June 24. 2024. 5:38

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Ukrainian gunners finally get shells to stop Russians near Kharkiv


Ukrainian servicemen operating a howitzer in Kharkiv region near the Russian border work around the clock to stop an incursion by Moscow’s troops, and they are finally getting the shells to do it.

Ukraine’s defenders were hamstrung for months by shortages of artillery shells and other weapons as US Congress held up billions of dollars worth of military aid. As the lawmakers in Washington argued, Russia’s forces pressed their advantage on the frontlines, pushing forward on the eastern front.

With a $61 billion aid package belatedly approved by Congress last month, Ukraine’s gunners say the crippling shortages are starting to ease.

Those in the northern districts of Kharkiv region say the fighting is more intense than their previous assignment in Bakhmut, the town in eastern Ukraine seized by Russia last year and reduced to rubble by months of fighting.

“It’s 24/7, their infantry keeps coming, we keep fighting their attacks. At least we are trying to. Whenever possible, we take them down,” said Pavlo, a gunner of Ukraine’s 92nd Separate Assault brigade operating a howitzer.

“We were positioned in the Bakhmut area before, now we have been transferred here. It’s much ‘hotter’ here. We didn’t have shells there. Here, at least we have shells, they started delivering them. We have something to work with, to fight.”

Russian forces pushed across the border earlier this month and say they have captured about a dozen villages.

The town of Vovchansk, 5 km inside the border, remains the focal point of the incursion. Ukrainian forces control about 60 % of the town and are fighting house-to-house to fend off Russian attacks.

The stakes are high – capturing Vovchansk would be Russia’s most significant gain since launching the assault. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, lies 70 km away.

“We see them walking down the road, 5 km away all the way from Shebekino,” said Vitalii, commander of the brigade’s artillery unit, referring to a town on the Russian side of the border.

“We see them walking on foot to their positions. As they move, we of course try to hit them , to inflict maximum casualties.”

Officers pore over drone footage of Vovchansk, with smoke rising over different districts, to assess the situation below. Monitors are checked, calculations made.

Two men are tasked with ensuring the howitzer is well camouflaged – with tree boughs.

Vitalii is confident that the shells will keep coming as everyone is aware of the importance of holding their line.

“Yes, we will be getting ammunition because we are up against a large and serious enemy group,” he said.

“If we can demonstrate now that we are able in such an extreme situation to stop the enemy’s big scale assault on Kharkiv and Kharkiv region, the enemy will not dare to think of attacking Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy or Poltava region.”

Ukraine destroys Russian warship

The Ukrainian military said on Tuesday (21 May) it destroyed the last Russian warship armed with cruise missiles that was stationed on the Moscow-occupied peninsula of Crimea during an operation over the weekend.

Ukraine’s military reported conducting a long-range attack that destroyed a Russian minesweeping navy vessel on Sunday and said it needed more time to confirm what else had been damaged.

“According to updated information, the Ukrainian defence forces hit a Russian project 22800 Tsiklon missile ship in Sevastopol, on the night of 19 May,” the General Staff said on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian Navy later said in a statement on X that the vessel had been “destroyed”.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the statements. There was no immediate comment from the Russian side.

Ukrainian Navy spokesperson Dmytro Pletenchuk said the Tsiklon was Russia’s “last cruise missile carrier” based on the peninsula, which Moscow seized and occupied in 2014.

According to the Russian defence ministry, it was built in a Kerch shipyard and started combat duty last June.

Tsiklon never fired a cruise missile while on active service, Pletenchuk said in televised comments.

With no powerful naval fleet of its own, Ukraine has carried out missile and naval drone attacks on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet during the 27-month-old full-scale war.

Ukraine’s Navy has said the strikes have prompted Russia to rebase most of its Black Sea Fleet away from the Crimean peninsula.

Pletenchuk said that of five warships from Russia’s project 22800, two had been destroyed, two had been returned to the Caspian Sea and one was currently at a shipyard.

The Caspian Sea is landlocked, but Russia uses channels to move warships to the Black Sea and back.

Kyiv officials say the attacks allowed Ukraine to seize the initiative in the Black Sea and undermine Moscow’s capability to carry out missile strikes on Ukrainian territory from the sea.

Read more with Euractiv

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