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“We’re at the end, we’re tired”


Brutal trench warfare, drones that pounce on everything and a worn-out force: after almost two years of war, disillusionment is spreading in Ukraine. The situation is serious, experts warn. The West needs to rethink.

Rebecca Barth

Olena Rysch and her unit fought for hours in the trenches near Avdiivka. The soldiers use their cameras to record how they return Russian fire, throw grenades and hide from approaching tanks. The 30-minute video later goes viral in Ukraine.

After five hours of fighting, the group around Rysch and the Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov, who is now serving in the army, retreats, exhausted. “We’re at the end, we’re all tired,” says Rysch about the current state of the Ukrainian army. “We have no one left to fight, and the enemy is becoming more and more active.”

Russia wins the initiative

Ukrainian troops are in a difficult situation. Russia has more drones, more artillery shells, more men and is attacking in many places on the front. Despite being exhausted, Rysch wants to continue trying to liberate the areas occupied by Russia. “This is our country, these are our people, they are waiting for us and we owe it to them to bring them home,” she says.

But Russia is very strong and very smart. “And it is acting strategically. Russia doesn’t think about tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, but rather about the next few years,” emphasizes the soldier with the brightly colored hair.

A statement that most Western military and security experts would probably agree with. The clock is currently ticking for Russia, which has been preparing for a long war for months and is being supplied with weapons and ammunition by allies such as North Korea and Iran. If you want to keep up, you have to rethink things, many experts say. Not enough has happened so far.

Experts warn: “The barrel is empty”

The EU had promised one million artillery shells, but apparently only 300,000 could be delivered. North Korea, on the other hand, has delivered a million artillery shells to Russia in the past four months, according to South Korean intelligence. “It seems as if Europe has not recognized the seriousness of the situation,” says Colonel Markus Reisner of the Austrian Armed Forces.

In addition, many of Ukraine’s partner countries apparently have hardly any resources available. “The barrel is slowly emptying, we don’t have any more,” says Colonel Reisner. Security experts have been pushing to ramp up production capacity in the West for over a year. Years would pass before Western countries could produce enough ammunition and equipment.

“With the system that exists now, you won’t be able to deliver what is needed,” says Reisner. Significant change is needed. “It hasn’t existed before and it’s not on the horizon either.”

New challenges through drones

Meanwhile, the war continues to develop. So-called first-person view drones (FPV) currently pose a great danger. With them, drone pilots can get within a few meters of the enemy and attack. It is the invisible death from the air.

“We are experiencing a manhunt for individuals,” says Colonel Reisner. During the First World War, the soldiers could have escaped into the trenches and had some time to catch their breath. This no longer works on a “glass battlefield”. “This is hell,” said Reisner.

You don’t win a war with morals

The massive use of FPV drones also means that the care of the wounded is reminiscent of the 19th century. Many injured soldiers could not be transported from the battlefield to hospitals in time. As a result, there would be many amputations.

The historian and commander of the Austrian Guard speaks of a “hangover mood” that has spread in the western capitals. For too long it was believed that the problem could be solved solely through the morale of the Ukrainian soldiers and some weapons help. “But it’s not like that,” emphasizes Reisner.

Meanwhile, disillusionment is also spreading in Ukraine. While the soldiers at the front are running out of strength, enlistment into the military is stalling. Management problems and corruption mean there is a shortage of capable soldiers and many units have not had a break for almost two years.

Silent doubts arise

Anna Bondar’s anger grows. The 40-year-old is sitting in a small café in a Kiev residential area. Her husband has been deployed for 21 months and she has been able to see him four times since then for just a few days. Too little, she thinks. “It would be good for the morale of the soldiers if they could get vacation every now and then.”

The war wears on their nerves. He changes her husband, she reports, and the marriage with it. Silent doubts arise. Russia does not want to negotiate, says Bondar. “But how many more people should we send there to reclaim these mined areas? And who should live there?”

Mined fields and destroyed settlements

Olena Ryscha, the soldier, knows the minefields in southern Ukraine. Her unit was actually supposed to advance towards Tokmak during the Ukrainian offensive. But after weeks of fighting and heavy losses, the Ukrainians were just able to liberate a few destroyed villages.

“There is no life there anymore,” reports Rysch. “Not a tree, not a fence, not a house, not a barn, not a pillar. Death hangs in the air. And death lies on the ground.” She will never forget this sight in her life.

Rebecca Barth, ARD Kiev, tagesschau, November 27th, 2023 9:03 p.m

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