Zelensky claims huge increase in size of Kiev’s forces
There are currently 880,000 people serving in Ukraine’s armed forces, according to President Vladimir Zelensky, who insisted that Kiev wants to mobilize even more troops, primarily males who left the country after the start of the conflict with Russia.
Just last month, Zelensky claimed that Kiev’s ground forces numbered over 600,000 service personnel, while in February 2022, when Russia launched its offensive, the Ukrainian army officially had only about 260,000 servicemen.
In an interview with the German public channel ARD news broadcast on Monday, the Ukrainian leader stated that Kiev now has “a million-strong army,” adding that there are also over 30 million people who are working in the country right now, one million of whom are employed in the defense and security sectors.
At the same time, Zelensky noted that between 6.5 million and 7.5 million people had left Ukraine since the start of the conflict and stated that Kiev wants to repatriate citizens who are eligible for military service.
His comments come as the country's armed forces continue to experience dire personnel shortages on the battlefield, as has been admitted by a number of top Ukrainian military officers and commanders, including the head of the country’s armed forces, General Valery Zaluzhny.
While Kiev doesn’t publish its casualty figures, Russia’s Defense Ministry has estimated that Ukraine’s forces have lost as many as 160,000 service personnel since the launch of their failed summer counteroffensive, and that, over the course of the conflict, nearly 400,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed or wounded.
Meanwhile, multiple media reports have also suggested that the quality of Kiev’s soldiers has also diminished. Earlier this month, the commander of Kiev’s 5th Assault Brigade, Aleksey Tarasenko, told Espresso TV that the average age of soldiers in the Ukrainian army is now over 40 years and that “young men” were desperately needed.
The US outlet Daily Beast also reported last week, citing interviews with Ukrainian men who have been avoiding mobilization, that Kiev was now sending untrained conscripts to the frontline shortly after drafting them from the streets, with many of them failing to last even a few days on the battlefield.
In light of these personnel shortages, late last year Kiev intensified its mobilization efforts, with Zelensky stating at the time that the military was looking to call up an additional 500,000 new recruits. One Ukrainian official even proposed mobilizing the country’s entire population.
Ukrainian lawmakers, in turn, have been debating proposals to amend the country’s mobilization laws to lower the draft age, to recruit more women and to penalize draft-dodgers by cutting off their bank accounts.