Ukraine outnumbered and outgunned by relentless Russia

STORY: As Ukraine enters a third year of war, the 59th Infantry Brigade is facing a bleak reality: it’s running out of soldiers and ammunition.

Reuters reporters spent two weeks near the frontline ahead of the February 24 anniversary speaking to more than 20 soldiers and commanders.

While still motivated to fight the Russian invaders, they described the challenges of holding off a larger and better supplied enemy.

One of them is a company commander who goes by the call sign "Limuzyn."

"We have a big problem with manpower, we simply lack men. People have lost their enthusiasm which they had at the beginning of the full-scale invasion. We need big reinforcements, many people here are tired."

Another commander estimated that just 60 to 70% of the several thousand men in the brigade at the start of the conflict were still serving.

The rest had been killed, wounded or signed off.

"Our guys are now spending more time in the trenches and on positions. You can see yourselves what the weather is like; rain, snow, rain, snow. As a result, people simply get ill with flu or angina. They're out of action for some time, and there is nobody to replace them."

In December, Putin ordered Russia's forces to be increased by 170,000 troops to 1.3 million.

Ukrainian officials have said their armed forces number around 800,000.

Artillery shells are also in short supply with Kyiv relying heavily on money and equipment from abroad to fund its war effort.

But with $61 billion in U.S. aid held up by political bickering in Washington and with the EU conceding it will miss its target to supply a million shells to Ukraine, it is looking more exposed than ever.

Even if the frontlines have largely stagnated in the last 14 months, Moscow now controls almost a fifth of Ukrainian territory in a war that combines trench combat and high-tech drones warfare.

Cheap to produce, drones can surveil enemy movements and drop ordinance with pinpoint accuracy.

On the Ukrainian side alone, more than 300,000 drones were ordered from producers last year and more than 100,000 sent to the front, digital minister Mykhailo Fedorov told Reuters.

Moscow has also invested heavily in the technology, allowing it to nullify Ukraine's early advantage.

Limuzyn said Russia's widespread use of drones made it difficult for Ukrainian troops.

"Even to dig out a position is now a problem. Our guys start to do something, a drone sees them, and a second drone arrives to drop something onto them."

Drone pilot "Leleka" said the high number of drones arriving at the battlefield were like "taxis at the airport."

"Recently, we were trying to destroy a dugout, to destroy a place from which they were firing. There was a queue of drones to destroy this firing point".

But Ukraine's drones did force the Russians to move valuable vehicles and weapons systems back by several miles, according to two drone pilots in different units.

This drone pilot in the 24th Mechanized Brigade uses the call sign "Nato."

"After we got good drones, in two or three months it's now very hard to find vehicles to hit (...) we led very successful drone attacks then, now we have less of those. But again, this is actually a positive outcome."

Both sides are now strengthening their electronic warfare systems which can disrupt the frequencies sent from the pilot to the drone, making them miss their target or drop out of the sky.