Many units are understrength and dealing with low morale, field commanders have said
The Ukrainian Army is facing a “critical” deficit of troops, driving fears that its front may soon collapse, the Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing recent interviews with several officers.
While weapons and ammunition are also scarce – one newly arrived unit received just ten shells for its two howitzers, its commander told the Post – the manpower shortages are resulting in “exhaustion and diminished morale” as many units are unable to rotate from the front.
“We have direct trouble with personnel,” a deputy commander of an infantry battalion, identified only as Nikita, told the outlet. “I’m talking with my friends, also officers in other units, and those in infantry; it’s almost the same situation everywhere.”
The Post spoke with “nearly a dozen” officers and soldiers, who concealed their identities fearing retribution.
An unnamed commander of a battalion in a mechanized brigade said his unit currently had less than 40 infantrymen, compared to 200 when fully staffed. Another battalion commander, identified as Alexander, said his infantry companies were staffed at about 35%. His colleague from an assault brigade said this situation was “typical” for combat units.
“The basis of everything is the lack of people,” Alexander said. His battalion was sent five replacements over the past five months, so poorly trained that officers had second thoughts about sending them into battle and almost certain death. With no replacements, frontline troops can’t be rotated out.
“There is no one to replace them, so they sit there more, their morale drops, they get sick or suffer frostbite. They are running out,” he told the Post. “The front is cracking. The front is crumbling.”
Sergey, a 41-year-old platoon commander fighting in Avdeevka, said most of his men are over 40 and are beginning to feel the strain. “You can feel it; people are exhausted both morally and physically,” he said.
According to Alexander, the government in Kiev “failed to explain” to the Ukrainian people why they should enlist, so “nobody comes to the army” anymore, and those who volunteered “have already all run out.”
President Vladimir Zelensky announced in December that Ukraine would need to mobilize another 500,000 troops, indirectly admitting a far higher death toll than Kiev has officially acknowledged. The measure has been so unpopular, the parliament has not taken it up until this week, while Zelensky has sought to shift the blame onto his top general, Valery Zaluzhny.
“Every soldier thinks about that guy that walks around in Dnepr or Lviv or Kiev,” the officer identified as Nikita told the Post. “In their heads appears the thought: Some guys are just strolling around there, but we’re here.”
Alexander, the battalion commander, was grim about the future. “Where are we going? I don’t know. There’s no positive outlook. Absolutely none,” he said. “It’s going to end in a lot of death, a global failure.”