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Soldiers in Ukraine anxiously await US weapons

Frank Hofmann | Mykola Berdnyk
April 20, 2024

Without US support, Ukraine's defenses would crumble.The situation on Ukraine's front line is dramatic, an artillery officer explains.

Ukrainian gunners stand next to a truck which has a rocket launcher on the back.
Ukrainian gunners prepare to fire at the enemyImage: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP

As well-supplied Russian troops fire away, Ukrainian soldiers are getting pounded. Fighter jets bomb Ukrainian positions with glide bombs triggered from well behind the front lines, beyond the reach of Ukraine's air defenses.

"Without artillery munition, every front is doomed," an artillery officer in eastern Ukraine told DW on condition of anonymity. "Losses will go up because it is not possible to respond to firepower with firepower appropriately."

"At some point, we will find ourselves in a situation where no one can defend the front, where everyone is either dead or wounded," the officer said. That would mean "the loss of positions and a crumbling front."

The officer's assessment is shared by observers. "The Russians are pressing their advantage and advancing slowly but steadily on several sectors of the front," Fredrick W. Kagan of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in a blog post in April, as the US Congress worked out the details of a military aid package for allies.

"Since the beginning of this year, Russian forces have seized over 360 square kilometers — an area the size of Detroit," Kagan wrote.

Russia airstrikes: Can Ukraine hold its eastern front?

'Very real risk'

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion in 2022, Ukraine has relied on significant  supplies of weapons and munitions from international backers.

"There is a very real risk that the Ukrainians could lose on the battlefield by the end of 2024, or at least put Putin in a position where he could dictate the terms of a political settlement" and only fresh supplies from the US would give Ukrainian forces a chance of "holding out," CIA Director William Burns said on Thursday in comments published in US media ahead of Saturday's vote by the Congress to send a package of military aid to Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel.

 CIA  Director William J. Burns stands in front of a chandelier
CIA Director William Burns shared the bleak analysis of the anoymous artillery officerImage: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY/picture alliance

Eyes on Washington

Ukrainian pilots have been training to fly US F-16 fighter jets since 2023 — much longer than NATO had estimated would be needed.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force declined to answer in detail about the progress in training pilots to fly F-16s in NATO members Romania, the United Kingdom and France. "This is a very sensitive issue," the spokesman told DW in a written response.

Christopher Cavoli, the commander of the US Armed Forces in Europe, said Ukrainian pilots often struggled with English. He has also worried about what he sees on Ukrainian front. "I can't predict the future, but I can do simple math,” he said in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on April 10. "Based on my experience in 37-plus years in the US military, if one side can shoot and the other side can't shoot back, the side that can't shoot back loses."

Putin seeks victory

Ukraine has had some successes. In April, forces announced that they had shot down a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 supersonic bomber for the first time. In addition, radar positions on the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow uses to organize supplies for its troops in southern Ukraine, were hit again.

These wins are overshadowed by Russia's onslaught, particularly from the skies, on towns such as Cherniv, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Kyiv, and the frequent bombardment Kharkiv, on the border with Russia.

Why do some Ukrainians in front-line towns refuse to leave?

After a visit to the front, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, posted on Telegram that Russia is concentrating on "breaking through our defenses west of Bakhmut, gaining access to the Siverskyi Donets-Donbas Canal, capturing the settlement of Chasiv Yar and creating the conditions for further advances towards the greater Kramatorsk area."

Drones not enough

Chasiv Yar is located on a hill with strategic advantage for Ukrainian forces. According to Syrskyi, Putin has ordered forces to capture the settlement by May 9, when the Russian president celebrates the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

Nico Lange, who served as the chief of staff to Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer until the current governing coalition took over in 2022, wrote on the social media network X that Ukraine cannot "hold the front line in the east; it can only delay Russian attacks."

That has meant using drones loaded with explosives. But "drones are no substitute for artillery," the officer in eastern Ukraine told DW. The decisive factor, he said, is whether and how quickly he and his colleagues could receive ammunition and other supplies.

This article was originally written in German.

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