Ukrainian forces have for months held off a grueling Russian offensive in battered towns and heavily shelled trenches covering the eastern front line.
But now, as Kremlin forces falter after making only incremental gains during the winter assault, Ukraine is preparing to strike back.
“If our senior officers say we have enough troops, enough shells — enough of everything — to attack, then we are ready,” a Ukrainian soldier, who identified himself as Mark, told AFP in a statement. the Donetsk region this week.
Russia was repelled in embarrassing defeats near capital Kiev, Kharkiv and Kherson last year, but analysts now say Ukraine has a short window to deliver a bigger blow.
Newly conscripted Russian forces are badly depleted after their lackluster offensive, while kyiv has stockpiled ammunition, seized long-range artillery and main battle tanks from the west, and is bolstering its army.
“Who knows when Ukraine will have this chance again,” said Mykola Bielieskov, a researcher at Kyiv’s National Institute for Strategic Studies.
“It’s now or never,” he told AFP.
Get the timing right
A key question is: when?
The Department of Defense recently released tongue-in-cheek footage of a soldier dancing in a muddy trench with the caption, “Once the ground hardens it will be possible to launch an offensive.”
“But more important than the weather, Ukrainian troops must master the weapons promised to them by the West and synchronize intelligence and logistics,” Bieliekov said.
He estimated that Ukraine’s offensive preparations could peak by June or July, much later than other predictions of late that month or early May.
“Everyone in Kyiv understands that a prematurely launched offensive is less likely to succeed,” Bieliekov added.
The southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – which the Kremlin claimed it annexed last September – are likely targets, and their capture by kyiv would sever a land bridge between Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula.
And when Ukraine begins to push back the fortified Russian positions, artillery and enough shells will be essential in a battle dominated by long-range duels.
But Ukrainian servicemen from different frontline sections have complained to AFP of being overwhelmed by Russian forces with a seemingly endless supply of shells.
Last month, the European Union agreed on a 2 billion euro ($2.2 billion) plan to supply Ukraine, but observers estimate that around half of that package should be delivered for success of the Ukrainian offensive.
“Unlike the Russians, we are not concerned with the quantity of shots, but with the accuracy of the shots. This is how Ukraine plans to fill this gap,” Bieliekov said.
“The only problem is that we pay for this in people.”
And military recruitment announcements across Kyiv indicate large-scale efforts to build up a new force for the offensive after year-long battle losses.
kyiv did not provide figures but the head of Russian mercenary group Wagner has warned that Moscow should prepare to repel a Ukrainian force of 200,000 to 400,000 men.
Ukraine also urges Western allies to equip its armed forces with fighter jets to match Russia in the air.
Leaked US intelligence suggests Ukrainian stockpiles of missiles for its air defense systems are running out, potentially paving the way for The famous Russian Air Force.
“Without air superiority, carrying out offensives under fire from enemy aircraft is – to put it mildly – quite a difficult matter,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said recently.
The leaks seem to suggest that Ukraine lacks precision equipment and ammunition. Observers say some details could jeopardize Ukraine’s future offensive, but kyiv has denied that.
“I don’t see anything in these files that would have a wow effect,” presidential aide Mykhalo Podolyak told local media this week, adding that offensive plans “are still being worked out.”
The stakes for Ukraine are high.
“The United States and European countries can support Ukraine’s war effort but may not be able to provide a decisive military advantage over Russia for some time after that period,” said US military analyst Michael Kofman.
Bieliekov said kyiv must refute Kremlin arguments that the West must accept its gains and prove to its allies that it can continue to claw back territory.
“Everyone wants to be on the winning side,” he said.
one year later Russia invaded, observers say Ukraine has become the most motivated force.
“I can only speak for my sector – six kilometers (four miles) forward and three kilometers to either side,” said Mark, 42, on the Donetsk frontline.
“We are ready to do what needs to be done.”