The Ukrainian army is losing ground in the Donbas. In the Luhansk district, the neighboring towns of Shevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk could be captured by the Russian army at any moment. If that happens, Luhansk will be completely in Russian hands. This already applies to 95 percent of the northeastern district (oblast). The city of Lyman, located slightly more to the west in the Donetsk district, strategically important because of a large shunting yard, fell on Thursday.
Various battlefield analysts put Ukraine’s losses of last week into perspective. Although the American research institute ISW (Institute for the Study of War) signals a “stable advance” of the Russians, the Ukrainian defense “remains broadly effective”. The Scottish professor of strategic science Philips P. O’Brien sees, like the Pentagon, Russian success on the square kilometer, but no breakthrough on a large scale. There is no sign of a Ukrainian collapse, Russian territory gains are just over a mile a day. US military analyst Michael Kofman warns against jumping to conclusions: a turning point in the battle can only be seen in retrospect, ‘in the present tactical events are magnified’.
Compared to previously intended targets of the Russian army, the cities of Kiev and Kharkov, Shevyerodonetsk is also not a top prize. Before the war 100,000 people lived there, now an estimated 12,000. The city is under attack from three sides, a complete Russian encirclement has so far failed. The governor of Luhansk reported this week that 90 percent of the homes have been affected. It is feared that Shevyerodonetsk will meet the same fate as the much larger Mariupol: conquest through complete destruction.
Also check out these photos of Russia in the Donbas
Yet in the three months that the war has lasted, the loss recognized by Ukraine has never been so apparent. Kherson fell soon, Mariupol much later, but in both cases the focus was mainly on the resistance of residents and soldiers. The messages from the Ukrainian government were confident, and there was no mention of losses. Now Ukrainian administrators are pessimistic. They fear wear and tear. Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to President Zelensky, said of the Russian military this week: “They have definitely grown.”
New is also that reports are coming out about declining fighting spirit on the Ukrainian side. Until now, morale has been Ukraine’s strong point, an aspect that distinguished the defender from the attacker and contributed to its military success. An article in The Washington Post from Thursday shows something different. The newspaper spoke to two leaders of an army unit with volunteers, who have withdrawn disillusioned. They fought at the front in Luhansk without training and were left to their own devices, with no means of communication and with weapons that were too light. They lived in trenches and cellars, sometimes on a potato a day. Of the unit with 120 civilian soldiers, 54 were killed. The two men have since been arrested for desertion.
In his speech Thursday evening, Ukrainian President Zelensky expressed his frustration – again – at the lack of a European decision on an embargo on Russian oil. Currently, Russia receives 1 billion euros per day from Europe for the supply of energy. Zelensky: “Every day of delay, weakness and discussion about meeting the aggressor at the expense of the victim means that Ukrainians are being killed.” Zelensky mentioned five endangered cities in Luhansk and spoke of genocide.
Ukraine has no chance without heavier weapons from the West, is the message from Zelensky and Foreign Minister Koeleba. Recently, their requirement became specific: what Ukraine needs is MLRS, Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. With that launch system, missiles can be fired from a vehicle at land targets up to 300 kilometers. With this, Ukraine can defy the siege of cities. Due to the long range, MLRS can also hit targets in Russia – reason for the American reluctance.
According to CNN, the Biden administration is preparing delivery of MLRS and its lighter variant HIMARS to Ukraine, as part of a larger bailout package to be announced next week. Both in Ukraine and elsewhere, the weapons system is seen as a factor that can turn the battle. Observers see it as a third and again heavier step in western arms supplies, after the Javelins and the howitzers. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called weapons that can reach Russia “a serious step towards unacceptable escalation”.
Russian soldier mothers page 16-17 A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of May 28, 2022