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Two Ukrainian fighters describe the current state of the frontlines against Russia


At the end of the NATO summit, the Pentagon announced an additional $820 million in security assistance for Ukraine. Still, there are questions about whether that aid has been reaching places where it's needed most. The city of Severodonetsk in the eastern part of the country recently fell to the Russians, leaving only one last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the region, the city of Lysychansk. We reached out to two men who've been fighting on the front lines, one a volunteer fighter named Pavlo Mazouk (ph), who described being under harrowing, nonstop Russian assault in the village of Bilohorivka.

PAVLO MAZOUK: (Through interpreter) It's pretty much all the time. Sometimes it's 4 in the morning. They start heavy artillery shooting, and then soldiers come in. Then they take a break, and then they start again half an hour later.

BLOCK: Mazouk said the bottom line is Ukrainian forces are being outgunned by Russian forces, and that's also what we heard from a Ukrainian commander who's been leading fighters in the eastern region. He asked to be identified only as Breeze (ph) because he said he's sharing information that is seen as sensitive by the Ukrainian military.

BREEZE: (Through interpreter) Kalashnikovs and hand grenade launchers - these are the weapons that we had with us. All our artillery probably ends there. In fact, compared to them, we were naked.

BLOCK: Breeze says he and his fighters held a position in a wooded area near Severodonetsk, largely relying on the depth of their trenches to stay alive.

BREEZE: (Through interpreter) It's the position that we had. It was just a forest, some trees, then a shovel and deep trenches. The deeper they were, the safer it was for us.

BLOCK: How many fighters did you lose?

BREEZE: (Through interpreter) From the whole unit - a unit consists of 100 people - we had 20 people wounded. We have lost six people forever. Two went missing. I don't take into account shellshocked soldiers.

BLOCK: Have you seen any of the new weapons that the United States has been sending to Ukraine? We've been hearing about sophisticated weapons systems, rocket launchers, things like that. Have any of those made it to your unit?

BREEZE: (Through interpreter) No, unfortunately, I haven't seen it in person. We tried to get the Stinger, but it was very difficult to get them to give us one. They promised us, but unfortunately they didn't manage to deliver it to us.

BLOCK: Were you given any explanation for why those did not come?

BREEZE: (Through interpreter) It's hard to explain. Here, you need to understand that the front line is very large, and we don't see and don't know how much weapons were allocated to everyone. I heard but didn't see that these weapons are in the south. That's what I heard.

BLOCK: We know the fighting now is centered on the city of Lysychansk. If Russia is able to take control of that city, do you think your side - do you think Ukrainian forces can stop them from pushing the battle lines further and further into Ukrainian territory?

BREEZE: (Through interpreter) I see no reason to hold Lysychansk now since it's practically encircled anyway. In any case, we need to level the front line, and then we need competent command and good artillery cover because the war has changed. Those people who fought in 2014, 2015, say the war has changed radically. Now the war is more between artillery - the artillery of Russia and our artillery. Helicopters drop something. Cluster bombs fly in. The machine gun won't help here. When we had the last battle, my soldiers were shelled by artillery almost all night. They couldn't even get out of the trenches. They couldn't raise their heads. This is a different war than it was before.

BLOCK: I wonder how you see this war ending. It's gone on for months now, and there have been huge losses on both sides. How do you see this ending?

BREEZE: (Through interpreter) You can read in the news that Russia has bad weapons, that they don't have enough bombs, that they don't have enough shells. It is not true. I saw a different picture when there were a lot of people, lots of weapons, lots of mines, lots of shells, lots of tanks. I can't say when it will end.

BLOCK: And if there ended up being some sort of negotiated settlement, would that be acceptable, do you think?

BREEZE: (Through interpreter) I don't believe in our politics. I don't believe in our politicians.

BLOCK: We heard first from Pavlo Mazouk and then a commander who asked to be identified only as Breeze. We reached out to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to ask why weapons sent by the U.S. haven't reached some troops on the eastern front. We did not receive a response.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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