In eastern Ukraine, where another gruelling winter is descending — along with it a likely freeze in major frontline movements — one Ukrainian soldier had a grim assessment of the conflict.
The 35-year-old fighting near the war-battered town of Bakhmut went further than comments from Ukraine’s most senior military official, who conceded this week that the war with Russia had reached a stalemate.
“I’ve been saying that for some time now already. Step by step we’re losing the war,” the serviceman, who uses the call sign “Mudryi” (Wise), told AFP.
“The longer this static war continues, the worse it is for us,” he said in a phone interview.
The frontline between the Ukrainian army and Russian forces occupying the east and south of the country has barely moved since last November, despite repeated Russian strikes and a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Ukraine’s General Valery Zaluzhny surprised observers of the invasion this week with an unusually candid assessment that the warring parties had reached a deadlock along the sprawling front.
“Just like in the First World War, we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” he told the British magazine, The Economist.
“There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”
The comments poured cold water on the highly-touted counteroffensive that Ukraine launched this summer after stockpiling Western weapons and training new recruits.
But the push gained little ground and AFP journalists found last month that Ukraine was still battling Russian forces in one key village it had claimed to recapture weeks earlier.
In response to Zaluzhny’s comments, a senior Ukrainian official told AFP the country was facing a turning point, and would need to decide on a strategy on how to win the conflict with Russia.
Presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak meanwhile conceded in turn that this period of fighting had run into “difficulties”.
And Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s security council, acknowledged that, “new approaches are needed.”
Ukrainian forces have urged Western allies to provide F-16 fighters jets and long range missiles as infantry crash into deep Russian defensive lines they have struggled to penetrate.
“We have problems with too many issues. First, the quality of training for our soldiers. Second, we don’t have enough weapons or artillery,” a 33-year-old Ukrainian serviceman near Bakhmut told AFP.
“We’re starved for artillery and it’s getting worse,” said the soldier, who goes by “Dan”.
Zaluzhny however did win praise in some corners for outlining measures to break the impasse, including innovation in drone and anti-artillery technology and improved demining capacity.
Mykola Bielieskov, a Ukrainian military analyst, was optimistic and said Zaluzhny had outlined a fresh course path to success, should politicians in Kyiv and the West choose to follow it.
“In general there is consensus that Russia will not win and Ukraine will not lose,” he said.
The Kremlin, responding to the interview, had a different take.
“No, it has not reached a stalemate,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“Russia is steadily carrying out the special military operation. All the goals that were set should be fulfilled,” he added, using the Kremlin’s term for the war.
In Kyiv, residents of the capital praised Zaluzhny for telling the truth, and urged Ukrainian politicians to heed his words.
“We all hoped for the best, but we all prepared for the worst,” said 19-year-old Krystyna walking near the iconic Maidan square with her mother.
And she warned against the consequences of not acting.
“All the guys and girls who died there, and all the civilians, and all the military, everything will have been in vain.”