Ukrainian forces near besieged Chasiv Yar say they badly need ammunition

FILE PHOTO: A Ukrainian serviceman camouflages a self propelled howitzer at a front line near the town of Chasiv Yar

By Volodymyr Pavlov

NEAR CHASIV YAR, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukrainian forces defending the strategic eastern stronghold of Chasiv Yar say they are still waiting for fresh ammunition after the United States approved a major military aid package, amid intensifying attacks from Russian troops and drones.

Moscow's army is advancing west of Avdiivka, a city it captured in February, and its troops have reached the outskirts of Chasiv Yar, another major objective that would allow them to command higher ground and target towns and cities further to the west.

Oleh Shyriaiev, commander of Ukraine's 225th Separate Assault Battalion that is fighting near Chasiv Yar, said more artillery shells would help his unit hold their positions.

"I hope we receive artillery shells soon," he said, speaking in a command post close to the town. He added that munitions supplied by allies had made a significant difference on the battlefield in the past.

"I witnessed events a year ago when Wagner was advancing," he said, referring to a powerful Russian mercenary force which has since been disbanded. "We received cluster munitions which changed the situation significantly and we managed to successfully counter-attack."

Cluster munitions are banned by many countries but have been used by both sides in the Ukraine conflict. Kyiv has vowed to use them only to dislodge concentrations of enemy soldiers.

More trained troops and long-range weapons would also help Ukraine defend its territory more effectively, Shyriaiev said.

"If we get long-range weapons, our leaders will cut (Russian forces) off from logistics and supplies."

Ukraine has already received some long-range missiles from its allies, which have been used against Russian airfields, ammunition depots, command posts and troop concentrations.

Russia said on Tuesday that Ukraine had attacked Crimea with U.S.-produced Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) in an attempt to pierce Russian air defences on the annexed peninsula, but that six had been shot down.

According to Shyriaiev, his unit was under near-constant attack from Russian drones. They were able to fly at night as well as during the day, because they were equipped with thermal imaging cameras that allowed remote pilots to identify targets.

Russian fighters were reaching the point of contact using vehicles including quad bikes, and despite taking heavy losses they had managed to put Ukrainian troops under severe pressure.

"They suffer big losses, our troops kill a lot of them," he said of the Russians. "But I have to emphasize that the enemy has a lot of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that significantly impact the situation here."

Casualties have been high on both sides since Russia's invasion in early 2022, but with a much larger army and more weapons and ammunition, Russia has gained the upper hand in the east of Ukraine where the fiercest battles are raging.

Shyriaiev remained confident that Russian forces would not enter Chasiv Yar by May 9, when Russia celebrates Victory Day in World War Two. Some Ukrainian officials have said that Moscow may want to seize the town in time for the date.

The commander said his troops had received more armoured vehicles and drones recently which had eased logistics including his battalion's ability to evacuate wounded soldiers.

(Writing by Anastasiia Malenko, Editing by William Maclean)