Two contractors building shelters designed to protect personnel from artillery fire and FPV drones in the Zaporizhzhia region, southeastern Ukraine, on March 24, 2024.

Ukraine was too slow to build strong defenses in areas like Kharkiv, critics said.They said that Ukraine should have had defenses two or three lines deep, instead of one.Construction companies are racing to build more before Russia can advance further.

Ukraine was too slow to build the crucial fortifications that could hold back advancing Russian troops, according to critics.

Recent reports have shown Ukrainian soldiers complaining about the lack of defenses in two regions where Russia is gaining ground.

The first is Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, which has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting. The second is the area near the city of Kharkiv, which had been relatively quiet until recently.

One Ukrainian commander complained on Sunday that promised defenses in Kharkiv were missing. The result was that Russian soldiers “just walked in,” per the BBC.

Further south in Donetsk, a Ukrainian soldier described a rout that left 100 dead or missing as their position had hardly any fortifications, the Associated Press reported.

Opposition lawmakers put the blame on Zelenskyy’s government for not acting sooner.

Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, an MP for the opposition European Solidarity party, said they “finally” started building fortifications in February — too late, she said, per Politico Europe.

Rostyslav Pavlenko, another European Solidarity MP, told the outlet they had been urging the government to build on an “industrial” scale since last summer.

John Hardie, deputy director of the Russia Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told BI that Ukraine “certainly” should have started digging in “far” sooner.

He said the role of defensive lines was all the more important given Ukraine’s well-known issues finding enough soldiers.

“With proper fortifications, you can defend with fewer men,” he said.

A race against time

Last November, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for faster construction of fortifications on all major fronts, and the government formed a new group meant to get it done quickly.

However, it doesn’t seem to have worked.

Construction companies that agreed to work under dangerous conditions were hard to find, the AP reported earlier this month.

Those that did take on the work had to work fast and navigate multiple levels of bureaucracy to get paid, the report said.

A construction company director in one area of heavy fighting said Ukraine started way too late — the fortifications should have been put up a decade ago, when Russia first began to attack, he said.

“This is all a big question for our leadership: Why didn’t they purchase the equipment that military engineers needed to do their jobs? Why did they wait until they just gave it to us?” he told the AP, which granted him anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

Oleg Syniehubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, was more blunt, telling the AP: “There was no time.”

Ukraine’s Agency for Reconstruction and Development of Infrastructure did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

Manpower may trump fortifications

Some experts dispute the significance of deep fortifications on the battlefield, arguing that manpower is the real deciding factor.

According to Sergej Sumlenny, founder of the European Resilience Initiative Center, a German think-tank, Ukraine’s defensive line in Kharkiv has held up reasonably well despite only being one later deep.

He said building a defensive line all along Ukraine’s 745-mile front would not be realistic, so Ukraine has to pick its spots.

Tim Willasey-Wilsey, a visiting professor at the War Studies department of King’s College London, said the vastness of the front meant the pivotal factor would be how fast and well each side could rush defenders to areas that needed them.

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