Russia dreamed of cutting Ukraine off the sea, but now the great waterway of the Dnipro and a lack of long-range weapons stands between Ukrainian troops and their further offensive on the Russian invaders. Natalia Humeniuk, head of the joint press center of the defense forces of Ukraine’s South, speaks to Euromaidan Press about the latest Ramstein meeting and Ukraine’s weapon needs. Why are Leopard 2 tanks so important? How do Russian military attack Kherson and what are their plans for Odesa? Can today become a turning point in this war?
What do you think about the results of the last Ramstein meeting?
We hope that, in the long run, the international community has heard Ukraine’s appeal and has realized that Ukrainians today are defending not only their own country. Today, Ukrainians stand in defense of world democracy and civilization. Stopping Russia today means stopping the war that could spread to the whole world. And this is why the world community should help Ukraine with weapons.
Ukraine is paying the price with its own blood and the lives of its own people.
It should be clear that we are not asking for weapons in order to attack and harm others. We ask for weapons to protect.
Let’s compare the two countries. Ukraine is a large country on a European scale, but compared to Russia we are a small country. Small but brave and proud, and able to stop Russia, through its own spirit and with the support of your weapons.
Why do you think Leopard 2 tanks are at the center of everyone’s attention? Why are they so important?
It is not only ground weapons and armored vehicles that are important to us. It is really important for us to get protection from missiles and maintain an anti-aircraft defense against enemy aircraft.
We are talking specifically about tanks because there is a part of military operations that we have to conduct on the ground. The enemy captured parts of our territory. Today, we cannot liberate these territories with just artillery or airplanes. We need to push the frontline, go get our land with ground machinery.
Let’s get back to the comparison of the size of the two countries one more time. Compared to Ukraine, Russia has a population five times larger. If hypothetically, the infantry of Russia would come against the infantry of Ukraine, people for people, the force would be five times greater. That’s why our soldiers should be protected by armor and go in tanks, in order to save them from the enemy attacking us with their powerful equipment.
But why Leopard 2, in particular? I have heard an expert opinion that one of the major advantages is easier maintenance compared to other models of tanks.
Of course. We are considering the use of the equipment. We understand that the weapons used in battle may be damaged and require maintenance. We must have options to repair weapons provided without a delay and to quickly return them to the battlefield. This is extremely important because time is always of the essence in war. If we lose time, we lose our personnel.
Now, a strategic question: many Ukrainian and international analysts and officials have said recently that this moment is pivotal and will decide the course of the war. Do you agree with this statement? If yes, why?
I believe there are many such turning points in war in general. The conduct of hostilities is not linear and does not develop in one direction. There are many twists and turns that change the course of events.
I do not think that this moment is extremely critical now, but it is important. It is a turning point if everyone joins in. We are almost one year into a full-scale invasion. How many forces and capacities of our country have been lost? How many people are under occupation?
We are reaching a certain psychological moment as we are getting closer to February 24. People have this psychological need to change things in life. It’s like a New Year: we welcome it with the hope that everything will be different. We will be able to do more. And this moment can be a psychological key—if we receive maximum support now. This will prove that our strength and efforts were not in vain, and, with all the support, we will be able to break the course of events in our favor for good.
Yesterday, Odesa has been just included in UNESCO World Heritage in Danger List. The Russian Federation targeted the city twice since then. What are the threats and challenges to Odesa?
During a #UNESCO session in Paris, Russian representatives attempted to introduce an amendment to exclude the inclusion of the historic center of #Odesa in the Main List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites from the agenda. It was rejected. https://t.co/2qENZSHiri https://t.co/Mx9vZIubFd
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) January 24, 2023
Odesa remains on the enemy’s priorities list. If you recall Putin’s statements, Odesa always received special attention. He emphasized that Odesa is the most iconic place for him.
