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CNN One Thing

You’ve been overwhelmed with headlines all week – what's worth a closer look? One Thing takes you into the story and helps you make sense of the news everyone's been talking about. Each Sunday, host David Rind interviews one of CNN’s world-class reporters to tell us what they've found – and why it matters. From the team behind CNN 5 Things.

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Two Years Later, Ukraine is Running Out of Ammo. Is Hope Next?
CNN One Thing
Feb 25, 2024

In the two years since Russia invaded Ukraine, thousands of soldiers on both sides have been killed and multiple cities have been destroyed. Recently, Ukraine has been forced to retreat from the city of Avdiivka amid dwindling ammunition supplies. Meanwhile, Western unity has started to show cracks and billions of dollars in US aid have been held up amid hesitation from congressional Republicans. In this episode, we hear from soldiers on the frontlines about what it’s like to fight with a lack of ammo and how two years of war have changed the country. 

Guest: Ivana Kottasová, CNN International Senior Producer

Episode Transcript
David Rind
00:00:00
When you think of how to describe Alexei Navalny. Brave might be the first word that comes to mind. So after we learn that the Russian opposition figure had died in an Arctic penal colony, it wasn't too surprising to see that bravery on full display from the people in his life.
Navalny Supporter
00:00:20
Nats
David Rind
00:00:23
His supporters in Moscow bravely face down the threat of detention to pay their respects. His 69 year old mother bravely marched up to that remote prison to demand authorities hand over her son's body. And Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, bravely became the new public face of the Russian resistance movement.
Navalny Supporter
00:00:43
Nats
David Rind
00:00:52
Even though Navalny's true cause of death is unclear at this point, Yulia placed the blame squarely on Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is his playbook, after all, where all dissenting voices are silenced and they often end up dead. But one of the reasons this movement was so passionate is because it's clear that Putin's aims stretch well beyond Russia's borders. You just have to look to Ukraine. This weekend marks two full years since Russia launched its assault on Kyiv.
President Joe Biden
00:01:25
Now's the time for even greater unity among NATO allies to stand up to the threat that Putin's Russia poses. You know, and.
David Rind
00:01:32
Since that moment, U.S. President Joe Biden has framed this fight as a battle for the future of the Western world. But these days, Ukrainian soldiers are asking if the stakes are so dire, so existential. Why are we running out of ammo? My guest this week is CNN's Ivanna Cotton. She's a senior producer with CNN international. We're going to talk about how soldiers are coping as U.S. aid dries up, and how two years of war has changed the country. From CNN, this is One Thing I'm David Rind.
Ivana Kottasová
00:02:15
So right now I'm in Dnipro, which is a city in eastern Ukraine. And I just came here today, after spending a few days in the very east. So near the eastern front line, in Ukraine.
David Rind
00:02:31
So it's been two years now since Russia invaded Ukraine. And the last time we covered it on this show back in December, there was a real question of whether the US would approve any new aid. And on the battlefield, things were really kind of in a stalemate. What is the state of play on the ground right now?
Ivana Kottasová
00:02:48
'So this is my fourth time in Ukraine since the start of the full scale war in 2022, two years ago, and I can certainly sense something like a shift in mood when I compare it to the same time. Last year there was quite upbeat mood. So the anniversary was coming off the back of some big wins that Ukraine secured in the fall. But then from there it sort of stalled and this big counter-offensive that people were hoping would happen, possibly. You know, there were some inflated expectations that were not realistic, but but it didn't happen. Right. And a lot of people are telling us that they expect 2024 to be a tough year. There are many reasons for it. And as you mentioned, you know, the ammunition shortages and the fact that the U.S. has not yet approved this big new package that President Biden is pushing for and $60 billion of new money for Ukraine. That is one big reason for this. So the problems with supplies have been going on for months, but they're getting worse and worse every day.
David Rind
00:04:06
Yeah. What are the soldiers saying about how they are dealing with this lack of ammunition?
Ivana Kottasová
00:04:12
