Under-equipped Ukrainian army relies on donated gear

KIEV,Ukraine -- Battling rebels armed by Russia, Ukraine's military, is in desperate need of better weapons.

President Obama's choice for Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, told senators at his confirmation hearing Wednesday he's "very much inclined" to support sending weapons to Ukraine, which the White House is considering.

With heavy weapons and plenty of ammunition, the Russian-backed separatists have momentum and say they're very close to capturing the strategic prize of Debalsevo, a transportation hub.

For a week, the fighting has been intense, and nowhere in the area is safe.

Wednesday, a shell tore through part of Donetsk city hospital. Local authorities say five people were killed.

Ukrainian troops -- poorly trained and equipped -- are now under heavy pressure.

Conditions have improved a little over eight months, but still the troops rely on aid from donations.

Oleksi Savchenko showed CBS News around the Kiev warehouse of his organization Army SOS, just one of the civilian groups that raises funds using social media and collects supplies for the troops from all over the world, including basics like goggles and radios.

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Oleksi Savchenko collects donations for the under-equipped Ukrainian military through his organization Army SOS.
CBS News

"We have collected and spent about 25 million hryvnia. It's more than $1 million," Savchenko says.

Before dawn Wednesday, Army SOS loaded up and we joined them for the 500 mile drive across Ukraine to a staging point 30 miles from the front line.

Among the most high-tech donations are drones, custom-made in Army SOS's own workshop.

They help, but what the Ukrainians say they need are ultra-sophisticated American weapons systems for secure communications and detecting enemy guns.

We asked if the U.S. did send lethal weapons and aid, if that would risk escalating the war.

"This war is already going on at full power," Savchenko says.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."