Dhe largest army in Europe is at war. the Ukraine has to defend itself against superior forces, Russia has – at least on paper – an army about four times larger than the attacked country. If you don't look at the total number of soldiers, but at individual unit types, the Russian advantage is often even clearer. Ukraine has been defending itself for more than six months, even though some saw the end as early as February. How long can the country muster enough soldiers for the grueling battle?
"The strength of the Ukrainian army is often underestimated," says Wolfgang Richter, former colonel. D. of the Bundeswehr, who researches military issues for the Science and Politics Foundation. He reminds that the peacetime strength of the Ukrainian active armed forces 250,000 if you include the National Guard, which, unlike the armed forces, is formally subordinate to Ukraine's Interior Ministry. "Ukraine has the second strongest army in Europe," says Richter.
On top of that, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy - unlike Vladimir Putin in Russia - ordered general mobilization immediately after the invasion began in February. This means that the Ukrainian armed forces can draw on up to 900,000 reservists, even if they can only be made combat-ready one by one.
Troop strength is not only written on paper (anymore).
Versus Russia volunteers from abroad are also fighting, the number of which cannot be determined specifically. Many civilians from within Germany have also voluntarily made themselves available for the local territorial defense. This, in turn, allows the Army and National Guard to leave posts farther from the front lines and deploy a large proportion of professional soldiers in combat.
It is crucial that the Ukrainian troop numbers are not just on paper, but actually hold the fort at the front. That was different in 2014 when the Russian attack on the Donbass. "At that time only 6,000 of around 180,000 soldiers in Ukraine were fighting, some defected to the Russians and separatists," says Wolfgang Richter. "The resistance was mainly provided by volunteer battalions."
It's different this time - a front of the current length could not be held with volunteers either. Ukraine's ability to halt the Russian advance and recapture some areas has resulted in casualties on both sides. Richter estimates the number of fallen Ukrainians at around 12,000 so far. “In addition, there are three times as many wounded.” Many of them will not return to the front in the foreseeable future.
Breaks in use thanks to rotation
Reservists are ready to replace them, many of whom have already gained war experience in years of trench warfare in the Donbass. It also helps Ukraine that the west of the country is now largely spared from Russian attacks. There, in the West Command, the supply of troops is being prepared for deployment.
Even though Ukraine has recently succeeded in recapturing major forces in the east of the country, a large part of the front in the south of the country has not moved, or only slightly, for months. Russians and Ukrainians face each other in a battle of attrition. Ukraine has established a balance of power that in many places allows it to give its own troops breaks by rotating them.
That boosts morale, which is already high - even after more than half a year of war - and also helps to mobilize reservists, reports Julia Friedrich, a researcher at the Global Public Policy Institute: "There are anecdotes that some in Odessa on the beach were recruited. Elsewhere, there are queues in front of the recruitment offices.”
For Friedrich, who lived in Kyiv herself until February, it is remarkable how much support the army receives from Ukrainian society. Donations, but also food cooked on site, help the army persevere. "These people are also contributing to the fight," says Friedrich, who doesn't expect Ukrainian morale to collapse anytime soon. “Ukraine must hold its ground if it does not want to live under Russian occupation. And the country has seen what that means.”
Ukraine can also count on international support when it comes to manpower (which, according to Friedrich, also consists of 5,000 women at the front). The UK government alone has promised to train several thousand soldiers. Wolfgang Richter and Julia Friedrich agree that Ukraine will not lack personnel in this war – even if it will last for a long time. According to Richter, the challenge will be to be able to create a majority for the liberation of the occupied areas in contested areas.
And Ukraine is struggling with a shortage, says Richter: "The shortage of ammunition is becoming a problem. The Ukraine needs several 100,000 rounds of ammunition for a large number of different calibers that it is currently using.” However, the country is not in a position to produce it itself, and the West is not yet pursuing mass production either. At some point the warehouses will be empty. Then the following applies: "Logistics is the limiting resource."