The south of Ukraine generally remains a delicacy for Russia. They dreamed of cutting Ukraine off the sea. The course of events created by our command did not fit into their plan. Ukrainian defense forces managed to push the enemy to the left bank of the Dnipro river. They were not ready to be pushed back that far. That is why they are now scrambling for the slightest opportunity to hold on to whatever they have. They do not want to retreat and fight for everything, for Kinburn Spit, for instance. They are holding on to the left bank with their teeth. That is why they continue to terrorize the entire country of Ukraine with the ships at sea, with these missile carriers capable of hitting the whole of Ukraine.
Also, in the South, the Russian military counted on internal support. They thought that the population of the South of Ukraine would want to welcome them with flowers. Both in Kherson and Mykolaiv Oblasts, the invaders faced the fact; nobody wanted “the Russian World.” Nobody needed them. Ukrainians have established their own civic society—yet another manifestation of democracy that Russians do not understand. They were not ready for Ukrainians to be so independent, so conscious, and so ready to protect their statehood. They do not aspire to these goals in the empire.
So they were and still are trying to create informants networks and to carry out subversive work but our counter-sabotage measures are paying off. We identify collaborators and bring them to justice, stopping their activities. The occupants expected that between the missile strikes and sabotage work, they would win the south. They really thought that Odesa, Mykolaiv, and Kherson would welcome them and they will not have to spend their resources. This is not what happened.
What does the Ukrainian army need to push the Russian forces back in Kherson Oblast?
I’ll repeat, we have a very strong need for long-range weapons. The peculiarity of the southern front is that it runs across the Dnipro River. So there is an obstacle in the form of a powerful river, strong, wide, with its own temperament. It makes combat work extremely challenging.
We need long-range weapons because at the moment there is a counter-battery confrontation: their weapons against our weapons. There is no physical contact here and we do not have face-to-face battles. We have countered their attacks with weapons, and we need weapons that can repel the enemy to a distance from which they will not reach our civilians with their weapons.
It is critical for the international community to realize the manner in which the Russian military attack Kherson. They arrive and indiscriminately fire at the opposite bank of the Dnipro, shelling the de-occupied right bank without choosing coordinates, or specific targets. They just fire away. The Ukrainian military cannot open fire because there are Ukrainian civilians under occupation on the left bank, as well as our infrastructure. There are important objects and their damage will be critical during the subsequent development of events.
Crossing rivers is a challenging maneuver, it is known from the history of world wars. It happens at a big loss. This is a very difficult military operation, and therefore the military command does not intend to do it in order not to lose people.
In the conditions of modern war, we can destroy the enemy with long-range, high precision if it is highly accurate. We must not hit the locals but hit the specific locations of the concentration of the adversary’s weapons, ammunition, equipment, and personnel. When we can establish this kind of continuous fire control, they will not be able to reach the distance from which they can shell Kherson.
I interviewed Oleksandr Kovalenko in June, and he spoke about the importance of destroying the adversary’s logistics chains.
Yes, this tactic was introduced by us when we liberated the right bank of the Dnipro river. We hit the bridges but did not destroy the infrastructure. Bridges belong to Ukraine. We only blew the bridges so that the invaders could not use them. They could not pull up their forces, and reserves, and were forced to flee from the right bank.
We are doing the same on the left bank of the Dnipro river but we lack the long-range weapons we need. We need systems that can strike with high precision, artillery systems, and MLRS systems, that we successfully used, liberating the right bank. These are the HIMARS and 777-MLRS, in particular, high-precision Excalibur-type projectiles.
What are your forecasts—or dreams—for this year?
They often say that I’m a witch but not because I’m so scary but because I predict events. I’d like it to be so, even if there is just a coincidence.
May only the best for my country and for the whole world come true—and that’s why I want to predict an unequivocal Ukrainian victory. It will definitely happen. I want to predict the support of Ukrainians as a nation that took on such a powerful mission against its own will. I want to predict that we will get the reward we deserve: Peace in our homes. Definitely, there will be victory—with the support of our partners and a long-lasting friendship.