Ukraine’s army is running out of men and time to win the war against Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country, as casualties mount and weather conditions deteriorate.
The country has a pre-war population of 44 million, of which some six million have fled abroad. The army has about 200,000 active personnel and another 200,000 in reserve, but can only draw on another 1.5 million fighting-age males.
Volunteers are no longer coming forward in sufficient numbers to keep the Ukrainian army at fighting strength. The latest recruitment slogan is “it’s OK to be afraid”, but many are still trying to dodge the draft. Some men over 60 are being sent to the front lines.
The war has also taken a heavy toll on Ukraine’s equipment and infrastructure. The army suffers from shortages of weapons, ammunition, vehicles and fuel. Many of its tanks and armored vehicles are outdated and poorly maintained. The roads and bridges in the east have been damaged by shelling and mining.
The war is now one of attrition, fought on terms that increasingly favor Moscow. Kyiv has launched a counter-offensive in recent weeks, aiming to retake significant territory from the separatists and cut off Russia’s land bridge to Crimea. The army has made some progress around the village of Robotyne, which lies on the road to the Azov sea.
However, the advance has been slow and costly, as Ukrainian forces face fierce resistance from well-entrenched and heavily armed separatists, backed by Russian artillery and air support. The separatists have also laid extensive minefields and dug deep trenches to slow down the Ukrainian assault.
The Ukrainian army is also racing against time, as winter approaches. The autumn months usually bring heavy rains that turn the soft ground into thick mud, making it difficult for tanks and vehicles to move. The winter months bring freezing temperatures and snow, which hamper visibility and mobility.
If Ukraine fails to achieve a decisive breakthrough before the weather worsens, it may face a stalemate that could last for months or even years. This would give Russia more time to reinforce its positions and prepare for a possible counter-attack.
Ukraine hopes that its Western allies will provide more military and diplomatic support to help it end the war. However, the US and Europe have been reluctant to send lethal weapons or troops to Ukraine, fearing an escalation of the conflict. They have also failed to impose effective sanctions on Russia or persuade it to withdraw its forces from eastern Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine has become one of Europe’s deadliest conflicts since World War II, claiming over 100,000 lives and displacing millions of people. It has also strained relations between Russia and the West to a level not seen since the Cold War. Unless a political solution can be found soon, the war may continue indefinitely, with no clear winner or loser.