THE WORLD

Ukrainians pay the price of the West's reluctance

As Western nations are reluctant to send much-needed arms and ammunition to Ukraine, Russia is rapidly advancing in the country's east, using its advantage in air power and artillery.

(The Guardian) Russia's warplane has flown over Avdiivka, a Ukrainian city abandoned this month by Ukrainian forces. He has been seen several times over the new eastern front line. Then he dropped a bomb, not far from where Maryna Haivoronska was staying in the village of Novoselivka Persha.

"I saw the plane flying. It was 9:30 in the morning. The bomb fell 500 meters away from me. I fell to the ground. My legs are still shaking", Haivoronska confessed.

Since the capture of Avdiivka, Russian forces have been moving rapidly forward. Earlier this week, they occupied two settlements near Novoselivka, where Haivoronska is the mayor. Their tactics have been brutally effective. First, fighter jets bomb the area. Then, Russian combat groups using armored vehicles attack the new and vulnerable Ukrainian positions.

Two years after launching the all-out invasion, Russia is close to achieving the strategic advantage in the east. This is taking place in a countryside landscape with many fields, tall grass and pyramid-shaped hills. Ukrainian forces roam up and down Humvee military vehicles along dusty village roads. But they have no choice against the Russian jets, which patrol menacingly above them in the sky, leaving white streaks of smoke in their wake.

Despite this, the Ukrainian troops have not surrendered. They have shot down 10 enemy attack aircraft in as many days. But they generally lack the air defenses that would enable them to pursue Russian fighter jets en route to military positions over the occupied city of Donetsk. The Ukrainians have little artillery, and on the other hand, the Russians have a lot. The sound of the rockets – like successive thunderbolts – can be heard not far from the Ukrainian front line.

The heavy bomb that fell on the school road destroyed a two-story private house. Miraculously, the family inside her - Alyona Movchani and her two children - survived this attack. The village had been hit earlier. In 2023, a rocket leveled the main square, destroying everything but a Soviet war memorial, a sculpture of a wounded soldier. Two people were killed by this strike. Another died of a heart attack.

Aid dependence

Local residents have said that the decisions being challenged on whether or not to make many miles away, in the case of blocking a $61 billion package from the United States Republicans to Ukraine - are existential for them. Their homes and communities are being swallowed up by Russian attacks.

"We fell on our knees, begging the US and the UK for help," Haivoronska said. "I am from Avdiivka. I believed that the city would manage to hold. We lost because our men didn't have enough planes or ammunition."

Some residents are reluctant to leave, despite the fact that the Russians are 10 kilometers away and are getting closer and closer. The mayor said that only 18 people are staying in the village. There is neither electricity nor gas there. The village shop is closed this week. The discotheque, the kindergarten and the medical center were closed long ago. In the neighboring village, Zhelanne, about 454 residents are still sheltering. On Tuesday, humanitarian aid was given to the village school. Moscow bombed the building three times, destroying part of the facade.

"I have a bag ready. But where am I supposed to go?” 63-year-old Liubov Hryhorivna asked herself. "I have no money. Pensions are small. I love my country and I don't want to leave here." But what did she think of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has vowed to "liberate" parts of the Donetsk region that are not under the Russian regime? "Putin started with Donetsk in 2014. Now he wants everything. His appetite for power has grown. He is our enemy", she said. Can Ukraine win this war? "I don't know", she answered.

Hryhorivna has collected a gas cylinder, a solar lamp and a blanket. She said she was living in an apartment, which belonged to her husband's deceased parents, after a rocket hit her property and destroyed the windows of the house. "I would like to live to see my grandchildren," she said.

Of the 30 people receiving aid, one said he supported Russia. "I believe in peace", said Anatolii Anatoliiovychi, predicting that "Russia will win this war".

French President Emmanuel Macron this week called an emergency summit in support of Ukraine, alarmed by the blockage of the aid package in the US Congress. Participants agreed that more should be done to support Ukraine. The European Union, however, has failed to fulfill its promise to give Kiev one million artillery rounds. The delivery of weapons, tanks, air defense systems and long-range artillery usually came very late and only after warnings.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops have hastily built a new fortified line designed to thwart further Russian advances. It extends between the villages of Tonenke, Orlivka and Berdychi. There are trenches and water sources. But they offer less protection than the now-abandoned bunkers inside the Avdiivka industrial zone and a large factory there. These have helped Ukrainian combat units stand up to Russia and its proxies for a decade. Will Ukraine's new defense work? "I am optimistic," said Mykola Kovalenko, the head of the Ocheretynsk military district, which includes Novoselivka, Zhelanne and other villages west of Avdiivka. "I believe in our armed forces. Look how long they kept Avdiivka from Russian occupation. The problem on our side is the lack of weapons. Without air power, Russia would not have been able to capture the city. Airplanes are terrible for our army," he explained. "Our soldiers are heroes. It is not easy to stop Russia and its military forces".

