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Ukraine warns delays in Western aid supplies ‘costing lives and territory’

Half of Western arms deliveries are being delayed and the hold-up is putting lives and territories at risk, Ukraine’s defence minister has warned as soldiers blamed a crippling lack of ammunition on Kyiv’s withdrawal from the key town of Avdiivka.

Speaking from the Ukrainian capital at an event to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Rustem Umerov said in the “mathematics of war” there are deadly consequences when promised military support “does not constitute delivery”.

He said it was also unprecedented in history that a country was expected to fight against an enemy with such a discrepancy in air power and military budget. It comes just a week after Kyiv was forced to pull its forces out of Avdiivka in the east of the country.

Soldiers on the ground told The Independent they blamed the withdrawal on the crippling rationing of ammunition and lack of air defence against a ferocious assault by Russia who dropped hundreds of bombs in the final push for the town.

“Fifty per cent of commitments are not delivered on time. Whatever commitments do not come on time means we lose people, we lose territories,” Mr Umerov said grimly, in response to a question posed by The Independent.

He added that “never in the history of humankind” was an army expected to wage and win a war without air superiority.

Ukrainian forces have still managed to take back territory in the north of the country and regained control of a vital corridor in the Black Sea maximising new locally developed air and sea drone technologies, he said.

But the minister said the situation is hard as Russia consistently outnumbers Ukraine in the sky and has an annual domestic defence budget of $150bn (£118bn).

“I won’t go into details but we have a plan. We [will] achieve everything possible and impossible. But without timely supply [of weapons] it makes it hard,” he said.

Soldiers on the ground told The Independent they blamed the withdrawal from Avdiivka on the crippling rationing of ammunition (AP)
Soldiers on the ground told The Independent they blamed the withdrawal from Avdiivka on the crippling rationing of ammunition (AP)

Last year the European Union promised to deliver a million artillery shells to Ukraine by March 2024. In January the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell admitted that only half of the million promised would be delivered by the March deadline because of production issues.

So far The Independent understands only 300,000 have been received.

Meanwhile, domestic squabbles in the US Congress have led to the stonewalling of a $61bn military aid package.

For Ukraine, this has translated into its soldiers having to make the deadly decision of rationing ammunition – on average Russia is firing five times the amount of artillery at Ukraine every day, according to reports.

During the conference, the defence minister and Kyiv’s strategic industries minister Oleksandr Kamyshin spoke about the country’s efforts to maximise domestic production of weapons to help plug the shortfall.

Ukraine tripled its weapons production last year and was on track to grow the industry six-fold in 2024, with some 500 companies now working in the country’s defence sector,  he said.

Kyiv is searching for ways to strengthen its defences against Moscow’s two-year-old invasion, including seeking to boost domestic arms production and innovation.

In a separate address, Ukraine’s digital minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, said 90 per cent of the drones used on the battlefield against Russian forces were produced in Ukraine.