Soldiers hold Ukrainian flags over the coffins with Ukrainian servicemen Oleh Khomiuk and his son, Mykyta Khomiuk, who were killed in Bakhmut, during their funeral service at Independence Square on March 10, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Roman Pilipey/Getty Images
Ukraine’s defense is being hindered by the loss of experienced soldiers, The Washington Post reported.
One commander said all 500 original members of his battalion had been killed or injured.
Soldiers with significant combat experience “are all already dead or wounded,” the commander said.
The war in Ukraine is bleeding both sides, with each suffering more than 100,000 military casualties (killed and wounded) since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year. But with Moscow able to draft fighters from a population that dwarfs that of Ukraine, there is growing concern that Kyiv is less capable of suffering sustained losses — and that this will jeopardize its ability to strike back this spring, The Washington Post reported on Monday.
The gravity of the situation is illustrated by the experience of Ukraine’s 46th Air Assault Brigade. A commander of a battalion within the brigade told the Post that he’d lost every one of the 500 people he commanded back in February 2022, leading them to be replaced with fresh recruits far less capable on the battlefield.
The 46th Air Assault Brigade is part of the Ukrainian force battling Russia — and the Wagner mercenary group — over control of Bakhmut in the east of the country. In an assessment published over the weekend, the Institute for the Study of War suggested that the Kremlin is using Wagner’s mercenaries, some recruited from Russian prisons, as cannon fodder amid the fierce fighting in Donetsk, calculating that their loss of life is more palatable to the Russian public than the loss of conventional forces.
The man who commands the Ukrainian battalion, identified by the Post only by his call sign, Kupol, indicated that Kyiv does not have the same luxury.
“The most valuable thing in war is combat experience,” he said, describing the difference between a soldier with six months of experience and one who was freshly trained as “heaven and earth.”
“And there are only a few soldiers with combat experience,” he told the Post. “Unfortunately, they are all already dead or wounded.”
In his own battalion, Kupol said there had been a complete turnover in personnel since the invasion. Off the 500 men he commanded last year, 400 have been wounded and another 100 killed, according to the Post. Their replacements are not ready for war, he added.
“They just drop everything and run. That’s it. Do you understand why? Because the soldier doesn’t shoot. I ask him why, and he says, ‘I’m afraid of the sound of the shot.’ And for some reason, he has never thrown a grenade,” he told the Post. “We need NATO instructors in all our training centers, and our instructors need to be sent over there into the trenches. Because they failed in their task.”