn into a slaughtered mess.”

Ukraine’s soldiers are often outnumbered and outgunned by Russian forces as they await delivery of military aid packages

(AP)

On 24 February 2022, Putin shocked the world by launching a full-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

As the war has ground on, UN officials admit their estimates – civilian deaths at 10,582 and 19,875 injured – are woefully low due to lack of access to occupied territory. Ukrainian officials believe the true numbers are five to ten times those amounts.

Ukraine warns that the impact of the war, which has displaced nearly 10 million people – more than 6 million fleeing to other coutries and almost four million displaced within – ripples well beyond its borders as Russia’s invasion is a direct challenge to the security of Europe, Nato allies and the wider world.

Despite the discrepancy in firepower, the Ukrainian military made surprise gains early on in the north, north east and south of the country, seizing back occupied territory and holding its front line.

But as the conflict has continued, the bombed-out battlefields have hit a bloody stalemate.

Kyiv has been largely reliant on the West for support, acquiring ammunition and weapons which have fallen dangerously short in recent months.

Domestic squabbles in the US Congress over military assistance to Ukraine have led to Republicans stonewalling aid.

Combined with the the chronic lack of production of munitions in Europe, the effect has been devastating.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, pictured in the frontline village of Robotyne, insists Ukrainians ‘have proven that we can force Russia to retreat’

(EPA)

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of dangers of this “artificial deficit” of weapons.

“Ukrainians have proven that we can force Russia to retreat,” he said. “Our actions are limited only by the sufficiency and length of range of our strength.”

Russia, meanwhile, under Putin’s orders has flourished into a “full-blown war economy”, one Ukrainian diplomat told The Independent.

Moscow has nearly half a million soldiers deployed in Ukraine right now while it ramped up its own domestic production of weapons.

Last year, according to Ukrainian sources, Moscow produced two million 122 and 152-calibre shells. They have received a flurry of weapons, including powerful drones from North Korea and Iran.

That has meant that on a daily basis Russian forces fire on average six times more artillery shells than Ukrainian forces who, according to reports, have had to ration their supplies to just 2,000 shells a day.

On the front lines it has translated to concerns of ceding fresh territory – including the hard-fought liberated territory in the north around Lyman and a bitterly entrenched front line in the south east.

Ukrainians have been forced to use subways as bomb shelters in Kyiv

(AP)

And in Kyiv some are even worried that they could see phalanxes of Russian soldiers attempt again their ill-fated march on the capital that was launched at the start of the war.

“You live every day as if it were the last,” says Maxym Ovaon, a 36-year-old father of two who is in the capital undergoing treatment for PTSD after living for two years under constant fire in the south.

“I’m afraid that Russia will come here to Kyiv again, that’s the worst thing. It seems that the West has forgotten about us.”

In this David vs Goliath struggle, Ukraine has turned to creative means and domestic production to help plug a shortfall.

Ukrainian minister of strategic industries, Oleksander Kaymshin, told The Independent they tripled their production of drones, Nato-compatible ammunition and armed vehicles last year and expected to grow their defence industry six-fold this year.

He said Ukraine is positioning itself as a global pioneer – particularly in drone technology, which is cheaper, faster and more effective than other countries.

“We can produce over 1 million first-person-view (FPV) drones this year, plus thousands of the drones that can fly over 1,000km, reaching as far as refineries in Russia. This is is a game-changer,” he said.

“Our defence tech is really cool, and together with the newly formed force of unmanned drone systems, it will deliver results.”

Ukrainian soldiers fire a cannon near the eastern city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region

(AP Photo/Libkos, File)

But this alone will not suffice, he admits. The West needs to step up, in particular Europe.

Oyrsia Lutsevych, head of the Ukraine forum at Chatham House, warned that if Ukraine collapses, the wider world will see this as a loss for the West against Russia.

“The war goes well beyond Ukraine,” she told The Independent.

Ukraine losing would be a blow to “rule-based order that is grounded in the UN Charter, and that has actually respect for sovereignty of the United States and Europe”.

And so, she feels the US’s growing isolation should be a wake-up call – a “cold shower” to Europe – that it cannot hide behind US security protection for ever.

“2024 is the year of choice; the choice we make will shape the world our children will live in,” she says bluntly.

Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine two years ago and the war shows no sign of ending soon

(Sputnik)

“We need a strategic paradigm shift from ‘we will support Ukraine for as long as it takes’ to ‘we will do whatever it takes for Ukraine to win as soon as possible’.”

On the front lines, the soldiers are saying they are “nervous” about the apparent dampening of support from Ukraine’s allies, distracted by domestic woes and other conflicts in the world.

“It’s not good for morale when America, which promised to stick by us until victory, suddenly stops sending supplies,” says Ivan from an infantry position in the blasted battlegrounds between Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk.

“We need reassurance that we will not be abandoned and forgotten.”

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