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‘The enemy is amassing’: Ukrainian army officials give unvarnished account of the battlefield

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Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia is conducting offensive operations along much of the frontline, with Ukraine’s military trying to hold its positions as its ammunition begins to run low and United States funding remains stalled in Congress.

Fighting is intense in the northeast along a stretch of territory where the regions of Kharkiv and Luhansk meet. Ukraine announced earlier this week it had withdrawn its forces from the Kharkiv village of Krokhmalne in order to take up more advantageous defensive positions on higher ground, while reports suggest Russian forces have continued to press in the area.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s army said Ukrainian forces had faced down 13 attacks nearby Krokhmalne, on Tabaiivka to the northwest of the village and on Stelmakhivka to the south.

“The enemy is focusing on a large number of artillery attacks, trying to advance,” a spokesperson for Land Forces Command told Ukrainian television about the situation near Krokhmalne.

The frontlines, concentrated in eastern and southern Ukraine, have been mostly static for months, after Ukraine’s counteroffensive was last summer largely rebuffed by heavily fortified Russian defenses. But the recent flurry of Russian offensives come as Ukraine has warned it is facing critical shortages of ammunition, with the war nearing its two-year anniversary.

Ukrainian forces also report facing increased pressure further southeast in the area around Bakhmut, which was the overwhelming focus of Russia’s winter offensive a year ago. Russia’s efforts have been concentrated in the southwest of the city, around the largely destroyed villages of Klishchiivka and Andriivka, according to Sergeant Oles Maliarevych of the 92nd Separate Brigade.

“The enemy is amassing forces… they assault every day,” Maliarevych told Ukrainian television.

A Ukrainian serviceman prepares 155-mm artillery shells at a position near a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine January 14, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

A Ukrainian serviceman prepares 155-mm artillery shells near the front line in Zaporizhzhia, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, on January 14, 2024.Reuters

Maliarevych highlighted the huge threat now posed by drones, which have had an increasingly significant impact on the battlefield over the past year. He said the Russians have substantially more drones than Ukraine, including drones equipped with night vision.

Klishchiivka and Andriivka represent the easternmost edges of Ukraine’s modest territorial gains around Bakhmut, the land reclaimed in September as part of Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

This March 12, 2022, aerial image shows the Pentagon (US Department of Defense) in Washington, DC. (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)

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But Ukraine’s gains last summer were modest. In what was hoped would be a first key step in breaking Russia’s land corridor to Crimea, its forces attempted to push south from the town of Orikhiv towards Tokmak, but only made it as far as Robotyne, a little over 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south.

Oleksandr Shtupun, a Ukrainian military spokesperson responsible for operations to the south in Zaporizhzhia region, said Russia’s efforts were now directed toward clawing back territories reclaimed by Ukraine.

“All in all, the invaders are very active, they have increased the number of offensive and assault operations. For the second day in a row, they have been conducting 50 combat engagements daily. The enemy is active in all directions,” Oleksandr Shtupun said.

“In Zaporizhzhia region, the enemy is trying to recapture lost ground.”

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