It’s long been clear that Ukraine’s armed forces have undergone some significant recruitment problems amid generally low morale as throughout the summer the counteroffensive has stalled and appears failing. There’s also a grim emerging consensus that Ukraine is suffering staggering losses. Even just before the counteroffensive’s start, The Washington Post ran headlines such as Ukraine short of skilled troops and munitions as losses, pessimism grow.
Related this are all of the recent videos of young Ukrainian men being conscripted across the country which have widely circulated. Those who are fearful of being sent to the front are often actively engaging in evasive and, in some instances, illegal tactics to avoid such a fate. Some with money can pay off military recruitment officers, perhaps.
This week, even one of Kiev’s most ardent supporters and NATO backers – Poland, has said the counteroffensive is likely to fail. Polish President Andrzej Duda said in a fresh Washington Post interview, “Does Ukraine have enough weapons to change the balance of the war and get the upper hand?” And he answered his rhetorical with – “Probably, no.”
“We know this by the fact that they’re not currently able to carry out a very decisive counteroffensive against the Russian military,” Duda conceded. “To make a long story short, they need more assistance.” And now on the battlefield, the Kharkiv area is being evacuated of civilians amid Russian advances.
A new announcement by President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday has further confirmed this pessimistic view of Kiev’s prospects, as the government has fired all heads of military recruitment on concerns of rampant corruption. Zelensky has dismissed all heads of Ukraine’s regional military committees as authorities conduct a sweeping probe into bribery allegations.
Zelensky made the announcement in a video post to official social media accounts:
The president posted a video and text statement regarding the mass removal of local military officials on his official Telegram channel on Friday. The announcement comes amid a national investigation into military commissariats that has already produced 112 criminal cases against local commissars.
“This system should be run by people who know exactly what war is and why cynicism and bribery during war is treason,” Zelensky said, shortly after holding a special meeting of the National Security and Defense Council.
Recruiters have apparently been paid handsomely by those of means to look the other way as they avoid conscription—something which we should note is a problem as old as war itself.
Zelensky continued: “Instead, soldiers who have passed [through] the front or who cannot be in the trenches because they have lost their health, lost their limbs, but have preserved their dignity and do not have cynicism, are the ones who can be entrusted.”
Ukraine has not issued an official casualty count to date, with the figure long being subject of intense speculation. The Wall Street Journal said in a report this month that “between 20,000 and 50,000 Ukrainians who have lost one or more limbs since the start of the war, according to previously undisclosed estimates by prosthetics firms, doctors and charities.” The WSJ says this is beginning to rival WWI figures.
Aside from desperately needing more manpower, also at a time the phenomenon of Western mercenaries flocking to Ukraine is a thing of the past, Kiev is also likely concerned with the prior optics of the brutal mobilization by Ukrainian military recruitment officers. As the Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet recently reported, “Many conscripted men are taken straight off the street by uniformed men.” The paper gave the following example of such: “Most recently in Subcarpathia, a surveillance camera recorded the overreach of the authorities as a man trying to go to a store was kidnapped from his bicycle in broad daylight.”