In short, Ukraine is discussing how to find the next wave of troops

Soldiers fight in muddy, frozen trenches bombarded by artillery, or in burned and destroyed homes in urban combat. Casualty rates are high and dangerous missions, such as storming enemy-controlled tree lines, are frequent.

As they plotted to revamp Ukraine’s military establishment under harsh conditions, both the country’s former commander-in-chief and his successor emphasized the same looming problem: the need to relieve exhausted, exhausted forces whose combat tours had spanned nearly two years.

It’s a turbulent week for the war effort in Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed his commander, General Valery ZaloznyOn Thursday, while aid from the United States, the largest exporter of arms and ammunition, was in doubt in Congress.

While Ukraine relies on its allies for weapons, replenishing its ranks poses a domestic challenge. Small protests have erupted in opposition to Parliament’s proposal to expand the bill to include younger men, although Parliament has been slow to implement the measure so far.

Most military analysts have coalesced around the idea that Ukraine, at best, will maintain its current front lines in ground combat this year with a new influx of American weapons — and risk falling behind without them. It plans to replenish its ranks through mobilization while keeping Russia off balance through long-range drone strikes and sabotage operations behind enemy lines and inside Russia.

Announcing the appointment of General Oleksandr Sirsky to lead the army, Zelensky said he wanted a “new management team” for the armed forces. He pointed to the search for a new strategy that takes into account the exhausted front-line soldiers in Ukraine’s million-man army, which is fighting the largest war in Europe since World War II.

He proposed a partial solution by moving more soldiers from rear positions into combat, but also pointed to a “new approach to mobilization and recruitment,” without going into details.

Mobilization was a factor in the dismissal of General Zalozny. Plans to call up more soldiers to fight in grim trench warfare were not something anyone in Ukraine’s military or civilian leadership wanted to be associated with. General Zalozny and Mr. Zelensky have been in a public and open disagreement over mobilization since December.

At a press conference in December, Zelensky said that General Zalozny’s staff had asked to recruit between 450,000 and 500,000 men, a comment that appeared intended to shift responsibility to the army to decide to recruit this additional number of soldiers, opposition politicians said. .

General Zalozny responded that the decision to call in more soldiers was not up to the army. He said that the armed forces had prepared estimates of their manpower needs to allow for the rotation of those serving now, the replacement of soldiers killed or wounded in combat and the projection of future losses.

“We need shells, weapons and people,” General Zalozny said. “Everything else is done by the bodies that have the authority.”

In a statement after his appointment on Thursday, Gen. Cirsky listed among his priorities “the lives and health of soldiers” and said the Army would seek to achieve a “balance” for units between front-line deployments and training.

Regarding this very sensitive issue for Ukraine, Irina Vriz, a member of parliament from the opposition European Solidarity Party, said in an interview: “Unity is gone.” “The issue of mobilization for politics has been subverted.”

The draft law on mobilization has passed its first reading in the Ukrainian Parliament. It would lower the conscription age to 25 from 27 and tighten penalties for evading military service.

Ukraine is currently recruiting men between the ages of 27 and 60. Under martial law, all men between the ages of 18 and 60 are prohibited from leaving the country, fearing a decision will be taken to conscript them.

Men with three or more children were exempt, but men with three or fewer children who volunteered, or whose families expanded during their service, were not allowed to leave the army.

The bill in parliament also allows troops to be demobilized after three years of service, suggesting a possible deferment of about a year from now for soldiers who have been fighting since the invasion in 2022. The law is expected to be passed this month, wrote Jaroslaw Zelezniak, a member of the opposition Holos party. On Telegram, the decision will take effect in March.

For men eligible for the draft, trench warfare is a terrifying prospect. Soldiers die from artillery, drone bombing, snipers, and in close combat with Russian forces. The ubiquitous Russian land mines have blown off the legs or feet of thousands of Ukrainian men. The bunkers in which soldiers slept last winter were also overrun by rodents attracted to the warmth of logs or rough wooden structures, exacerbating unpleasant conditions on the front.

Soldiers at the front typically spent three days or so sleeping in shifts in trenches and bunkers under fire, followed by three days in less dangerous reserve locations, such as abandoned houses in nearby villages.

Ms. Freeze, the lawmaker, said the Ukrainian government and parliament should design the draft to balance the needs of the army and the economy and maintain political stability, all issues outside the scope of the army’s duties.

For example, lowering the draft age would bring more resilient and healthy soldiers into combat, but poses long-term risks to Ukraine’s future population support given the country’s demographics.

As is the case in most countries of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine has a young generation of 20-year-olds, due to low birth rates during the deep economic depression of the 1990s. Because of this demographic decline, there are three times as many men in their 40s as there are men in their 20s in Ukraine.

Recruiting more men in their 20s, given potential casualties in battle, would risk reducing the number of births in this young generation of Ukrainians, leading to a decline in the number of draft-age and working-age men decades from now and jeopardizing the country’s security and economy in the future. The future is at risk.

In one move to ease the fears of men who are called up but want to have children, Parliament is considering a bill to pay the medical bills of soldiers who want to freeze their sperm to allow their partners to become pregnant if they die in combat.

Ukraine’s labor pool has already been greatly diminished by the migration of women fleeing war and the mobilization of men.

An angry conscription crowd blocked a road outside a village in western Ukraine last week in a noisy confrontation with drivers and police, making clear the political risks of expanding mobilization.

Villages in the west were a major source of soldiers for the Ukrainian army, and support for the war was generally higher in the west of the country than in Ukraine. But the loss of male loved ones has taken a toll on many families.

The roadblock occurred on Tuesday in the village of Kuzmach, Ivano-Frankivsk region, and began with unfounded rumors in local chat groups that recruitment officials were coming to find the remaining men in the village, police said in a statement. Police officers said about a hundred women blocked the road, and the protest turned violent when they mistook a woman from a nearby village for a recruitment official.

The woman, Ivana Vandjurak, wrote in a Facebook post that the crowd shouted that she was being “surveilled” by the local military recruitment office. The accusation reflected widespread concern in Ukrainian society that spies in their midst, known as spotters, were helping Russia identify missile targets, but in this case, the concern was the military recruitment system.

Dmytro Mukhnachuk, head of the council that governs the village and surrounding communities, told local media that the women had agreed to disperse but told him they were “fighting against conscription office employees.”

Maria Varnikova He contributed reporting from Kiev, Ukraine.

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