Ukrainian colonel presses for more US arms as his brigade battles Russian onslaught: Reporter’s notebook

Ukrainian colonel presses for more US arms as his brigade battles Russian onslaught: Reporter’s notebook
ABC News

(NEAR KHARKIV, Ukraine) — Ukraine’s 57th Motorized Brigade is one infantry unit among many battling the new Russian offensive North of Kharkiv, and it was also amongst the first to engage the Russians as they pushed over the border.

ABC News sat down in a rare interview with Col. Oleksandr Bakulin, commander of the 57th, alongside a senior Army leader at a secret location. The military leaders talked about the latest Russian offensive, how the lack of ammunition and weapons, particularly those from America, has impacted this war in recent months and the morale of his soldiers, who had to retreat and cede territory and who are now having to fight Russians in areas that they had driven Russians from in 2022.

With the Russian offensive, the situation right now in the Northern Kharkiv region is “quite difficult,” Bakulin said.

“The battles are going on. We managed to slow down the enemy,” he said.

The Ukrainian military have stabilized the front and, for now, Russian forces are no longer advancing as rapidly as they did in the opening days of their offensive. But the Russians are still making incremental gains.

Bakulin said that the Russians “still have reserves and will bring these reserve[s] into the battle.”

About $60 billion in American military aid to Ukraine has recently been approved but the weapons and ammunition are still not here and the shortfall over the last few months has had a real impact on the fighting.

“We do understand how crucial this [US] aid is,” Bakulin said. “The whole the world understands. Yes, our soldiers are brave and courageous, but without this aid, these weapons, shells, everything, without this we would not be able to keep fighting in a war against Russia, just because we are way smaller than Russia.”

Bakulin acknowledged the withdrawals but said it was a normal part of the ebb and flow of warfare. He’s made clear he’s been enjoying being close to the Russian border.

“Firing at Russians in the Russian territory is way more pleasant than firing at them on the Ukrainian soil,” he said.

Despite the advances made by the Russians, he pushed back at the idea that Ukraine is losing the war, saying, “I personally think that we have already won this war. The question is at what point it is going to end, and at what stage.”

Bakulin said he predicts that in the end this war will be ended by a deal, saying, “Every war ends in peace talks and deals.”

And he even seemed to accept that in order for this to happen, territory might need to be given up, citing the experience of nearby Finland.

“Little Finland once fought against big USSR,” Bakulin said. “Yes, it lost some territories. But it still does exist as a country and Russia doesn’t even look in that direction. We are in a similar position, but I hope we will not lose our land.”

The war is far from over and the lack of heavy weaponry is still operationally critical. He put it succinctly when asked about the casualties caused by the lack of armaments, saying, “The sweat of the artillery soldiers saves the blood of the infantry soldiers. But if there is only sweat without the shells, then infantry soldiers pay it with their blood.”

Bakulin said he accepts that American support is essential for fighting the war, despite some dissent in Congress over how much funding the U.S. has pledged to Ukraine.

“I understand that we spent the money of their taxpayers. Money of the citizens of these countries. We understand this,” Bakulin said. “But we are fighting because we want to be with you; to be a part of the civilized world. We want to play in your team. Yes, we are going through hard times now. But I believe that we are fighting for the values that U.S. propagates in the world and it has always stood by these values.”

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