Svitlana Morenets Svitlana Morenets

Ukraine is in a bind over mass conscription

Credit: John Broadley

Svitlana Morenets has narrated this article for you to listen to.

In the second world war, the average age of a combat soldier was 26. In the Falklands, it was 23. For Ukrainian soldiers, it’s 43. The war in Ukraine has been, so far, fought mostly by fathers so their sons and daughters can rebuild the country when the fighting ends. But resisting Russia has cost so much and has continued for so long that the Ukrainian army is depleted. What to do next is a question that’s not just dividing the country but its two foremost leaders: President Volodymyr Zelensky and Valery Zaluzhny, the head of the military.

The gap between those who are fighting and those who aren’t is wider than ever

Ukraine’s 600-mile front line is being defended by 880,000 soldiers, according to Zelensky. Most of them have had no rest from fighting since the start of the full-scale war two years ago. Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s iron general, who played a key role in repelling Russian attacks and reclaiming around half of the territory initially seized, wants to recruit up to half a million more men. Building up reserves will allow the military to replace those exhausted by fighting, injured and dead. Russia plans to conscript 400,000 more soldiers; Ukraine needs to respond to this challenge. Zelensky, however, has not only refused Zaluzhny’s proposal but intends to remove the general from his post, saying a ‘reboot’ of the Ukrainian government and military command is required.

Zelensky’s objection is partly on the basis that 500,000 new conscripts would come with a hefty price: at least £10 billion for training, pay, clothing, food and equipment. That’s about a quarter of Ukraine’s government spending for this year and almost half the military budget. Western aid cannot be used to pay soldiers, and given Ukraine’s deficit, Zelensky has said the recruitment drive is unaffordable.

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