While Ukraine loses troops, how long can it continue the fight?

ZHYTOMYR, Ukraine (AP) – As soon as they finished burying a veteran colonel killed by Russian shelling, the cemetery workers prepared the next hole. Given how quickly death falls Ukrainian troops in the front lines, the empty tomb will inevitably not remain that long.

Collar. Oleksandr Makhachek left a widow, Elena, and their daughters Olena and Myroslava-Oleksandra. In the first 100 days of the warhis grave was the 40th grave at the military cemetery in Zhytomyr, 90 miles (140 kilometers) west of the capital Kiev.

He was killed on May 30 in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, where fighting is raging. Nearby, the funeral notice on Viacheslav Dvornitskyi’s also newly dug grave says he died on 27 May. Other graves also showed soldiers killed within days in a row – May 10, 9, 7 and 5. And this is only one cemetery, in just one of Ukraine’s cities, towns and villages that put soldiers to rest.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week that Ukraine is now losing 60 to 100 soldiers every day in combat. By comparison, nearly 50 American soldiers a day died on average in 1968 during the most deadly year of the Vietnam War for US forces.

Among the gun comrades who showed respect for the 49-year-old Makhachek at his funeral on Friday was Gen. Viktor Muzhenko, chief of staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces until 2019. He warned that the losses could worsen.

“This is one of the critical moments in the war, but it is not the top,” Muzhenko told the Associated Press. “This is the most significant conflict in Europe since World War II. It explains why the losses are so great. To reduce the losses, Ukraine now needs strong weapons that match or even surpass Russian weapons. This would allow Ukraine to react in kind. “

Concentrations of Russian artillery cause many of the casualties in the eastern regions, which Moscow has focused on since its first invasion launched feb. 24 failed to take Kiev.

Retired Lieutenant General. Ben Hodges, the former commander-in-chief of the US Army in Europe, described the Russian strategy as a “medieval attrition approach” and said that until Ukraine is promised supplies of US, British and other weapons to destroy and disrupt Russian batteries, “this that kind of sacrifice will continue. “

“This battlefield is so much more deadly than what we all got used to during the 20 years with Iraq and Afghanistan where we did not have numbers like this,” he said in a telephone interview with the AP.

“That level of attrition would include leaders, sergeants,” he added. “They are a big part of the victims because they are the most vulnerable and they are constantly moving around trying to do things.”

Makhachek, a military engineer, headed a department that laid minefields and other defenses, the colonel said. Ruslan Shutov, who attended the funeral of his friend for more than 30 years.

“When the shelling began, he and a group were hiding in a shelter. There were four people in his group and he asked them to hide in the grave. He hid in another. Unfortunately, an artillery shelling hit the excavation where he 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 the number of Ukrainian civilians who have been killed or how many combatants have died on both sides. Allegations of loss by government officials – who can sometimes exaggerate or make their numbers out of PR considerations – are almost impossible to verify.

Western analysts estimate far more Russian military losses, in the many thousands. Yet, as Ukraine’s losses increase, the gloomy mathematics of war require the country to find replacements. With a population of 43 million, it has labor.

“The problem is recruiting, training and getting them in the front line,” said the retired U.S. Marine Col. Mark Cancian, Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“If the war is now moving into a long-term attrition battle, then you have to build systems to get replacements,” he said. “This has been a difficult moment for every army in combat.”

Muzhenko, the Ukrainian general, said Zelensky’s admission of high sacrifices would further boost Ukrainian morale and that more Western weapons would help reverse the trend.

“The more Ukrainians know about what is happening at the front, the more the will to resist will grow,” he said. “Yes, the losses are significant. But with the help of our allies, we can minimize and reduce them and move on to successful offensives. This will require powerful weapons. “

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Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Lviv.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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