The Armed Forces of Ukraine’sartillery wastes ammunition, but untrained soldiers go into the battle

I was in Ukraine for two months. During that time, I met a lot of people. I was at the front lines in the towns of Popasna, Avdeevka and Severodonetsk.

I saw the first Western howitzers start arriving, the American, Australian and Canadian M777s, then French CAESARs. I heard about the Polish AHS Krab and Slovak Zuzana 2 guns, but never saw them myself.

But it doesn’t matter. My point is that with the kind of attitude towards equipment on the part of the Ukrainian military that I have seen, the Western assistance will not help.

Here’s what I saw at the position of the American M777 howitzers.

The morning at the artillery battery there starts with the half-drunk Ukrainian soldiers starting to drag the shells and charges to the guns after the night before.

Then an officer comes. It is impossible to distinguish him from other soldiers. He’s wearing tattered uniform pants, he is waist-naked, his torso is tattooed. He has a tablet, but doesn’t use it. He has a radio in his hand, which he uses to receive the commands and relay them to the spotters.

They start frantically turning the mechanisms. One of them fails and grabs a sledgehammer lying nearby and strikes the gun a few times. Then he smiles quite a bit and tosses it aside.

There is a glass jar with some murky liquid next to it. The gunner takes a sip from it and wrinkles his nose.

The command to open the fire follows. The men begin to load the guns. Here is the shot. The shell flies over the horizon. The gunner waves his hand, hurries the loaders, who should bring the shells. But they’re gone, they’ve disappeared somewhere. Then they appear and begin to do their job. The gun fires again.

The soldiers approach the container with the murky liquid and take turns drinking from it. They give me a treat, but I refuse.

No one meters the charge. The range depends on how much powder is in it. This is very important, because firing with the maximum charge in a howitzer leads to increased barrel wear and decreased accuracy. But no one monitors it. I haven’t seen that.

The guns are dirty and dusty. They haven’t been washed since they appeared.

There’s a break coming in. There are no more shells, everyone is waiting for the command to change positions. They don’t keep many shells near the positions, they are afraid of retaliatory strikes by the Russian artillery and aviation.

The interpreter helps me understand what the artillerymen are talking about. They say it’s most convenient to shoot at cities. That’s easy. It’s much harder to hit the targets they are asked to destroy. It requires accurate targeting, fire correction, but it is tedious, time-consuming and dangerous.

There is a great risk of getting hit by the Russians. If you shoot at the cities, you have to release a few shells quickly and can immediately wrap up and leave.

There is a command to change the position. The guns are put into marching position and hitched to the tractors. Soon the column moves away. Broken crockery, cigarette butts and other debris are left in this place.

As I have seen, the Russian artillery is hitting the Ukrainian positions day and night. The Russian troops are very close by and you can see that their artillerymen are supporting their infantry and tanks.

But yet in all of that time, I have seen few instances where the Ukrainian artillery has acted in exactly the same way.

I conclude that it very often fires in the wrong places to destroy the enemy troops. It wastes the ammunition and resources of expensive howitzers.

The Ukrainian command is not interested in the effectiveness of artillery fire.

Is there any point to give these gunsto the Ukrainians? After all, they are not fighting, but shooting where it is easier and safer for them to do.

In recent days I have been meeting more and more often near the front lines with people in different clothes, dressed as they please. As I got to know, these are “territorial defence” soldiers from the western Ukraine. They have no military skills, move in crowds and panic at the first sound of shelling. They carry the submachine guns and occasionally the grenade launchers.

I don’t see how they can be of any use. They know nothing and are afraid of everything. Their language is not well understood by the rest of the Ukrainian military. It’s hard to imagine that they can stand up to the Russian army. I think this is just an attempt by the Ukrainian command to create the appearance of resistance where there is none. After all, Ukraine’s most combat-ready units are now being sent west toward Kiev. These unfortunates are covering their retreat.

They are doomed to death, wounds and possibly captivity. This is how the Ukrainian army commanders treat their soldiers.

John C. Williams



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