Ukraine’s army chief said on Saturday that the situation on the eastern front had worsened in recent days as Russia has intensified its armoured assaults and battles rage for control of a village west of the devastated city of Bakhmut.
The statement by Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi more than two years since Russia’s invasion reflected the grim mood in Kyiv as vital US military aid that Kyiv expected to receive months ago remains stuck in Congress.
Syrskyi said he travelled to the area to stabilise the front as Russian assault groups using tanks and armoured personnel carriers took advantage of dry, warm weather that has made it easier to manoeuvre.
“The situation on the eastern front in recent days has grown considerably more tense. This is linked primarily to the significant activisation of offensive action by the enemy after the presidential elections in Russia,” he wrote on the Telegram app.
A spokesman for the forces battling on the eastern section of the front said in remarks on Ukrainian television that Russia’s army was attacking using all types of weapons, from artillery to tanks, drones and guided aerial bombs.
With superior manpower and equipment, Russia was fighting along the entire front, the spokesman, Nazar Voloshyn, said, adding: “The enemy is trying to exhaust the Ukrainian army.”
The slowdown in military assistance from the West has left Ukraine more exposed to aerial attacks and heavily outgunned on the battlefield.
Kyiv has made increasingly desperate appeals for supplies of air defence missiles in recent weeks.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Saturday its forces had captured Pervomaiske, a village to the south also located in Ukraine’s Donetsk region where Moscow has focused its offensive operations for months.
Moscow said its troops had improved their tactical position on the front line there after capturing the village 8km (4.97 miles) southwest of occupied Avdiivka.
Kyiv did not immediately comment on the status of Pervomaiske.
Syrskyi said Russian armoured assault groups were attacking on the fronts of Lyman as well as Bakhmut and using dozens of tanks and armoured personnel carriers to try to break through lines on the Pokrovsk front.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has warned that Russia may be preparing a big offensive push in late May or in June, inspected domestically-produced weapons at an event outside Kyiv where he presented state awards to Ukrainian arms producers.
At the event, Ukraine’s military drone forces chief said supplies of drones to the front lines this year were already three times higher than the volume supplied over the course of the whole of last year, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.
He also said Ukraine had strike drones capable of flying 1,200km.
In his statement, Syrskyi said only a technological edge over Russia in sophisticated weapons would allow Kyiv “to seize the strategic initiative” from a better equipped and larger foe.
He called for better training for soldiers and in particular infantry, a clear reference to Ukraine’s manpower challenges.
Ukraine’s parliament passed a bill on Thursday to overhaul how the armed forces draft civilians into the ranks.
Zelensky also signed legislation last week lowering the draft age from 27 to 25.
Meanwhile, Germany said on Saturday that it will send an additional Patriot air defence system to Ukraine.
“Russian terror against Ukrainian cities and the country’s infrastructure is causing immeasurable suffering,” said German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, announcing the move. “It is jeopardising people’s energy supply and destroying the operational readiness of the Ukrainian armed forces.”
It will be the third Patriot system that Berlin has supplied to Kyiv, with the defence ministry saying the decision was taken at the request of the Ukrainian government and in co-ordination with allies.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz also spoke by phone on Saturday with Zelensky, reaffirming his “unwavering solidarity with Ukraine in the face of massive and ongoing Russian airstrikes, particularly on civilian energy infrastructure”, a German government spokesman said.
As well as Patriots, Berlin has supplied other armaments, ranging from artillery to armoured fighting vehicles.
The defence ministry said the handover of the new Patriot system from German military stocks would begin immediately.
Despite Germany delivering billions of euros of military supplies to Ukraine, Scholz has come under fire for refusing to allow the supply of long-range Taurus missiles.
Germany fears the missiles could be used to hit targets deep within Russia.