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Ukrainian forces were 'crushing' in Avdiivka until Russian artillery started outfiring them roughly 20 times over, American volunteer says

Sinéad Baker   

Ukrainian forces were 'crushing' in Avdiivka until Russian artillery started outfiring them roughly 20 times over, American volunteer says
  • Russia seized a victory when Ukraine pulled out of Avdiivka.
  • A US veteran there said his men were "crushing" Russia there until ammunition became super scarce.

A US veteran fighting in Ukraine said that his fellow soldiers were beating Russia in a key town until ammunition dried up so significantly that Ukrainian forces had to withdraw.

The veteran, who goes by the call sign Jackie, has been in Ukraine since 2022 and has served as a trainer of Ukrainian troops. He has also taken part in the fighting and is now an assault instructor serving in Ukraine's 3rd Assault Brigade.

He said that in the weeks before Ukrainian forces had to withdraw from the town, Ukraine was "crushing the enemy in Avdiivka."

But despite inflicting more casualties on the Russians than the enemy could, he said, Ukraine had to pull out because it didn't have enough ammunition.

Before the Ukrainians withdrew from Avdiivka, Jackie recalled, "I would estimate for every 20 Russian munitions that come our way, we fire back one."

Shortages in Avdiivka

Ukraine withdrew from the town in February after it had become a focus of Russia's renewed offensive efforts. The pull out gave Russia its first major victory in months.

The White House, which has criticized Republicans for stalling further aid for Ukraine for months, said this happened because Ukraine was so short on ammunition.

Jackie agreed, saying "that's absolutely my assessment" of what went wrong.

He said his men had felt the effects of falling Western aid before they even went to Avdiivka. He said his men were used to fighting without enough resources, as Western aid has come in fits and starts since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

But he said the situation has recently become a lot worse with US aid held up by American politics.

He said that for a time, his men were keeping some shells as reserves, but then they had to start firing those, too.

And then it got even worse. "We were starting to wake up the next day and say 'Oh, well there's either zero, one, or two rounds we could shoot today for a particular crew,'" Jackie said.

He said the shortages impacted their ability to stop Russia from equipping its troops like they could earlier in the fight.

In their first week in Avdiivka, his men were able to cut many of Russia's routes into the fight. But then, "we weren't able to do it anymore. We didn't have the shells."

He said the unit's reconnaissance team would report back to him to say they were able to see Russian trucks of shells arriving in Avdiivka and expected their information to result in Ukraine hitting those targets. But Ukraine didn't have the ammunition to do it.

That meant Ukraine could no longer employ a key tactic.

"A big part of our tactical fight is suppressing these movements and logistics routes," Jackie said. "We had it and we had it locked, and then we didn't [hit it] because we ran our shells."

Ukraine has regularly been outnumbered in this fight, and many units have frequently been outgunned, facing a Russia that overpowers them in ammunition and manpower. That situation is becoming more and more prevalent for Kyiv's forces as time goes on.

Ukraine was fighting better

Even with the odds stacked against it, Ukraine has been able to stop Russia from taking over the country and from making significant progress in the east after pushing it back there. Many warfare experts have credited these successes to Ukraine's military making smarter tactical decisions with better-trained soldiers.

Jackie said Ukrainian advantages in training, tactics, and doctrine meant they outperformed the Russians, even in Avdiivka. He said that in the weeks running up to the withdrawal, "the Russian units were getting creamed."

He described Russian tactics there as nonsensical, saying they "were a mess," arguing that despite their weaponry advantage, "the Russians miss a lot," which helps dull that edge. Ukraine, he said, has to be more accurate to make the most of its weaponry.

As an instructor with the military, Jackie has been involved in fighting in different parts of Ukraine. With Avdiivka, he went close to the town but did not go to the front line, instead collecting testimony from his unit to aid future tactics and training.

He said that his men "destroyed two brigades worth of combat troops who were just throwing their guys at us basically," but Ukraine's defense was ultimately unsustainable. His men also kept a corridor open for Ukrainian troops to retreat.

The Institute for the Study of War said in February that more Russian soldiers likely died in their efforts to seize Avdiivka than died in the entire Soviet-Afghan war, a conflict in which as many as 25,000 were estimated to have been killed.

Jackie said "we really do not lose nearly as many guys as the Russians. I can tell you that for sure."

He described it as worse for Russia than Bakhmut, an eastern city that was the scene of what was long considered the bloodiest and most gruelling fight of the war.

But Ukraine still had to leave Avdiivka.

Russian forces there outnumbered Ukrainian troops by seven to one and Russia launched up to 60 guided aerial bombs a day while Ukraine struggled with a lack of critical counter-air capabilities, The Washington Post reported.

Ukraine's struggles continue

The picture in Avdiivka mirrors the ones Ukraine is seeing more broadly as challenges mount. Russia has more men and weaponry, and seems willing to suffer high losses of both to achieve its desired ends.

Meanwhile, aid from the US remains stalled. And while European countries are continuing their support, including announcing new packages in recent days, they have not made up the deficit.

Ukraine's president warned last month that Ukraine would have to start retreating if more aid did not come from the US soon. Many warfare experts have said that Ukraine, which has recently beaten back Russian mechanized assaults, could still win if it were properly supplied, but if nothing changes, as Zelenskyy said over the weekend, "Ukraine will lose."

Jackie said that his unit, now away from Avdiivka, is still struggling with ammunition shortages.

As an American, he urged the US to resume support for Ukraine, saying Ukraine is using everything it gets well and embarrassing Russia by destroying so much of its troops and equipment.

"I want to try to communicate to supporters from anywhere, but especially from America because I am American: We're not wasting any of this stuff."

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