On Ukraine’s front: Grit, gratitude – and hope for West’s weapons

Amid the ruins of a roadside restaurant, once used as a base by Russian paratroopers and now strewn with torn uniforms and empty combat ration packs, certain truths about the war are evident to the battle-hardened Ukrainian sergeant.

Stepping triumphantly through the rubble, Sgt. Yuri Yunko Cherkonov enthuses about the two American-supplied HIMARS rockets that killed an estimated 20 to 30 elite Russian soldiers here on the northeast outskirts of Kherson, on the eve of Russia’s humiliating retreat last November from the southern city.

But even as he voices optimism that Ukraine will ultimately prevail, Sgt. Cherkonov acknowledges that his troops have sustained substantial losses and been exhausted by a war now grinding into its second year. And, he readily admits, as both sides prepare spring offensives, Ukraine’s eventual victory depends on the continued flow of Western weapons.

Why We Wrote This

What does it take to win a war? In a tour of Ukraine’s eastern front after a year of conflict, fighters say they still have determination and hope. What they need is more and better weapons.

In visits to multiple points along Ukraine’s 600-mile eastern and southern front with Russia – from snow-encrusted trenches to frigid artillery and tank positions that rely on captured Russian hardware and ordnance – the optimism, the exhaustion, and the urgent need for the West’s more advanced weaponry are spoken of over and over.

“If not for the U.S., we would not be here now,” says Sgt. Cherkonov, wearing a green hat and red beard to ward off the cold, and a blue and yellow Ukrainian trident tattooed on the left side of his neck to signify his loyalty.

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