Russia is moving forward despite heavy shelling, but will its strategy continue to work?

The Russian capture of the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysichansk, a major victory in Moscow’s campaign to conquer eastern Ukraine, demonstrates the success of the Russian military’s strategy of superior firepower and incremental advance.

It also raises serious questions about how long either side can continue like this, especially the battered and heavily outgunned Ukrainian forces forced to rely on recruits and suffer heavy casualties, as well as the psychological strain of combat, retreats and constant Russian shelling. .

The Russian invasion has taken a heavy toll on her own forces as well, but they continue their slow advance, and with taking Lisichansk this weekendthey took control of the entire Lugansk region, which gave them the opportunity to move towards the Ukrainian-held cities in the Donetsk region.

A devastating strategy that relies heavily on long-range artillery is suitable for the flat terrain and shorter Russian supply lines in the east, but may not work elsewhere. And it remains unclear how far President Vladimir V. Putin intends to advance in the offensive, or how much more loss of life and equipment his military can absorb without needing a long break to recover.

Ukrainian officials say their goal is to inflict maximum pain on the Russians by forcing them to fight for cities, how it was in Severodonetsk and to a lesser extent in Lisichansk, but both cities fell, and now there are doubts about this approach. The strategy is also divisive among Ukrainian forces, some of whom see attempts to hold cities as fruitless.

“For me, human life is more important than the name Lisichansk,” the lieutenant colonel said. Colonel Yuriy Bereza, 52, commander of a Ukrainian National Guard battalion, said days before the Ukrainians decided to leave the city rather than fight block by block, as they did in nearby Severodonetsk.

Vladimir, a volunteer soldier who was one of the last of his unit to leave Severodonetsk in June, said he lost more than half of his company of about 100 soldiers during the battle. He summed up the battle with a curse.

“What support?” he asked. “There was no support.”

However, he nodded towards a Ukrainian T-80 tank across the road, stating that tank units had come to the aid of the soldiers, but artillery support had not.

Early in the war, Russian troops attempting to quickly capture the capital Kyiv overextended their troops and armored columns, leaving them little support, and were soundly defeated by the Ukrainians. Moscow then turned its attention to the mineral-rich industrial region of the Donbass to the east—Lugansk and Donetsk—and changed its strategy.

Now, Russian troops rarely move forward without overwhelming support, often in the form of a heavy artillery barrage, even if that means what Moscow has captured lies in ruins. Ukrainian soldiers say the shelling continues for about five days before Russian troops start checking Ukrainian positions with infantry and tanks.

The fighting clearly exhausted both sides. Ukrainian officials estimate that their forces are suffering hundreds of casualties daily; Western intelligence assesses the death and injury of Russians at the same level.

Ukrainian forces are increasingly relying on less trained troops, such as the Territorial Defense Force and the National Guard, in addition to depleted frontline units. And Russia turned to reinforcements such as Paramilitaries of Wagnerpro-Moscow Chechen forces and separatist fighters from Lugansk and Donetsk to reinforce their own stricken units.

On Monday, Mr. Putin ordered the troops involved in the capture of Lisichansk and Severodonetsk to rest and “improve their fighting capacity” while other Russian formations continue to fight.

Both sides play down reports of faltering morale within their ranks, sometimes posting motivational videos on social media to refute the notion that anyone in the trenches is frazzled. And even though the losses tire them out, the Ukrainian military is demonstrating a willingness to continue fighting at any cost.

“Let’s go back,” said Vladimir, retreating from Severodonetsk. “This is our country. This is how it is.”

But this method of warfare – artillery warfare – can cause severe psychological trauma, as it did during World War I, the conflict that gave rise to the term shell shock. Ukrainian commanders, especially replacements, are concerned that some of their soldiers are suffering from stress, in addition to the risk of being wounded or killed by enemy fire.

