Ukrainian military officials and commanders admit that the country lacks not only Western weapons aid but also the manpower to operate them.
Some Ukrainian officials have complained that the country’s military has not been able to repel Russian forces because Western allies were slow to hand over weapons according to aid commitments. However, some of Ukraine’s armed forces face a shortage of personnel that is more serious than the problem of weapons and ammunition.
An anonymous assistant to President Volodymyr Zelensky, in an interview published by Time on October 30, admitted that even though the US and its allies have handed over all weapons as committed, Ukraine does not have enough soldiers capable of using them.
According to a senior Ukrainian military officer, many of the country’s commanders have little choice in the face of attack orders from above. This person said that in early October, the Ukrainian army was asked to launch a counter-attack campaign to regain control of the city of Gorlovka in Donetsk province, a strategic outpost that Russian forces were determined to protect.
“The commanders responded with the question ‘attack with what?'” the senior Ukrainian officer said. “They have no manpower or weapons. Where are the weapons? Where are the artillery? Where are the recruits?”.
The winter cold will make it more difficult for Ukrainian forces to advance, and the front line will remain frozen until at least next spring. However, President Zelensky refused to accept this and said that “freezing the conflict means failure.”
Some of Mr. Zelensky’s assistants said Ukraine will have major changes in its military strategy and the President’s advisory team. According to these officials, at least one minister and one general in charge of the counter-offensive campaign will be dismissed to ensure accountability for the slow progress on the fronts.
“We will not be able to move forward,” an assistant to Mr. Zelensky admitted, saying many commanders on the front line began to refuse orders to advance, even when the Office of the President of Ukraine issued them. “They just want to sit in the trenches and hold the line. However, we cannot win that way.”
Ukraine does not announce its casualties in the conflict with Russia. According to US and European estimates, Ukrainian and Russian casualties were more than 100,000 people on each side. This seriously reduced the manpower of the Ukrainian army, forcing military recruitment offices to call in older recruits.
The average age of a Ukrainian soldier is currently 43. A close assistant to Mr. Zelensky commented that “they are old and not healthy anymore.”
This situation is completely different from when the Russia -Ukraine conflict first broke out. The Territorial Defense Force of the Ukrainian Army then announced that it would receive 100,000 recruits in the first 10 days of hostilities.
The mobilization of Ukrainian recruits was then fueled by optimistic predictions by the country’s officials that they would “win within a few weeks to a few months.” “Many people think they can take a quick journey to achieve a great victory,” said another assistant to Mr. Zelensky.
However, Ukraine’s military recruitment pace is gradually decreasing after nearly two years of fighting, even though the country applies a strict conscription policy. Many people shared stories about officers pulling men out of buses or trains and taking them to the front or some people with economic means bribing the army recruitment office to avoid the soldiers.
President Zelensky, on August 11, dismissed all leaders of provincial military recruitment offices, a move that was assessed to demonstrate commitment to fighting corruption. However, a senior Ukrainian officer said this was counterproductive as military recruitment activities almost stagnated due to a lack of leadership.
According to this officer, it is also difficult for Ukraine to replace dismissed military recruitment officials, partly because military recruitment offices have seriously lost credibility after the scandal. “Who wants to take on that job?”, the Ukrainian officer explained. “This is no different than wearing a sign with the words ‘corruption’ on the back.”