Ukraine has demoted a senior battlefield commander after he admitted his unit had taken heavy losses in fighting around the city of Bakhmut.
The commander, known by his call sign Kupol, gave an unusually frank assessment of Ukrainian setbacks in an interview from the front lines this week.
He revealed that all of the original 500 soldiers in his unit had either been killed or injured, a rare acknowledgement from inside the Ukrainian ranks, where losses are usually kept strictly confidential.
The Ukrainian high command is at pains to present a positive spin on the increasingly bloody defence of the east. US officials have estimated that the Ukrainian army may have taken 120,000 casualties compared with 200,000 by the Russian army.
Kupol told The Washington Post this week the Ukrainian army training was often poor and some of the rookie replacements did not know how to throw a hand grenade or fire a rifle. Others had abandoned their positions shortly after arriving at the front line.
“They just drop everything and run,” he said. “That’s it. Do you understand why? Because the soldier doesn’t shoot. I ask him why, and he says, ‘I’m afraid of the sound’. And for some reason, he has never thrown a grenade.
“We need Nato instructors in our training and our instructors need to be sent into the trenches because they failed in their task.”
He said the troops in his unit were facing ammunition shortages. Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are being trained by the British army and other Nato countries, but thousands more receive more rudimentary training in Ukraine.
Kupol said he had been motivated to speak out to try to improve training levels, but furious Ukrainian generals instead demoted him. The Washington Post said he had consented to have his picture taken, but admitted he could face “personal blowback” for his honest assessment.
Valentin Shevchenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, accused Kupol of “disseminating false information... The losses announced in the unit of which he had command are significantly overestimated”.
Shortly after his demotion, Kupol quit the Ukrainian army. Within hours of his reassignment to a training camp, dozens of Ukrainian soldiers, politicians and journalists had voiced their support for the battalion commander.
“One of the armed forces’ finest commanders has been removed,” Yuriy Butusov, a well-known Ukrainian war correspondent, wrote on Facebook.
Telegraph Media Group Limited