Ukrainian troops battle exhaustion as war drags on

STORY: Ukraine's counteroffensive has slowed and its troops are facing exhaustion as the conflict with Russia enters its second winter.

Ukraine's commander-in-chief Valery Zaluzhnyi described a "stalemate" on the battlefield in an interview published this week. Though he worried that a protracted, attritional war would favor Russia.

The stark assessment coincides with the advent of seasonal rains, which makes it harder to advance over muddy ground.

Only new capabilities, including more supplies from Western allies as well as locally produced drones, would tip the balance back in Ukrainian favor, Zaluzhnyi said.

In the Serebryanskyi forest in the Luhansk region, which is largely occupied by Russians, this soldier barely gets any sleep. His callsign is Istoryk.

“We had a firefight for over 20 hours. Non-stop fighting, assaults, evacuations, and you know, I managed it. And we all managed it. We aren't very fresh, and right now we need to find strength.”

Similar battles are raging along the frontlines from the border with Russia's Belgorod region in the northeast all the way to the Black Sea.

For those in the trenches, while exhaustion is unavoidable, motivation remains strong.

“This is a horrible enemy. The enemy is strong, cunning and vile. And they deal us considerable losses. One should never underestimate them. If they will be or already have been provided with a million shells, this will drastically influence the situation in terms of losses. Would they be able to advance with that number of shells? I am not sure that the advance will be considerable. We’ve learnt how to defend. And as we see, they have learnt how to defend too.”

Having focused on defense earlier in the year, Ukraine launched a counteroffensive in June that aims at cutting Russia's supply lines by pushing south towards the Sea of Azov.

Five months on, that objective remains a distant dream. Ukrainian forces are about 50 miles from the coast, and Russian defenses have largely held firm.

Russia, meanwhile, has kept up its bombardment of Ukraine using drones and missiles.

The Kremlin calls its operation a targeted military campaign, though it has killed thousands of civilians and knocked out infrastructure vital for heating, power and transport.

As this Ukrainian soldier puts it:

“This period of war is the fight of characters. We're exhausted, they're exhausted. But there are more of them, and they have more equipment. That’s the hard part. And also, the lack of people.”