(DONETSK REGION, Eastern Ukraine) — Russia has escalated its attacks on Ukrainian positions in eastern Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin presses for gains on the battlefield ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war towards the end of this month.
Ukrainian and Russian forces remain locked in a brutal battle in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut.
On Wednesday, the Ukrainian army said its positions in that area had been shelled 151 times during the previous 24 hours. Russian claims that its forces had surrounded the city were denied by Ukrainian officials.
However, Russia has also started a more sustained assault to the south on another frontline town called Vuhledar, according to both Ukrainian and Western officials.
Images circulating on social media show that the town has been pummeled by Russian artillery and Western officials said Russia had made “creeping gains” in that area.
Russia’s offensive in Vuhledar, they thought, could be an attempt to force the Ukrainians to move resources away from the battle in Bakhmut.
“It’s a devastating First World War-like environment” Western officials told journalists at a briefing on Tuesday, adding that both sides were sustaining “really heavy casualties.”
Medics at a Ukrainian army field hospital situated a few miles from the frontlines in eastern Ukraine told ABC News last Thursday that they are currently receiving “dozens of casualties” every day.
As Russia attempts to push forward, it has recently enjoyed some “tactical successes” in eastern Ukraine, according to Western officials.
However, the officials claimed there is still broad “parity” between Ukrainian and Russian forces in the battle zone and argued that Russia still does not have the means to commit significant additional resources into the fight to tip the balance.
That said, Ukraine and its Western allies are in a race against time.
The U.S. and its NATO partners are working to get new weaponry, including advanced Western tanks into Ukraine.
More than a hundred German-made Leopard 2 tanks and British Challenger 2 tanks could take “months” to reach the battlefield, say officials.
Ukrainian forces are also potentially more vulnerable to Russian attacks now because some of its best soldiers are resting and training on new Western weaponry ahead of a likely Ukrainian offensive in the coming weeks or months.
The Russians are also preparing for an “imminent offensive,” said the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in one of its recent reports, stating that its assessment came from “western, Ukrainian and Russian sources.”
However, the uptick in Russian attacks in eastern Ukraine did not mean a major Russian offensive was already underway, Western officials told journalists.
If Russia wants to launch a successful offensive, it will need to mobilize more soldiers, via a fresh draft, the officials claimed.
“The Russians’ ability to supply their troops and provide appropriate logistics to their forces in the battle zone limits their ability to change the course of the conflict,” they told reporters on Tuesday.
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