US aid may buy time for Ukraine but it needs more troops

STORY: Ukraine's exhausted artillery gunners holding off Russian forces near the eastern town of Kupiansk are hoping for a lifeline.

The latest U.S. aid package could be it - a potential game changer for Kyiv's forces.

But it could take some time.

One soldier, whose call sign is "Sailor," says a shortage of shells has reduced Ukraine's covering fire for its infantrymen - costing lives and territory.

"If they had passed the aid package bill earlier, we would have lost a bit less ground. We could have maybe taken back some ground."

The $61 billion aid package comes after six months of congressional wrangling.

It could replenish Kyiv's critically low stocks of weaponry, and air defenses, and likely improve its chances of averting a major Russian breakthrough in the east.

SAILOR: "It’s better now if we let them attack and we defend. But when the package will be a done deal and we get the shells, drones and whatever else, then we do a 180-degree turn, gather our reserve forces and attack. We’ll have our aviation with us, at it will be effective."

Kyiv still faces manpower shortages on the battlefield and questions about the strength of its sprawling frontline, ahead of a potential Russian summer offensive.

After months of political debate, a new faster mobilization law takes effect in May.

But new civilian draftees will require months of training, which some analysts say could become a window of opportunity for Russia to exploit.

Russia has been slowly advancing, with its superior troop numbers and artillery, since capturing Avdiivka in February - a long-time bastion town in the eastern Donbas region.

They are now bearing down on the town of Chasiv Yar, which is located on high ground.

If captured, that win would bring Moscow closer to the remaining Kyiv-held Donbas cities of Kostiantynivka, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says Russian forces are able to fire 10 times more artillery rounds than Ukraine's troops.

One of his generals estimates Russian forces outnumber Kyiv's troops by as much as 10 times in the east.

Ukrainian positions have been pounded this year thanks to Russian air superiority - and Ukraine's dwindling defenses.

One former Ukrainian defense minister said U.S.-produced F-16 fighter jets, which Kyiv expects to receive later this year, would force Russian warplanes back entirely.

EU assistance from June will include a Czech-led initiative to supply some 300,000 rounds of artillery shells.

A senior European security source told Reuters optimistically, that if Ukraine receives the new international assistance, the chances of averting a major Russian breakthrough over the next year are "quite high."