Recent days have seen the Ukrainian army come under intense pressure from a Russian advance in the Donbas. The Russians have used their artillery and air superiority to devastating effect, as they close in on capturing Severodonestk on the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. The fall of the city would hand Moscow almost complete control of Luhansk, which together with the Donetsk region makes up the Donbas.
However, analysts from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believe the capture of Severodonetsk would represent a Pyrrhic victory and offer Kyiv an opportunity to counterattack.
The ISW researchers argued that the Russian offensive will likely have culminated with the capture of the city, allowing the Ukrainians the “chance to restart its operational-level counteroffensives to push Russian forces back”.
Viktor Kovalenko, a former journalist who signed up to fight the Russians in 2014, also believes circumstances are ripe for a major counterattack, which he suggested could take place within weeks.
Furthermore, he argued that Ukraine’s army has the tactical nous to outwit its Russian foes, having overhauled its officer corps in recent years.
The 50-year-old told Express.co.uk: “It won’t be next week, but it won’t take months for Ukraine to begin its counteroffensive.
“Also, you should not expect that they will do their offensives as the Russians do – the accumulation of cannon fodder in one direction, pathetic announcement, and one big push.
“No, the Ukrainian command takes care of soldiers and fights smart. In recent years, many young veterans with combat experience were promoted to the top positions within the Ukrainian Army replacing the ‘old school’ officers.
“Now, the big part of the command consists of younger professionals who can outsmart ‘old school’ Russian commanders.”
The Russian onslaught in the east has inflicted heavy casualties on the Ukrainians and highlighted the clear advantage the Russians enjoy when it comes to heavy weapons.
This has led to fears that Kyiv has neither the personnel nor weaponry to resist the Russian advance, let alone launch a decisive counterattack.
Mr Kovalenko, who served on the front lines at Debaltseve eight years ago, dismissed such concerns, pointing out that Ukraine was now receiving the weapons it needed to defeat Putin’s army and was actively boosting its troop numbers with reservists and conscripts.
He explained: “They [Ukrainian forces] are finally getting the weapons they need at this moment.
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“They are receiving not merely gear and Javelins but heavy weapons like tanks and howitzers, armoured vehicles, various anti-air systems to shut down cruise missiles, smart attack drones including kamikaze Switchblades, high-precision British Brimstone missiles, etc.”
He added: “I will remind you that Ukraine’s Defence Minister Olexiy Reznikov mentioned that their goal is to accommodate one million troops with arms and gear which is quite a big number.”
In a major boost for Kyiv, the US announced on Wednesday that it would send four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
The long-range missiles will allow Ukrainian troops to strike Russian targets more precisely from a longer range.
During a previous interview with the Express, Riho Terras, a former head of the Estonian army, claimed that Ukraine was fully capable of recapturing all its occupied territories with the possible exception of Crimea.
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Mr Kovalenko, however, is adamant that Kyiv can reclaim the Crimea and should focus its military efforts on liberating the peninsula from the Russian occupiers.
He said: “Crimea should not be an exception at all. I am convinced that the true purpose behind all of Putin’s war in the Donbas is to keep the Ukrainian military away from Crimea.
“I think that the liberation of the Crimean Peninsula and its demilitarisation including the expulsion of the Russian Navy should be the priority of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.”
He continued: “I think Ukraine’s military dares to retake the eastern territories, but the issue is rather political – does Kyiv need to return that territory right now if mostly Putin supporters live there?
“I don’t think that Kyiv needs to sacrifice the lives of patriotic soldiers for the Putin sympathisers with recently received Russian passports who are hostile to Ukraine.”