Will Ukraine run out of troops?

A man pushes a wounded Ukrainian serviceman in a wheelchair in front of a destroyed Russian tank installed on Khreschatyk street during Independence Day in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
By Dénes Albert
4 Min Read

The Ukrainian military leadership is facing a serious problem due to soaring casualties. As the death toll of the conflict and the recent stalled counteroffensive become clear, it is becoming increasingly difficult to replace these lost soldiers. Recruitment is being made exceedingly difficult by the fact that many are fleeing conscription, even at great risk, while others are simply bribing recruiters.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy confirmed that the army had asked for an acceleration of mobilization, with Kyiv planning to recruit more than 300,000 people into the Ukrainian armed forces by spring to compensate for losses, according to the Russian news agency TASS.

“Between 200,000 and 300,000 people would be needed on top of the current mobilization, which is 10,000 a month. By spring, Ukraine needs to mobilize 60,000 to 70,000 people, and more than 300,000 people are planned to be potentially selected. In total, Ukraine has so far drawn 1.2-1.3 million people from the mobilization reserve, of which the irrecoverable losses are already somewhere around 400,000,” the news agency quotes Rodion Mirosnyko, former ambassador of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), as saying in an interview with a Russian TV channel.

Those numbers may be highly suspect, given that they are coming from Russian sources, which have a motive to inflate Kyiv’s losses. However, Western sources such as the New York Times indicate that the war has cost Russia and Ukraine 500,000 casualties, which underlines how bloody the war has been for both sides. Ukraine, with its far smaller population, is undoubtedly going to face greater recruitment issues, especially as the war drags on.

The initial wave of patriotic fervor and a desire to defend Ukraine has worn off to some degree. Many of the most dedicated soldiers have either been killed or wounded, and those who have survived cannot fight indefinitely. In the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion, many Ukrainians even returned home from abroad to join the army, but the tables have now turned.

While the Ukrainian government is mostly coy and tries to highlight the Russian side’s losses, the Times report estimated that the number of soldiers killed or wounded in the last 18 months could exceed 150,000.

Draft dodgers risk fines at best, or up to three years in prison at worst. However, there are also exemptions from military service, such as medical incapacity, a strategic job, or being a single parent or caregiver.

By law, all men aged between 18 and 60 must be available for military service, and they have not been allowed to leave the country since martial law began in February last year — at least officially. According to the BBC, many are fleeing across the Carpathians to Romania, while others are using people smugglers or “investing” in false documents.

These documents serve as a loophole that the Kyiv authorities are trying to close, as the border police now have access to all the data of men of military age, which will, in principle, make it more difficult for fraudsters to trick authorities, Hungarian-language Ukraine news portal Kárpáti Igaz Szó reports.

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