Yeah. So so as I said, we've just spent a couple of days in the East and we spend a lot of time talking to soldiers. And they're really frustrated about this. They're frustrated because they can see that it's having a real impact.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:04:29
This morning, Ukraine's military was forced to withdraw from ft. After Ukrainian soldiers had to ration ammunition due to dwindling supplies...
Ivana Kottasová
00:04:39
And possibly the biggest sign of this came last week when, Ukraine suffered one of its biggest losses in a while when it had to withdraw from, Defcon.
Nick Paton Walsh
00:04:52
A commander clear Monday. Why this happened?
Nats commander
00:04:54
nats
Nick Paton Walsh
00:04:57
We didn't have enough people. Who says we didn't have enough shells? We didn't have enough possibilities to throw them back.
Ivana Kottasová
00:05:04
How do you figure? It's not a massive place. And by the time that Ukrainians withdrew from there, there was, you know, hardly anything left. It is not even particularly strategically important. It is sort of a gateway into the region. But psychologically this has been a massive loss.
David Rind
00:05:21
The fact that they didn't even have enough to repel Russia in this little place is demoralizing.
Ivana Kottasová
00:05:28
Exactly. And Africa has been on the frontlines since 2014 and was taken back by Ukrainians quite quickly. And the Ukrainians held it for ten years and they've now lost it. And the a major reason for that is because they just didn't have enough shells to repel the Russians. And this is something that all of the soldiers are telling us. We spend some time in a little dugout with a commander of a battery. So this is this is a man who decides where his guys are going to fire, or rather, in this case, more often where where they will hold off and not fire.
Ivana Kottasová
00:06:18
So when we spoke to your commander, he said that sometimes it's difficult because you know that you don't have enough ammunition to protect your guys.
Nats commander
00:06:29
Yeah.
Ivana Kottasová
00:06:31
I knew you might know some of them.
Nats soldier
00:06:35
Very hard .
Ivana Kottasová
00:06:38
And he was telling us just how difficult it's becoming because they have to make decisions to really only strike against the top priority targets. So he gave an example how in the summer, when they had enough shells, they were able to go after any targets, however small. So if he had, you know, a group of Russian soldiers that he was able to target, there would be no question about firing at them and taking them out.
David Rind
00:07:10
They could just fire at will.
Ivana Kottasová
00:07:11
Well, now, he wouldn't waste a shell on that because he needs it for, you know, the big guns and the big targets.
Ivana Kottasová
00:07:22
Doctor. Thank you so much.
Ivana Kottasová
00:07:24
Later on, we also went to this medical stabilization point. So this is a point where the troops bring any injured soldiers before they're shipped off to hospitals. So. So this is the sort of first contact with doctors that many of these soldiers have.
Nats translator
00:07:43
Because they need to change, replace some of the guys. All guys have to come back during rotation. they're vulnerable.
Nats doctor
00:07:53
Some website previewed with why it's a bit running scared. You know many years ago because.
Ivana Kottasová
00:07:58
Of their vulnerable when they're moving.
Ivana Kottasová
00:08:02
And the lead doctor on the shift that we were speaking to is a who's the guy who's been in this post for a year and he's and he's seeing a real difference in the numbers and types of injuries that are coming to him because of this shortage.
Ivana Kottasová
00:08:20
It's taking longer to bring casualties.
Nats doctor
00:08:23
Ukrainian
00:08:32
It would be more easier if there was helicopter
Ivana Kottasová
00:08:38
And what the doctor was telling us that I found really quite horrifying is that the lack of ammunition and the fact that it's so difficult for the artillery guys to cover it for the infantry is impacting even the time it takes for the injured and wounded to go to get to him.
Nats translator
00:08:57
And he said that in our case, sometimes it takes a day for for somebody to bring this injured person to this, relatively safe place.
Nats doctor
00:09:04
Ukrainian
Ivana Kottasová
00:09:10
And just to give you a comparison, across NATO, for instance, the goal is always to extract the wounded person within what they call the golden hour. And the idea is that within an hour, you should get the person out and get them medical attention. And now here in Ukraine, we were talking a day. So that gives you an idea of how bad it is.
David Rind
00:09:42
So this lack of ammunition has not only impacted Ukraine's ability to damage Russia's troops, but it's also impacting their response in terms of the injured. And that's obviously not great either.
Ivana Kottasová
00:09:55
