(CN) — After more than three months of gruesome fighting, Ukrainian leaders say they are holding out against Russian attacks but are suffering increasing troop losses and running low on ammunition.
As the war drags on, Russia provoked more outrage in the West after three mercenaries fighting for Ukraine – two Britons and a Moroccan – were sentenced to death by firing squad on Thursday by authorities in the pro-Russian self-declared Donetsk republic in eastern Ukraine.
“The judgment against them is an egregious breach of the Geneva convention,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Also, new statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin seeming to compare his decision to invade Ukraine to Peter the Great’s campaigns in the 18th century to conquer parts of northern Russia are drawing fierce rebuke from critics who accuse Putin of seeking to restore the Russian and Soviet empires.
On the battlefield, meanwhile, there is growing evidence that Ukraine’s army is exhausted and struggling to hold onto territories in the east and south of the country where its forces are desperately fighting back against the Russian onslaught.
As of Friday, Ukrainian leaders vowed that Russia was not making much progress and even being pushed back in places.
“We are exhausting the enemy,” Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, said on social media. “We hold on!”
But Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said between 100 and 200 soldiers are being killed each day. A week ago, Zelenskyy put the number of losses between 60 and 100 soldiers a day with as many as 500 troops wounded each day.
Ukrainian military chiefs are warning that they are running out of ammunition and relying on supplies from the West.
“This is an artillery war now,” said Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, told the Guardian. “And we are losing in terms of artillery.”
“Everything now depends on what [the West] gives us,” Skibitsky said. “Ukraine has one artillery piece to 10 to 15 Russian artillery pieces. Our Western partners have given us about 10% of what they have.”
Ukraine is desperate for the United States and its allies to ramp up arms shipments. U.S. President Joe Biden recently announced four medium-range rocket launchers will be sent to Ukraine, but Kyiv wants the West to send far more advanced weapons to hit back at Russia.
There are increasing reports from journalists on the front lines and videos made by Ukrainian troops that paint a very difficult picture for Ukrainian forces.
Neil Hauer, a Canadian freelance journalist, spoke to Ukrainians on the front lines in Donbas who said they felt like cannon fodder inadequately equipped with rifles to fight against Russian tanks and artillery.
“The front just comes closer and closer,” Nikita, a 35-year-old soldier, told the journalist, as reported in a piece for CBC, the Canadian state broadcaster. “We keep getting pushed back, further and further.”
Nikita, who was not authorized to give his surname, was critical of Ukraine’s leadership.
“You have to understand that there are two castes in this country,” he said. “There's the upper caste, and then there's us: the lower caste. We are just pawns. Nothing more. The upper caste gets the money, and we get the command: 'Forward!'”
He added: “No one here wants to hear the truth. They just want the beautiful story of how Ukraine is united. But here, we're fucked.”
Russia too is suffering heavy losses, though the number of wounded and killed combatants remains a secret on both sides.