Evidence of this could be seen nearby. A Russian aircraft bomb, weighing 500 kilograms and known as "FAB", had destroyed a shop and a white house. The fires were burning the buildings. The earth was hot. The blast had transformed an orchard into a wasteland of blackened stumps. A teahouse lay surreally amid the debris. The glasses were melted and carbonized. The blast had ripped off the roof tiles, exposing the timber-framed framework.

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Sasha Semiletov (left), founder of the organization "Useful People from Avdiivka" and Valerii Yevsiukov during the delivery of aid in Zhelanne. Photo: The Guardian.

At 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Russia launched another airstrike. A 62-year-old woman, who was walking on the street, was injured. Most of the houses in the center of Zelanne have been destroyed. In Novoselivka on the same day, a dropped bomb created a 25-meter-wide crater. There have been more airstrikes in the city of Pokrovsk and Kurakhove, where Ukrainian forces are preventing another Russian push.

The authorities have requested the evacuation of all the children of this district. At least 1,500 Ukrainian adults remain there. Most of them are old men. Volunteers bring them supplies. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has brought a truck full of emergency medical boxes. The gas canisters were brought by "Useful People from Avdiivka", a charity founded in 2022 by Sasha Semiletov and financed by the "Razom" organization, based in New York.

Earlier, Semiletov made regular deliveries to Avdiivka, which was once his home. Travel had become increasingly dangerous since October, when the Russians launched a major tank offensive. They had entered from three sides, threatening to close the only road that was under Ukrainian control. That same month, a Russian soldier piloting a drone spotted Semiletov's van. The drone followed his vehicle, caught him and opened a hole in the roof of the vehicle with a projectile.

"There was an explosion and then we smelled smoke, but we didn't stop. When we reached the city, we realized that the drone had hit us. It was an amazing moment. 'What the hell? We are still alive'", he confessed. "We smiled at our good fortune."

The drone carried a grenade. The projectile, fortunately, did not hit Semiletov and his passengers. On Tuesday, he traveled to Zhelanne in an olive-colored Daewoo Lanos, speeding through the exposed land, from where the chimneys of the Avdiivka factory could be seen in the distance. He remembers how the situation within this city worsened. Russia first marked administrative structures, then multi-story buildings. Last summer, school number 6, where they distributed food, burned to the ground. He had seen military planes hit the factory where he worked as an engineer.

"You could see black mushroom-shaped clouds forming. "Within two months, Russia has released 1,200 'FAB' bombs," he said. "The F-16s promised by three European countries could have made a difference in this city. But they never came."

Failure

Zhelanne is now paying the price for the West's collective reluctance. While Berlin is confused and Washington deals with internal strife, Moscow has advanced relentlessly. Its factories are producing ammunition day and night. The Kremlin is working with totalitarian allies. It has received projectiles and ballistic missiles from Pyongyang and kamikaze drones from Tehran.

Donald Trump is also waiting in the shadows. His return as US president may further weaken Kiev and accelerate the loss of Ukrainian territory.

Ukrainian officials are braving the recently added obstacles. Hanna Maliar, former Deputy Minister of Defense, has said that Russia is trying to advance in the eastern sector of Ukraine, from five different directions. According to her, so far Russia has only achieved "local victories". The Russian generals have given orders "eight times" for the occupation of the entire Donetsk region, a goal impossible to achieve. "Undoubtedly they will try again", she said. "The enemy has suffered heavy losses as well."

In Zhelanne, the villagers have said that they will continue to believe in the victory of Ukraine, even though this result seems more and more impossible and distant. Valeriiy Yevsiukov, a volunteer at "Useful People from Avdiivka", has admitted that Russian attack groups could quickly occupy more villages in the region. But he has said Russia would have trouble advancing on developed urban centers, such as the well-defended eastern towns of Kramatorski and Slovianski.

Meanwhile, he intends not to stop. "There's no point in crying. I don't believe in life after death," he said. "Sasha Semiletovi and I are doing something useful. Together we have four hands and two heads. We will do everything possible to help."

Translated by: Latra Gashi