(Kramatorsk) For months Ukrainian forces have faced a grueling Russian offensive in devastated towns and constantly bombarded trenches in the east. But while the troops in Moscow seem to be running out of steam, the hour of the response arrives for Kyiv.
“ If our general staff says that we have enough troops, enough shells – enough of everything – to attack, then we are ready”, assured AFP this week a Ukrainian soldier by the nom de guerre Mark in the Donetsk region.
Russia suffered major setbacks last year, failing near Kyiv. She was forced to withdraw from the Kharkiv region (northeast) and the city of Kherson (south). However, experts believe that this time around Ukrainian troops have little leeway to prevail.
Ukraine claims to have formed assault brigades and stored ammunition while striving to spare its troops and exhaust those of its adversary on the front. It also received combat tanks and long-range artillery from its Western supporters.
All for this long-awaited counter-offensive which looks more and more like a final attempt to push against Moscow.
“Who knows when Ukraine will have this chance again? It’s now or never,” summarizes Mykola Bieliekov, researcher at the Kyiv National Institute for Strategic Studies, to AFP.
It remains to be seen when this Ukrainian attack will begin.
The Department of Defense recently posted humorous footage of a soldier dancing in a muddy trench, along with a caption: “Once the ground hardens, it will be possible to launch an offensive.”
For Mr. Bielieskov however, more than the weather conditions on the front, it is “ the mastery by Ukrainian troops of the weapons promised by the West and the synchronization of intelligence and logistics that matter”.
He believes preparations for the Ukrainian offensive could peak in June or July.
“Everyone in Kyiv understands that an offensive launched prematurely is less likely to succeed,” adds Bieliekov.
The southern regions of Zaporizhia and Kherson, partially occupied by Russian forces, are likely targets and their capture by Kyiv would sever the land bridge linking Russia with the annexed Crimean peninsula.
Stockpiles of Ukrainian artillery shells will play an important role in this expected battle against positions that Russia has long had to fortify.
Ukrainian soldiers on different sections of the front line, however, complained to AFP of being overwhelmed by fire from Russian forces, which apparently have a much larger reserve of shells.
The European Union in March adopted a two-billion-euro plan to supply Ukraine with ammunition, with observers estimating that nearly half of that sum would need to be delivered for the Ukrainian offensive to be successful.
“Unlike the Russians, we are not concerned with the number of shots, but with their accuracy. This is how Ukraine plans to make up for this deficit”, assures Mykola Bieliekov. “ The only problem is that we pay him in men ”, he adds.
Military recruitment announcements broadcast across Kyiv testify to large-scale efforts to build a new force for the offensive, after losses suffered in more than a year of fighting.
Kyiv did not release numbers, but the leader of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigojine, on the front line in the east, warned that Moscow must be prepared to repel a Ukrainian force of 200,000 to 400,000 troops.
Leaks of secret American documents, which seem authentic for the most part, nevertheless evoke a lack of equipment and precision ammunition on the Ukrainian side, as well as anti-aircraft defense systems which have reached their limits, at the risk of leaving soldiers vulnerable to attacks. Russian planes.
“Without air superiority, carrying out offensives under fire from enemy aircraft is-to put it mildly-a somewhat difficult matter,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yury Ignat recently admitted.
The Ukrainian authorities hastened to minimize the impact of these leaks, assuring that the plans for the counter-offensive were “still under development”.
Because the stakes are high.
“The United States and European countries are able to support Ukraine’s war effort but they may not be able to provide a decisive military advantage over Russia for some time after this period,” notes Michael Kofman, American military analyst.
According to Mr. Bieliekov, it is also a question for Kyiv of proving to its allies that it is still possible to push back the Russian troops.
More than a year after the Russian invasion, Ukrainian soldiers are keen to show their motivation.
“We are ready to do what needs to be done,” says Mark about his sector in the Donetsk region.