Western arms reach Ukraine front lines, relieving some pressure

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian serviceman prepares a shell for an M109L self-propelled howitzer before firing towards Russian troops near a front line, in Donetsk region

By Anna Voitenko

DONETSK REGION, Ukraine (Reuters) -Western supplies of artillery shells, slowed by months of political wrangling in Washington before finally being released, have started to reach Ukrainian units on the front lines, relieving pressure on forces outnumbered by the Russians.

When Reuters reporters visited one artillery unit in Donetsk region, the focus of Russian troops' slow advance along the 1,000-km (600-mile) front, it fired its M-109 self-propelled howitzer as needed.

In the past, soldiers said they had been forced to limit their use of 155 mm rounds against the enemy, compromising their ability to support infantry further forward.

"There was 'shell hunger'. Ammunition was rationed quite severely. It had an impact on infantry. They (the Russians) crept from all sides, it hurt the infantry men," said unit commander Vasyl, 46, declining to give his full name.

"Now, there is no more 'shell hunger' and we work well."

Demand for artillery rounds has soared since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, with Kyiv's Western allies running down their own stockpiles as they rushed shells to Ukraine where thousands of rounds are needed every day.

Now a fresh influx has begun arriving at units like Vasyl's after the U.S. Congress ended months of delays and approved a $61 billion aid package.

But for Oleh, 39, a gunner in the same unit, the problem is not only ammunition. Ukraine has just launched a major mobilisation drive that it hopes will replenish its exhausted and depleted forces in the coming months. Some say it has taken too long.

"There are very few of us. There aren't enough people," he said. "We do not even have half of the people we should have."

Vasyl is more sanguine as he prepares the howitzer for further action.

Convinced that Ukraine will prevail over the Russian invaders, he is dismissive of Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin's recent diplomatic forays and pledges of cooperation with China and North Korea.

"All these talks with Korea and China, they will not help them. We will win, we shall overcome," he said. "It is our spirit, it is our Ukraine, we are defending it. We shall overcome, at any price but we will win."

(Writing by Ron Popeski and Mike Collett-WhiteEditing by Michael Perry and Peter Graff)