Ukrainian Counteroffensive Struggling with Insufficient Artillery; Russia has ‘10 times more’ Drones, Artillery Shells, Bullets than Ukraine

Kaname Muto / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sgt. Ivan Ananichev, left, from the Chernivtsi border guard unit is on the lookout for people smuggling out of Ukraine at the border with Moldova on Jan. 30.

With Saturday marking two years since the start of the Russian aggression against its neighbor, Ukraine is still struggling to defend its sovereignty.

One night in late January, border guards in the southwestern Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi detained two men, 27 and 29, who tried to smuggle through the border into neighboring Moldova to evade conscription.

Sgt. Ivan Ananichev from the Chernivtsi border guard unit revealed in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun that the two men pleaded that they were “not born to become soldiers.”

Since the start of Russian aggression, Kyiv has banned in principle men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country. The unit, which is in charge of controlling the borders with Moldova and Romania, has prevented over 4,250 people from leaving the country since the aggression began in February 2022.

The number of detainees in their early 20s has increased since discussions on lowering the draft age began late last year. Border guards have also deployed drones to help monitor clandestine departures.

The black market for smuggling people out of the country is also becoming rampant. The two men Ananitchev detained paid $8,500 (about ¥1.3 million) each to “guides.” However, they said they were dropped off at a village near the border and only given a handwritten map, according to the sergeant.

In the early stages of the Russian aggression, people lined up at draft offices to voluntarily join the battle, but the situation changed drastically as the fighting dragged on. Ananichev, 21, who has fought against the Russians, said, “Everyone is afraid of war. I cannot stand people running away from the war while never fighting in it.”

One factor making Ukrainians reluctant to join the war is the difficulty Ukrainian forces are facing on the front lines.

“Our troop advanced only 100 meters in 8½ months,” said a 25-year-old Ukrainian soldier who took part in battles in the eastern Kharkiv region until the end of last year.

He felt that the Russian forces “had about 100 times the number of troops, and over 10 times the number of drones, artillery shells and bullets compared to the Ukrainian forces.” He believes that the Russians were deploying a large number of troops in an attempt to reoccupy the area. “The situation would’ve been different if we had a little more weapons and ammunition,” he said.

The Ukrainian military’s counteroffensive in the south and east of the country last year failed to recapture a wide swath of territory, hampered by Russia’s multilayered defense lines that included minefields.

From around the autumn last year, the supply of artillery shells and ammunition from the United States and European countries began to decline. On Feb. 17, Russia declared control over Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region, which Ukraine had used as a defense base. The battleground is tilting in Russia’s favor.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, who became commander in chief of the Ukrainian military on Feb. 8, had admitted that Russian troops are advancing on all fronts in a recent interview with a German broadcaster. “We have turned to the defensive from the offensive,” he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered the strengthening of defense lines last December to prevent the expansion of territorial occupation by Russian forces. He is said to be drawing up a blueprint to launch another counteroffensive in 2025, after putting emphasis on rebuilding forces this year.

A poll conducted this month by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology asked Ukrainians whether they believed that affairs were developing in the right direction, and the results showed that 46% disagreed, higher than the 44% that agreed. Patience is once again being tested in Ukraine, which had been overcoming its ordeal through unity.