June 12, 2024

By Anna Voitenko

NEAR BAKHMUT, Ukraine (Reuters) – Despite recent battlefield gains, Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the eastern front say they need more Western weapons to speed up their grinding counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Kyiv says it has in recent fighting recaptured two villages south of Bakhmut which will help its forces advance on the shattered eastern city occupied by Russian forces since May.

But troops taking cover in a bunker near Bakhmut this week said they were still heavily reliant on Soviet-era Grad multiple rocket launchers, and dream of receiving the more sophisticated U.S.-made HIMARS rocket launchers.

“Things would be brighter, a lot more interesting if we had HIMARS,” one soldier, who gave his name only as Denys, said as explosions echoed nearby.

“Or at the very least one of those made Czech-made Vampires (rocket launchers),” he said.

The West has provided Ukraine with arms worth billions of dollars since Russia’s invasion nearly 19 months ago, and some Ukrainian troops have deployed Vampires and HIMARS.

But Denys echoed President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is meeting global leaders at the U.N. General Assembly this week, by saying Ukraine needs yet more weapons to drive out Russian forces.

“We have to win. And set Moscow ablaze,” Denys said. “We need more weapons, more. Good weapons, more accurate weapons.”

Troops who spoke to Reuters near the front line said there was now more optimism than at the start of the war.

“The worst, most fearful times were when we thought they would come here, to our homes,” said a soldier called Ivan, his thoughts interrupted by a loud bang.

GROWING CONFIDENCE

The nearly four-month-old counteroffensive has been criticised by some Western officials as too slow, with Ukraine’s troops encountering vast minefields and trenches.

But Ukrainian soldiers suggest confidence is growing, especially after the recapture of the villages of Andriivka and Klishchiivka about eight km (five miles) south of Bakhmut.

Russia, which has not acknowledged losing Andriivka and Klishchiivka, sees Bakhmut as a stepping stone to taking other Ukrainians towns and cities. Recapturing the city would be seen in Ukraine as an important symbolic victory.

“Two days after the liberation of Klishchiivka, it’s quieter,” said a commander who gave his name as Vladyslav.

“It’s possible they (the Russian forces) have repositioned themselves. Or perhaps are building up new positions. But goodness, for two weeks, two months, there was no calm. It just doesn’t happen.”

He said Russian aircraft “make life difficult” and attacks drones were “more noticeable lately.”

Until more sophisticated Western weapons arrive, the soldiers are likely to continue relying on the self-propelled Grad (meaning “hail”) which came into service in the 1960s.

“It’s quite a powerful weaponry,” said Vladyslav, 30. “It works in areas were there are people, on equipment and especially during an offensive.”

(Writing by Ron Popeski, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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