Ukraine is running out of ammunition as prospects dim on the battlefield

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Ukraine is running out of ammunition as prospects dim on the battlefield

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SIOBHÁN O’GRADY, LIZ SLY, IEVGENIIA SIVORKA

THE WASHINGTON POST • June 11, 2022


Yuriy Makagon stands amid the rubble of his neighbor's home in the eastern Ukrainian village of Kostiantynivka on June 10, 2022.

Yuriy Makagon stands amid the rubble of his neighbor’s home in the eastern Ukrainian village of Kostiantynivka on June 10, 2022. (Heidi Levine/The Washington Post)

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SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — The euphoria that accompanied Ukraine’s unforeseen early victories against bumbling Russian troops is fading as Moscow adapts its tactics, recovers its stride and asserts its overwhelming firepower against heavily outgunned Ukrainian forces.

Newly promised Western weapons systems are arriving, but too slowly and in insufficient quantities to prevent incremental but inexorable Russian gains in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, which is now the focus of the fight.

The Ukrainians are still fighting back, but they are running out of ammunition and suffering casualties at a far higher rate than in the initial stages of the war. Around 200 Ukrainian soldiers are now being killed every day, up from 100 late last month, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky told the BBC on Friday — meaning that as many as 1,000 Ukrainians are being taken out of the fight every day, including those who are injured.

The Russians are still making mistakes and are also losing men and equipment, albeit at a lesser rate than in the first months of the conflict. In one sign that they are suffering equipment shortages, they have been seen on videos posted on social media hauling hundreds of mothballed, Soviet-era T-62 tanks out of storage to be sent to Ukraine.

But the overall trajectory of the war has unmistakably shifted away from one of unexpectedly dismal Russian failures and tilted in favor of Russia as the demonstrably stronger force.

Ukrainian and U.S. hopes that the new supplies of Western weaponry would enable Ukraine to regain the initiative and eventually retake the estimated 20% of Ukrainian territory captured by Russia since its Feb. 24 invasion are starting to look premature, said Oleksandr Danylyuk, an adviser to the Ukrainian government on defense and intelligence issues.

“The strategies and tactics of the Russians are completely different right now. They are being much more successful,” he said. “They have more resources than us and they are not in a rush.”

“There’s much less space for optimism right now,” he added.

Ukrainian forces remain resolute. In a cafe in the front-line town of Slovyansk, two Ukrainian soldiers on a break from the trenches nearby recounted how they were forced to retreat from the town of Dovhenke, northwest of Slovyansk, under withering Russian artillery fire. Thirty-five of their 100-strong unit were killed in the assault, typical of the tactics Russia is using. “They destroy everything and walk in,” said one of the soldiers, Vitaliy Martsyv, 41.

“There is nothing there,” Andriy Tihonenko, 52, said of Dovhenke. “It’s all burned down.”

As troop fatalities mounted, the surviving soldiers felt “more motivated to hold our position,” Tihonenko said. To retreat after their comrades were killed defending the town, he said, would have felt like treating their deaths as insignificant.

But eventually, the defensive line was no longer effective, the two men said. With more than one-third of their force killed, the remaining soldiers had no choice but to pull back.

“Sometimes you feel down,” Tihonenko said. “But then you realize war is war — and you have to finish it.”

But the odds against the Ukrainians are starting to look overwhelming, said Danylyuk, the government adviser.

“The Russians are using long-range artillery against us, often without any response, because we don’t have the means,” he said. “They can attack from dozens of kilometers away and we can’t fire back. We know all the coordinates for all their important targets, but we don’t have the means to attack.”

Ukraine has now almost completely run out of ammunition for the Soviet-era weapons systems that were the mainstay of its arsenal, and the Eastern European countries that maintained the same systems have run out of surplus supplies to donate, Danylyuk said. Ukraine urgently needs to shift to longer-range and more sophisticated Western systems, but those have only recently been committed, and in insufficient quantities to match Russia’s immense firepower, he said.

Russia is firing as many as 50,000

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