Ukrainian heroes will pummel Putin’s thugs with their own tanks after capturing hundreds of Russia’s war machines

HERO Ukraine mechanics are fixing captured Russian tanks to throw them back into battle against Moscow.

The Sun gained exclusive access to a secret workshop where teams had fixed a T-72 ahead of looming spring offensives.

Chris EadesSun man Jerome Starkey on a Russian T-72B3 tank that has been refurbished in a hidden bunker near Kharkiv[/caption]

AlamyDefence Secretary Ben Wallace said Putin’s commanders had resorted to World War One tactics[/caption]

Ukraine has captured 548 Russian tanks, including T-64, T72 and T-80s

Their commander, Ihor, joked: “The whole world is with Ukraine. Even the Russians are donating so much to our armed forces.”

Britain led global tank donations with a squadron of 14 Challenger 2s, yet by far the biggest source of tanks for Ukraine is captured Russian hardware.

Russia has lost 2,000 from its force of just over 3,000 since Putin began his botched invasion on February 24 last year.

At least 548 have been captured while hundreds more left mangled have been “donated” for spares.

They range from Cold War-era T-62s from the 1960s to Russia’s latest T-90M models.

Farmers towed captured tanks off the battlefield days after Putin invaded, sparking morale-boosting internet memes.

In some cases terrified troops had abandoned their multimillion pound vehicles, while others were killed and the vehicles taken.

The T-72 B3 was captured in rural Kharkiv province when Russian troops fled in chaos from a lightning counter-offensive last year.

The upgraded model entered service ten years ago.

The soldiers repairing the tank asked not to be identified to avoid revealing exactly where it was captured or where it has been repaired.

Their mechanics dragged it into a warehouse to hide it from Russian drones that scour the skies.

Ihor said: “It is ready to go now.”

But he added: “We still need tanks from the West.

“The latest Western tanks are much better than Russia’s equipment. Russia has so many troops, so many tanks, so many heavy weapons, that we need better weapons to beat them.”

Ukraine has also lost hundreds of tanks over the past 12 months.

Allies responded by donating some 505 T-72s and variants last year.

It included a massive gift of more than 300 from Poland, as Warsaw upgrades its armed forces to K2 Black Panthers from South Korea.

A Western official told The Sun: “This is a David and Goliath fight. David has shown he can win, but David had a slingshot.

“The West needs to give Ukraine its sling shots — lots of them — so they can continue to fight clever and overcome Russia’s numbers.”

Ukraine’s President Zelensky made urgent appeals for Western tanks.

AFPUkraine’s President Zelensky made urgent appeals for Western tanks[/caption]

AFPA destroyed Russian tank sits in a snow covered wheat field in Kharkiv[/caption]

Britain led the way, pledging 14 Challenger 2s, one of the best protected tanks in the world.

Allies have since followed suit with promises of over 175 German-made Leopards.

The US has also promised to send 31 Abrams M1s, but they are ex-pected to take 12 months to arrive.

Hundreds of Russia’s tanks were destroyed with US-made Javelin missiles and British-made NLAW missiles in the war’s early stages.

But front-line troops in Donbas said Russian commanders were now holding tanks back from battles.

Dima, the commander of an anti-tank squad, told us: “The Russians are hiding behind hills and lobbing shells at us.”

In the meat-grinder town of Bakhmut, where President Zelensky said every inch was soaked with blood, Putin’s Wagner Group mercenaries are launching waves of cannon-fodder infantry charges.

Serhii, a soldier who served in the town, told The Sun: “Normally if you hit a group of Russians they would react and take back their wounded, but in Bakhmut they just keep coming.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Putin’s commanders had resorted to World War One tactics, with foot soldiers clambering over their comrades’ dead bodies in doomed attempts to storm trenches.

The West says Russia is losing more than 1,000 casualties a day, while Ukraine is also suffering losses in the hundreds.

Chris EadesThe Sun’s Defence Editor Jerome Starkey with photographer Chris Eades[/caption]

Chris EadesJerome with a refurbished Russian tank at a hidden location[/caption]

The boss of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, admitted last week that his men were being slaughtered.

He blamed a shortage of heavy artillery shells due to a row with Moscow’s defence chiefs.

Both sides have blasted their way through years worth of ammo.

At the peak of the artillery slogging matches Russia was firing more than 30,000 shells a day from its vast array of tanks and howitzers.

Ukraine hit back with around 12,000.

Now both sides have reined back dramatically amid fears they could run dry without international help.

The US said Russia was trying to buy shells from North Korea and possibly China.

Britain has had to buy shells for Ukraine from Africa and South Asia, while allies including the US have ramped up production.

‘Of course we will win’

It triggered fresh appeals from President Zelensky for “modern combat aircraft”.

He said: “We will be able to fully protect the sky when the aviation taboo in relations with our partners is lifted.”

Western weapons have been key to Ukraine’s defence.

US and UK anti-tank weapons helped stall the Russian advance on Kyiv.

Long-range artillery, including US-made HIMARS and British GMLRS systems, let Ukraine hit Russian supply dumps, leading to a collapse in Kharkiv and a retreat from Kherson in November.

Western air defence systems are key to protecting major cities and the country’s energy infra- structure.

PM Rishi Sunak pledged to train Ukraine’s fighter pilots and has urged allies to give F-16 jets.

But US President Biden has refused.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin warned Ukraine’s allies to prepare “for the long haul”.

The next stage of the war is expected to see both sides launch major spring offensives.

Chris EadesThe capturd Russian tanks will be used by Ukrainian forces against Putin’s troops[/caption]

Chris EadesThe military hardware was captured or left behind as Putin’s troops retreated[/caption]

Chris EadesWeapons were also seized from the retreating Russians[/caption]

Russia has already ramped up attacks along the eastern Donbas front, but US officials said they did not think Russia would make “significant progress”.

Ukraine’s armed forces have signalled they plan to punch southwards to reach the Sea of Azov and cut the occupied territory that links Russia to Crimea.

It follows a series of unexplained blasts in the southern port city of Mariupol, which was captured by Russia in May after a month’s-long siege last year.

Ukraine’s Army chief General Valeriy Zaluzhny vowed troops would retake it this year.

Officials said the city was no longer out of range — but declined to reveal how they hit it.

At the rural tank yard outside a major city the soldiers echoed their president’s promise that victory is inevitable.

Viktor, a mechanic, said: “It is going to be hard, but of course we will win.”

His commander Ihor, added: “We will use all the help we can get, all the weapons.

“But we are the ones fighting because we are fighting for our lands. Otherwise, you will be next.”

GettyUkraine’s Army chief General Valeriy Zaluzhny vowed troops would retake Mariupol this year[/caption]