Ukraine is losing up to 600 troops a day, including 100 dead, President Zelensky has admitted when he gave the clearest indication yet of the bloodguilt his army is paying to stop the Russian invasion.
Zelensky said the situation in Donbas, where the fiercest fighting is taking place, is “very difficult”, but stressed that his soldiers are “holding our defensive perimeter” despite the advances made by Putin’s men in recent days.
“We lose 60-100 soldiers a day killed and about 500 people wounded in action,” he said, lifting the lid on Ukrainian casualties, which have been a closely guarded secret throughout the war.
The Battle of Donbas has now largely degenerated into a brutal trench warfare, with Ukraine digging defenses crushed by Russian artillery before troops attempt to dash through gaps in the line – not unlike the battlefields of World War I.
Ukraine has been caught off guard by the Russian side and has begged allies for better artillery to hit back at Putin’s men — with Joe Biden revealing on Tuesday that America will send advanced missile systems to aid in the fight.
Ukrainian soldiers help wounded comrades on Donbas front lines as President Zelensky admits 100 are killed and up to 500 injured every day
The heaviest fighting takes place around the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk (pictured), the last two Ukrainian strongholds in the Luhansk region
Russia pushes to take the eastern city of Severodonetsk, putting Putin’s forces on the brink of taking the Luhansk region as Ukraine counterattacks to the south
The heaviest fighting is currently underway in the city of Severodonetsk, now largely under Russian control. If he captured it completely, Putin’s forces would be on the brink of taking the Luhansk province — one of his main war targets.
Ukrainian troops in the region suffer heavy casualties. Neil Hauer, a journalist who has spent time at the front, revealed that a soldier with whom he has contact killed 56 men from his 60-strong squadron during a recent rotation to the front.
But the fighting is also taking a huge toll on Russian troops.
While their tactics have improved since the failed attempt to take Kiev, Putin’s generals face Ukrainians better armed and prepared than in the early weeks of the war.
Western officials who informed journalists on Wednesday estimate that Russian troops have been reduced to about half the strength they had before the war started — when between 150,000 and 190,000 troops gathered at the border.
According to the West, more than 1,000 tanks have been destroyed by Ukraine, which Russia is struggling to replace as sanctions strip the country of key components needed to build more.
Russian forces are expected to continue advancing in the coming days and weeks – targeting the city of Lysychansk after the fall of Severodonetsk, which is just a few hundred meters away across the Donets River.
If they can take Lysychansk, their next targets will be Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, about 55 miles to the west.
Those cities are two of the last remaining Ukrainian strongholds in the Donetsk region. Control of that region and Luhansk will allow Putin to demand “liberation” over Donbas, which he says is the sole purpose of his “special military operation.”
A woman flees her burning home in the city of Lysychansk, which has come under Russian bombardment as troops penetrate nearby Severodonetsk
A destroyed house is seen after a Russian rocket attack hit the town of Slovyansk, in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region
People are saving what they can from the ruins of their home in Slovyansk, which is likely to become one of Russia’s next targets after the fall of Severodonetsk
Sergiy Tarasyuk, 49, sits on his bed in his destroyed house after a rocket attack in the city of Slovyansk, in the Donbas region
But as Russian forces have been crushed in combat and occupy an increasing proportion of Ukrainian territory, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to hold it.
Ukraine has shown its ability to launch successful counterattacks in areas where Russia is weak, such as around Kiev just before Putin withdrew his troops and last month in northern Kharkiv – pushing Russia back to its own border.
A new counterattack is currently underway in the south, towards the city of Kherson, which has been occupied since the beginning of the war.
Ukrainian tanks and armored personnel carriers have been filmed in recent days crossing the Inhulets River, pushing back Russian defenders from several small towns on the other side.
Fighting is believed to be ongoing in the region, with the Russians believed to be moving reinforcements to maintain their defense lines, though the exact situation is unclear and the Ukrainian military is saying little.
The industrial center of Severodonetsk has become a prime target for Moscow, and the local governor said 80 percent of the city is now under Russian control.
“The street fighting continues,” Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Telegram, promising that Ukrainian troops “will fight for Severodonetsk to the end.”
“The most difficult situation is in the Lugansk region, where the enemy is trying to drive our units from their positions,” Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, said in a statement from the army.
Ukrainian troops sit on an armored vehicle as they retreat from the frontline near the city of Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region
A Ukrainian soldier loads ammunition into cartridges at his new position recaptured by Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk region
“The enemy has a decisive advantage in artillery,” Zaluzhnyi told France’s top general Thierry Burkhard in a phone call, adding that he wants his units equipped with weapons of the type used by NATO’s military alliance. . ‘It will save lives’.
American is expected to ship HIMARS missile systems to Ukraine soon, backed by stockpiles of other missile systems shipped by the UK and Germany.
The weapons are considered game-changers by Kiev because they have a much longer range than their current weapons and are specifically designed to counter Russian systems.
They are the centerpiece of a $700 million package unveiled Wednesday that will also include aerial surveillance radar, more Javelin anti-tank missiles, artillery ammunition, helicopters, vehicles and spare parts.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Washington of “putting fuel on the fire” with the new weapons, although US officials insist Ukraine has promised not to use them to attack Russia.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there were no signs of Russia withdrawing its troops: “As far as we can judge now, we are still looking at many months of conflict.”
Elsewhere, a missile hit transport infrastructure near the relatively stable western city of Lviv, injuring five people, regional governor Maksym Kozytsky said.
A destroyed Ukrainian armored vehicle is seen in a ditch along a highway near the town of Rubizhne, recently captured by Russian forces
West of Severodonetsk, in the city of Sloviansk, AFP journalists saw buildings destroyed by a rocket attack that killed three people and injured six others.
And on Wednesday, at least one person was killed and two others injured in Soledar, between Sloviansk and Severodonetsk, AFP said.
The European Union has also sent weapons and money to Ukraine, while imposing unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow.
Germany said on Wednesday it would provide an air defense system that could protect a major city from Russian air strikes, although it will take months to reach the front line.
EU leaders this week agreed to ban most Russian oil imports but squandered the prospects of cutting off Russian gas, on which many member states rely heavily.
The sanctions are corrosive — a panel of investors said on Wednesday that Russia failed to pay $1.9 million in accrued interest on a government bond.
And Russian energy giant Gazprom said its gas exports to countries outside the former Soviet Union fell by more than a quarter year on year between January and May after losing several European customers.