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Russia continues to make violent, grinding gains in eastern Ukraine

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Russia is making gains in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials warn that the next few days could be critical in the fight for a key city in the east part of Ukraine called Severodonetsk. NPR's Nathan Rott is in the city of Dnipro, Ukraine, and he joined us to talk about the situation.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Last night, the Luhansk region's governor said on Telegram that Russia is doing everything it can to cut the city off. Ukraine has been using a series of three bridges to bring in troops, arms and supplies across a river and into the city. And the Luhansk Oblast governor says Russia has now destroyed two of those and was aiming at the third.

MARTINEZ: Why is this city so important to the larger war?

ROTT: Well, it's the last major city in the Luhansk region that's at least still partially in Ukrainian control. But I think more importantly is what the fight there in the broader Donbas region says about the larger state of the war. Ukraine is now losing ground. They're short on ammunition. They're short on weapons. They still don't have the number of anti-air systems they've been asking for for months. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy drove that point about anti-air systems home in his nightly briefing last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

ROTT: "Did we get them? No. Do we need them? Yes," he said. There have already been 2,606 affirmative answers to this question, he said, in the form of various Russian cruise missiles that have hit Ukrainian cities. And I should say that includes a missile strike over the weekend in western Ukraine that injured almost two dozen civilians.

MARTINEZ: Now, the U.S. and Western allies have provided Ukraine with arms. What else do they need? And actually, maybe what is - what do they need that's maybe not reaching them?

ROTT: Well, I mean, obviously, they'd like to get the anti-air systems that Zelenskyy was just talking about. And yeah, I mean, they have received heavy artillery, anti-tank weapons, and certainly a lot of that has made it to the front line. But the bigger issue we're hearing about is ammunition shortages. Ukraine is becoming more and more dependent on Western arms because they've gone through most of their Soviet-era munitions. That's something that's certainly going to come up later this week in Brussels when NATO defense ministers meet on Wednesday because there is an immediate need.

At the beginning of this war, Ukraine was very coy in revealing their losses on the battlefield. Just a couple of weeks ago, Zelenskyy said they were losing 50 to 100 soldiers a day. Now they are saying it is double that. And that does not include the wounded. So there's a bigger question of whether both sides can continue to sustain those types of losses in the long term.

MARTINEZ: And are the Ukrainians worried that as this war grinds on, especially in the east, that foreign interest and backing might wane?

ROTT: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. It's no secret here in Ukraine that the U.S., for example, has other issues it's dealing with - gun policy, inflation, election season. That's why a lot of the reporting that I've been trying to do over the last couple of weeks here has been focused on Ukraine's economy. This is already become a war of attrition. And for Ukraine to keep its war effort going in the long term, especially if support starts to drop off, it's going to need a functioning economy. And that fact is not lost on people here.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Nathan Rott in Dnipro, Ukraine. Nathan, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.