As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth month, Ukrainian officials are increasingly worried the West could soon suffer “war fatigue.”
They fear Russia could take advantage of that to pressure Ukraine into compromise, something Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has resisted, saying Ukraine would pursue its own terms for peace.
“The fatigue is growing, people want some kind of outcome [that is beneficial] for themselves, and we want [another] outcome for ourselves,” he said.
“It is obvious that Russia is determined to wear down the West and is now building its strategy on the assumption that Western countries will get tired and gradually begin to change their militant rhetoric to a more accommodating one,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, political analyst with the Penta Center think tank in an interview with The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, the grinding Ukrainian-Russian fight for control of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine continued Friday.
Ukrainian officials have upped their calls for more weaponry, including rocket systems and artillery, from the West.
“This is an artillery war now,” Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said in an interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
“Everything now depends on what [the West] gives us,” said Skibitsky. “Ukraine has one artillery piece to 10 to 15 Russian artillery pieces. Our Western partners have given us about 10% of what they have.”
US President Joe Biden said last week the US would provide Ukraine with advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable it to more precisely strike key Russian targets.
In a New York Times essay on May 31, Biden said, “I will not pressure the Ukrainian government — in private or public — to make any territorial concessions.”
Zelenskyy called the battle for Sievierodonetsk “one of the most difficult” of the war, while highlighting its importance in the key eastern Donbas region, which Russia hopes to seize after failing early in its 3½-month invasion to topple his government or capture the capital , Kyiv.
“In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there,” Zelenskyy said in his Wednesday night video address to his countrymen.
Sievierodonetsk and its twin city, Lysychansk, on the opposite bank of the Donets River are the last Ukrainian-held parts of Luhansk province, a Moscow region said earlier this week it has 97% control of.
Russian forces are focusing all their firepower on the Sievierodonetsk area, Ukraine’s Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov told Reuters in an interview.
Kusyk said his forces were suffering from a “catastrophic” lack of counter-battery artillery to fire back at Russia’s guns. But he added, “Even without these systems, we are holding on fine. There is an order to hold our positions and we are holding them. It is unbelievable what the surgeons are doing without the proper equipment to save soldiers’ lives.”
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said about 10,000 civilians are trapped inside the city — about a 10th of its prewar population.
To the west of Sievierodonetsk, Russia is pushing from the north and south, trying to trap Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region comprising Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk province, hitting Ukrainian-controlled towns in their path with artillery.
Ukraine is also trying to strengthen its hand through diplomatic efforts.
Zelenskyy is pushing the European Union to put Ukraine on track to membership, the Associated Press reported. In a video address on Friday to the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, he said the EU should act quickly to offer Ukraine the status of a candidate to join the 27-nation bloc.
He said that the “gray zone” Ukraine has been left in has encouraged Russian aggression. He urged the EU to show “that its words about the Ukrainian people being part of the European family aren’t a hollow sound.”
The European Commission is set to back EU candidate status for Ukraine next week despite objections from Denmark and the Netherlands, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources.
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy accused Russia of continuing to “blackmail the world with famine” by blockading Ukrainian ports and preventing exports of wheat, corn, vegetable oil and other food products.
In a videotaped message to the Time magazine gala released Thursday, Zelenskyy said Russia’s actions have left the world “on the brink of a terrible food crisis.”
“Millions of people may starve if the Russian blockade of the Black Sea continues,” Zelenskyy said.
Russia has blamed the drop in exports on international sanctions and what it says are Ukrainian mines in the Black Sea.