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Ukraine’s soldiers ‘in deep defense mode’ as uncertainty lingers over commander-in-chief

By Andrew Carey and Maria Kostenko, CNN

(CNN) — As the President’s Office remained stum for another day over whether or not Ukraine’s commander-in-chief was out of a job, one of the men tipped possibly to replace him gave a short but clear-eyed assessment of the situation facing soldiers on the front line.

Visiting troops near the town of Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region, Oleksandr Syrskyi, wrote on his Telegram channel, “The operational situation remains tense. Heavy fighting is taking place along all sectors of the frontline.”

Syrskyi made no reference to reports that President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to announce the dismissal of army chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi over disagreements about what Ukraine should do to win the war following the failure of the counteroffensive.

But Syrskyi did nod to the highly charged issue of troop numbers, and Russia’s advantage in that area, when he wrote, “The enemy continues to conduct high-intensity assault operations and is constantly bringing in new reserves.”

Zelensky’s reluctance to get behind army chief Zaluzhnyi’s request for a mobilization drive of up to half a million people, made last December, is seen as a key reason for the spike in tensions between them.

CNN has reported the president told Zaluzhnyi he was being replaced at a meeting last Monday. A presidential spokesman denied the report but a source familiar with the matter said an announcement was expected within days. As of Sunday morning, the army chief was still in office.

Zaluzhnyi referenced his frustrations in an Opinion piece for CNN last week, referring to, “the inability of state institutions in Ukraine to improve the manpower levels of our armed forces without the use of unpopular measures.”

The region visited by Syrskyi on Saturday has seen Ukrainian forces pushed back in several places over recent weeks, with Russian pressure bearing down in particular on a group of settlements clustered around the village of Tabaivka, which lies along the border of the Luhansk and Kharkiv regions.

A General Staff report Saturday evening reported further air strikes as well as artillery and mortar fire launched at more than 15 settlements in the area.

A senior army spokesman with responsibility for the same region drew attention to another Ukrainian deficit opposite Russia, in comments on Ukrainian television – namely, a lack of ammunition.

“The Russians are superior in both equipment and personnel,” Illia Yevlash said, adding: “We need a lot of ammunition to destroy such power and intensity.”

However, Yevlash said Russian soldiers were also experiencing possible ammunition shortages, albeit less severe than Ukraine. Where previously, Russian forces had been firing 60,000 rounds a day along the entire front line, the number currently was about half that, he said.

Yevlash also commented on the situation around the battered city of Bakhmut – which has been at the centre of fighting for over a year.

Russian forces were working hard to break through Ukraine’s defenses, the spokesman said, with the aim of advancing towards Chasiv Yar, a highly militarized town on higher ground a few kilometers west of Bakhmut.

An indication of the toll such relentless fighting has taken came from Oleksandr, a member of a sniper platoon working in the same area of operations.

“We are in deep defense mode and are holding back the enemy. Both our men and those of the enemy are exhausted.”

Further south, Russian attention has been focused for months on the town of Avdiivka, and its massive coke plant, both of which Russia has been attempting to encircle.

The Deep State mapping service, widely used by analysts for its careful reporting of frontline movements, has indicated Russian gains to the north of the town in recent days, though a spokesman for the 47th brigade, which is fighting to defend the town, was more upbeat.

Dmytro Lazutkin said his brigade was inflicting heavy losses on Russia, which had still been unable to break through and cut off Ukrainian logistics supplies to the town.

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