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Ukraine military facing ‘overwhelming odds’ as incursions continue

August 30, 2014 at 6:18 PM EDT
For the latest on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, Alan Cullison of the Wall Street Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Kiev.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about the crisis in Ukraine, we’re joined now via Skype from Kiev by Alan Cullison of the Wall Street Journal.

So, Alan what can you tell us what’s the latest there this morning and the whole week we’ve been reporting on new incursions or invasions, however you want to call them, by Russian troops into different parts of Ukraine.

ALAN CULLISON: Well, there are more details of more armor being poured in and the latest allegation is that an armored column that came in from Russia flattened the town near the border of a Ukrainian town.

It’s nothing that any of us can confirm since getting into that part of the battle zone is extremely dangerous. But basically it’s just a gradual escalation of an overwhelming – they say that the Ukrainian troops are just facing overwhelming odds and some are being encircled, or pushed back.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Are there specific villages, are there specific areas right along the border who are feeling it more who basically have no choice now?

ALAN CULLISON: Well, there were, yes, basically there were two battlefronts near the Ukrainian border. One was near the Ukrainian city of Luhansk, the other one was near Donetsk.

What happened this week was that an armored column broke into Ukraine, in an area where there wasn’t any rebel activity before, which was, you know, clearly evidence that there were Russian forces doing this. That’s been the most catastrophic part of the week for the Ukrainians.

This new front that opened up in the south along the Sea of Azov, because the Russian forces are moving along the coast and may be taking the town of the port city of Mariupol.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Are there cases where the Ukrainians are retreating, either tactically, or otherwise?

ALAN CULLISON: Yeah, they’ve been in retreat for about a week now, but more problematic for the Ukrainians is that several of their groups surrounded – and of course getting out alive that is a consideration. There have been efforts to negotiate a deal, I believe, a trade for prisoners.

If the Ukrainians would give up some prisoners then the Russians might let them out of encirclement and back into their own territory. But, yeah, the Ukrainians are taking a beating at this point.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And how effective are some of the videos that we’ve seen out of there, especially on sort of Ukrainian Independence Day in the last week and half or so, we saw that there were actually separatists forces that were parading Ukrainian soldiers through the streets.

Is that kind of a message getting out to the wider Ukraine that this is an active war, that there are prisoners of war?

ALAN CULLISON: Well, I think, at least in Ukraine it’s been clear they’ve been at war for quite a while. They’ve been trying to send that message to people. I think that the effect of the prisoner parade on Ukraine was that it polarized people even more. I mean, some want to fight harder, others are also it’s just arousing enormous animosity towards those in the east who are fighting against them.

It’s going to make peace-making a lot more difficult. Although, there are those Ukrainians who if the fatigue sets in, and if this war continues for a long time, they might develop an attitude that they’re just a different people over there who are just so hostile that they just don’t want them to be part of Ukraine.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the idea that Ukraine has essentially called out a draft and wants men to enter into military service?

ALAN CULLISON: Well, I think mobilization is what most people expect and actually quite a few people have been asking why it hasn’t happened yet. It’s something that the leadership has been – I don’t know exactly, it’s hard to say why they’ve held off on it.

I think that they were hoping that there would be a negotiated solution. And they were actually quite optimistic about defeating the rebels up until about a week, a week and half ago, when they said that just a lot of troops in armor started moving into the country.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Alan Cullison of the Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.