“During the artillery shelling, all you can do is lie in cover and wait for the shelling to end,” said Volodymyr, a Ukrainian platoon commander who recently returned from the front to the Donbass. “Some people get mentally traumatized because of such shelling. They are psychologically unprepared for everything they face.”

Vladimir, who refused to give his last name for security reasons, said that one person in his platoon was killed, and two were forced to leave the front due to mental trauma.

After more than four months of war, Ukrainians remain angry and defiant. But among the civilian population – millions of displaced, unemployed and living in fear, some without adequate food, water and electricity – the mood is growing grim. As the Russians fortify their positions and casualties mount with no end in sight, some Ukrainians are accusing their government of downplaying the challenges ahead in an attempt to boost morale.

Yulia Fedotovskikh, 32, a public relations manager in Kyiv, said that at the beginning of the war, scrolling on social media of images of dead Russian soldiers helped her feel more secure. Now, she says, she’s just trying to avoid the news.

“I am aware and resigned to the fact that I can die at any moment, so I just live my life,” she said.

As the first signs of a likely outbreak of violence, Russian troops have intensified shelling of settlements near the front line in recent days.

On Sunday, six people died in Slavyansk, more than ten were injured. Russian missilesThis was stated by the Ukrainian authorities. In a Facebook post, the mayor of Sloviansk, Vadim Lyakh, said that this was the heaviest shelling of the city since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 2. 24. The head of the regional military administration, Pavel Kirilenko, said in a message on the messaging app Telegram on Monday that Russian troops had killed nine civilians in the Donetsk region in the previous 24 hours.

In a late-night video message, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the Russians “have now amassed their greatest firepower in the Donbas and can use tens of thousands of artillery shells daily on one sector of the front.”

But he vowed once again to regain the lost territory. “We will return,” he said, “thanks to our tactics, thanks to an increase in the supply of modern weapons.”

In the south, near the Russian-controlled port city of Kherson, Ukrainian forces have made some small gains over the past month. And while military analysts say these gradual victories are a sign of a broader counteroffensive to come, the Ukrainian military downplays the fighting and acknowledges the focus is on the east.

Kyiv often called for more Western arms and ammunition. And although some of them made it to the front and proved to be successful in combat, especially the recently arrived HIMARS. salvo fire system any long-term Ukrainian success on the battlefield will require much more from the United States.

“There is a problem with ammunition,” Colonel Bereza said. “For example, for one of our shots, they would have fired 50 shots. How to deal with it?

But he said that the situation had improved somewhat and that “we are waiting for help from the West with artillery and machines.”

Due to the lack of ammunition in the Ukrainian armed forces, especially for Soviet-era long-range artillery pieces, their forces are forced to switch from these weapons to newer, Western-supplied equipment that requires serious training. The United States and its allies are providing training outside of Ukraine, but the pace has not matched demand, and some of those trained have been killed or wounded.

A Ukrainian officer working with US-supplied M777 howitzers said several Latvian-trained officers and howitzer gunners were killed or wounded during the fighting.

“Enemy artillery worked around the clock, seven days a week, while our artillery could do something three or four times a day,” said Yelena, a military medic who declined to give her last name for security reasons. “And then he might miss the target. There were problems with adjusting the fire.”

For both sides, air support was mostly a minor part of the fighting in the Donbass, or even non-existent. Russia and Ukraine have significant air defenses in the east, which means that most planes and helicopters have to fly at dangerously low altitudes to provide any support to ground troops. As a result, Russian forces are launching cruise missiles at key infrastructure behind the front lines.

According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in recent days its forces have carried out more than a dozen sorties in the south and east of Ukraine, destroying part of Russian equipment. Last week, a Ukrainian Su-24 attack aircraft was spotted at treetop level in the direction of Lysichansk, a rarity in the Donbass.

Report has been provided Richard Perez Peña as well as Alexandra E. Petri from New York; Valerie Hopkins, Maria Varenikova as well as Kamila Grabchuk from Kyiv; Matthew Mpouk Bigg from London and Natalya Ermak from Lvov, Ukraine.