When Ukraine loses troops, how long can the fight continue?

ZHYTOMYR, Ukraine (AP) – As soon as they finished burying a veteran colonel killed by Russian bombing, cemetery workers prepared the next hole. Inevitably, given the speed with which death is falling on Ukrainian troops at the front, the empty tomb will not remain so for long.

Colonel Oleksandr Makhachek left behind a widow, Elena, and her daughters Olena and Myroslava-Oleksandra. During the first 100 days of the war, his grave was the 40th excavated in the Zhytomyr Military Cemetery, 90 miles (140 kilometers) west of the capital, Kyiv.

He was killed on May 30 in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, where fighting is taking place. Nearby, Viacheslav Dvornitskyi’s also-buried grave burial notice says he died on May 27. Other graves also showed soldiers killed with a few days apart: May 10, 9, 7, and 5. And this is just a cemetery, in just one of the cities, towns and villages of Ukraine putting soldiers to rest.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week that Ukraine is losing between 60 and 100 soldiers a day in combat. By comparison, just under 50 U.S. soldiers were killed on average a day in 1968 during the deadliest year of the Vietnam War for U.S. forces.

Among his comrades-in-arms who paid tribute to Makashkek, 49, at his funeral on Friday were General Viktor Muzhenko, chief of staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces until 2019. He warned that the losses they could get worse.

“This is one of the critical moments of the war, but it is not the summit,” Muzhenko told The Associated Press. “This is the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II. This explains why the losses are so great. To reduce the losses, Ukraine now needs powerful weapons that match or even surpass Russian armaments. This would allow in Ukraine respond in the same way. “

Russian artillery rallies are causing many of the casualties in the eastern regions that Moscow has focused on since its initial invasion launched on February 24 could not take Kyiv.

Retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the former commander-in-chief of US Army forces in Europe, described the Russian strategy as a “medieval attrition approach” and said that until Ukraine receives the promise of deliveries of American, British and other weapons to destroy and disrupt Russia. batteries, “such victims will continue.”

“This battlefield is much more lethal than we all got used to during the 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we didn’t have numbers like this,” he said in an AP telephone interview.

“This level of attrition would include leaders, sergeants,” he added. “They’re most of the victims because they’re more exposed, they’re constantly moving to try to do things.”

Makashkek, a military engineer, led a detachment that set up minefields and other defenses, said Colonel Ruslan Shutov, who attended the funeral of his 30-year-old friend.

“Once the bombing started, he and a group hid in a shelter. There were four people in his group, and he told them to hide in the shelter. He hid in another. Unfortunately, a shell of “Artillery hit the dugout where it was hiding.”

Ukraine had about 250,000 men and women in uniform before the war and was in the process of adding another 100,000. The government has not said how many have died in more than 14 weeks of fighting.

No one really knows how many Ukrainian civilians have been killed or how many fighters have been killed on either side. Statements of casualties by government officials, who can sometimes exaggerate or reduce their numbers for public relations reasons, are almost impossible to verify.

Western analysts estimate that Russian military casualties are much higher, in the thousands. However, as Ukraine’s losses increase, the mathematical shadows of war require it to find replacements. With a population of 43 million, it has a workforce.

“The problem is recruiting them, training them and putting them at the forefront,” said retired U.S. Colonel Mark Cancian, senior adviser to the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“If the war is now moving towards a long-term attrition struggle, then you need to build systems to get replacements,” he said. “This has been a difficult time for all armies in combat.”

Muzhenko, the Ukrainian general, said Zelenskyy’s admission of high casualties would further galvanize Ukraine’s morale and that more Western weapons would help turn the tide.

“The more the Ukrainians know about what is happening at the front, the stronger the will to resist will grow,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. But with the help of our allies, we can minimize and reduce them and move on to successful offensives. That will require powerful weapons. “


Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Lviv.


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