Cases of desertion are growing every week in the Ukrainian army, according to a leaked intelligence report, as up to 200 of its outgunned soldiers are being killed every day in the eastern Donbas region.
Kyiv’s troops are outnumbered 20 to one in artillery and 40 to one in ammunition by the Kremlin’s forces in the area, the leaked Ukrainian intelligence report reveals.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior aide to the Ukrainian president, on Thursday said the battle over the war-torn country’s industrial heartlands was so intense that Kyiv is suffering up to 200 military casualties per day. The previous upper limit was given as 100 soldiers.
Russia has managed to gain the upper hand in the Donbas because of its superior long-range weaponry.
Mr Podolyak said Ukraine’s armed forces need donations of hundreds of the most powerful artillery systems to compete with Moscow’s forces, not the handful being sent by Western governments.
The intelligence dossier, drawn up by Ukrainian and Western officials, warns of the growing risk of demoralised Ukrainian soldiers going AWOL.
The worsening situation in the Donbas is having a “seriously demoralising effect on Ukrainian forces as well as a very real material effect; cases of desertion are growing every week”, according to the report seen by the Independent.
But Nadim Khmaladze, a Georgian fighter who joined the Ukrainian army’s International Legion on the frontlines, said that morale remains high among his comrades who are fighting alongside Ukrainian soldiers in Severodonetsk.
“I hear positive things from them. They have high morale, they are well-equipped. Of course, sometimes there is organizational chaos and sometimes they lack some things but in general, the level of equipment is quite high,” he said.
“The thing that we really lack – and which frustrates a lot of people and they talk about it constantly – is that the West actually slows down the supply of weapons, ammunition and humanitarian aid that people require here,” he went on.
“It is being sent but not in enough quantity and not fast enough. That is the problem that everyone talks about.”
Using heavy artillery for cover, the Russian military restarted its attempt to encircle the pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, the two halves of the eastern Donbas region.
According to the Ukrainian military, Moscow’s forces are bombarding Kyiv’s defensive positions across the entire line of contact in the area.
In Severodonetsk, the last major Ukrainian-held city in Luhansk, Ukrainian troops face constant bombardment with little means of hitting back at Russia’s artillery positions.
Russia has also resumed offensive operations to encircle their defensive positions and cut off Kyiv’s supply lines into the city.
In its latest report, the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said Russian forces were attempting to merge their operations in Izyum and Popasna.
Military analysts said Moscow was amassing troops south of Izyum, the city considered the gateway to the Donbas, in order to launch a major offensive towards the town of Slovyansk.
In its own intelligence update, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Moscow is attempting “to regain momentum in this area in order to put further pressure on Severodonetsk and to give it the option of advancing deeper into the Donetsk Oblast”.
If the Kremlin’s offensive drive is successful, it would leave Ukrainian troops almost entirely encircled by Russia’s forces in Severodonetsk.
Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, has said that the fate of the Donbas lies in the fierce fight for the embattled city.
In his address late on Wednesday, Mr Zelensky said: “[On] the 105th day of the full-scale war, Severodonetsk remains the epicentre of the confrontation in Donbas. We are defending our positions and inflicting significant losses on the enemy. This is a very fierce battle, very difficult.
“Probably one of the hardest for this war, to everyone who defends in this direction. In many respects, the fate of Donbas is being decided there.”
Western rocket supplies slow to arrive
Local officials have bemoaned the lack of long-range firepower available to Ukrainian troops, with Russians able to strike them from vast distances.
“The Russians are seeking to utilise their advantage in the time they have by using their artillery to try and break through Ukrainian defences in the Donbas,” the Ukrainian intelligence report states.
It adds: “The tactical situation on the Eastern front is as follows … the Ukrainian side has almost completely run out of stocks of missiles for MLRS of Smerch and Uragan types, which made it possible to effectively deter Russian offensives in the first months of the war at distances of [37 to 50 miles].
“Today, the maximum range of fire of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is [15.5 miles]. This is the range at which 152/155mm calibre artillery and the Grad MLRS units remaining in service can fire.”
Western governments, including the UK and US, have promised to send Kyiv powerful multiple-launch rocket systems capable of striking targets up to 80 miles away, but deliveries have been slow, sources say.