Absolutely. And psychologically, it's terrible as well, you know, and, you know, in a war like this, the morale is a big part of it. And it's important to say that the morale might be, you know, getting lower, but it's still super high. Everybody is really motivated. This is it's very clear that to most people this is an existential war. And they see it that way and they're determined to win it.
David Rind
00:10:19
Right. I was going to ask about that though, because they can have all the morale they want. But do they actually have enough bodies to operate what weapons they do have enough ammo for like two years is a long time to be on the frontlines.
Ivana Kottasová
00:10:31
Yes, it is a long time and they are absolutely facing a real problem with manpower.
Nats doctor
00:10:43
The morale is still there. We wish to win our territories back The only thing is that they are very tired....
Ivana Kottasová
00:10:53
And that's why the Ukrainian parliament is currently debating a change in the draft law. That would make the draft wider and make more men eligible for the draft. And it's very controversial. And there's a lot of back and forth on and, and we've even seen some little protests around that. But the idea is at the moment, anyone who wants to fight and is 18 year old and older can fight, so they can volunteer. But as you said, you know, this is now a war that is entering its third year, which means that pretty much anyone who wanted to volunteer has signed up already. But when it comes to draft, that is limited only to men who are 27 years old and older. And now the big change that the Parliament is debating is whether to decrease that minimum age down to 25.
Christiane Amanpour
00:11:48
There is a question of potentially you signing a law, or changing the draft, and the conscription and lowering the age from 27 to 25. Are you going to do that?
President Volodymyr Zelensky
00:11:59
Ukrainian: It's a complex question. The question of, uh, the question of fair mobilization....
Ivana Kottasová
00:12:10
And we had, interview with, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who told Christiane Amanpour, in Munich, that this is partly a question of justice. Right? So everybody has to fight for Ukraine. And the people who are on the frontlines are tired. So perhaps it's time for others to step up.
President Volodymyr Zelensky
00:12:31
For counter offensive. You need and are there in all the number of brigades. So the question of mobilization, it's the complicated thing. Yes.
Ivana Kottasová
00:12:41
And but it is an extremely difficult decision to make. And it's one of the reasons why Zelenskyy has recently changed the top levels of the military. And he fired the previous top commander, General Valery Soluzhny. And one of the reasons was because they didn't agree with each other on a number of things and, and draft and mobilizations, were one of them.
David Rind
00:13:06
So taking all that together, then you mentioned that the morale is high in the country still, but like, what is the mood now as we enter year three? Like, you just walked down the street and, you know, pick a city in Ukraine. What is the vibe.
Ivana Kottasová
00:13:20
So compared to my previous visits to, to the country, it's definitely more pessimistic. Overall, I think people are realizing that this is going to be much, much longer than they perhaps thought or hoped for. I think a lot of people, especially who are, you know, in the cities and they're not necessarily near the frontlines, they're just getting all this horrible news from from the East Africa. And it looks bad. You know, we drove past Kharkiv the other day, and there's this big city cemetery on the edge of Kharkiv, and we drove past and I just saw this huge sea of flags, the very iconic blue and yellow Ukrainian flags. And and we stopped and we walked and there was this whole new section of the cemetery with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of graves. All with these flags flying above, and there are so many of these flags that in the wind the noise was overwhelming. And everywhere you looked there were graves and flags. And that is the price that Ukraine is paying right now. And it's a very, very high price.
David Rind
00:14:54
Ivana. Thank you.
Ivana Kottasová
00:14:55
You're welcome. Thank you so much for having me.
David Rind
00:15:09
One thing is a production of CNN Audio. This episode was produced by Paola Ortiz and me, David Rind. Our senior producer is Faiz Jamil. Our supervising producer is Greg Peppers. Matt Dempsey is our production manager. Dan Dzula is our technical director. And Steve Lickteigis the executive producer of CNN audio. We get support from Haley Thomas, Alex Manasseri, Robert Mathers, John Dianora, Lenny Steinhardt, Jamus Andrest, Nichole Pessaru, and Lisa Namerow. Special thanks to Matt Wells and Katie Hinman. We'll be back next week with another episode. Talk to you then.