Ukraine Army

Demoralized, Defeated and Dodging the Draft

Ukraine soldiers withdrawBrendan Hoffman Getty Images
Ukrainian soldiers withdraw from Debaltseve.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If Ukraine cannot motivate and organize its armed forces, it will not be able to wishstand the pro-Russian rebels in the east.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • When violence broke out last year, Ukraine’s defense ministry said it had 130,000 soldiers in its military.
    • It now claims to have 232,000 soldiers.
    • Officially 13 Ukrainian solders died in the battle for Debaltseve, but the number is likely to be higher.
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    Audio

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When Ukraine descended into war in April 2014, the country’s defense ministry said it had 130,000 troops, but experts suggest the country had just 6,000 combat-ready troops in a population of 44 million.

Now, after a massive recruitment drive and the re-introduction of military conscription, Ukraine claims to have 232,000 soldiers. But the draft is unpopular and the morale of soldiers is at rock bottom.

Faced with well-equipped, fired up pro-Russian separatist fighters in the key railway town of Debaltseve, Ukrainian soldiers ran away.

Ukraine did have compulsory conscription, but this was abolished in October 2013, when the government decided it wanted to focus its resources on creating a more professional fighting force.

Before it could do this, the country descended into war and the draft was reintroduced in May 2014.  Mr. Poroshenko said in January that the draft had so far called up 75,000 men, around 60 percent of whom will enter active service.

The Ukrainian defense ministry now claims to have 180,230 ground forces, 36,300 in the airforce and 15,000 in the Navy.

The sight of muddied, exhausted, demoralized Ukrainian soldiers trudging westwards after losing Debaltseve to pro-Russian rebel fighters was not a great moment for Ukraine’s beleaguered government.

It highlighted, only too brutally, just how Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has lost control of his own troops.

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