As Ukraine loses troops, how long can it keep fighting?

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ZHYTOMYR, Ukraine (AP) — As soon as they finished burying a veteran colonel killed by Russian shelling, cemetery workers prepared the next hole. Inevitably, given how quickly death descends on Ukrainian troops on the front lines, the empty grave will not remain so for long.

Colonel Oleksandr Makhachek left a widow, Elena, and their daughters Olena and Myroslava-Oleksandra. In the first 100 days of warhis grave was the 40th that diggers dug in the military cemetery in Zhytomyr, 140 kilometers west of the capital, Kyiv.

He was killed on May 30 in the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine, where fighting is raging. Nearby, the burial notice at the also freshly dug grave of Viacheslav Dvornitskyi says he died on May 27. Other graves also showed soldiers killed within days of each other – May 10, 9, 7 and 5. And this is just a cemetery, in only one of the towns and villages of Ukraine where soldiers are buried.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week that Ukraine now loses 60 to 100 soldiers every day in combat. By comparison, just under 50 American soldiers died per day on average in 1968 during the deadliest year of the Vietnam War. for US forces.

Among the comrades-in-arms who paid their respects to Makhachek at his funeral on Friday was General Viktor Muzhenko, chief of staff of the armed forces until 2019. He warned that the losses could worsen.

“It’s one of the critical moments of the war, but it’s not the peak,” he told The Associated Press. “This is the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II. This explains why the losses are so high. In order to reduce the losses, Ukraine now needs powerful weapons that match or even surpass the weapons This would allow Ukraine to respond in kind.

Russian artillery concentrations claim heavy casualties in the eastern regions Moscow has focused on since its initial invasion launched on February 24 failed to take Kyiv.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of US Army forces in Europe, described Russian strategy as a “medieval attrition approach” and said that until the Ukraine obtains the promise of American, British and other arms deliveries to destroy and disrupt Russia. batteries, “this kind of casualties will continue”.

“This battlefield is so much deadlier than what we all got used to over the 20 years of Iraq and Afghanistan, where we didn’t have numbers like this,” he said. said in a phone interview with AP.

“That level of attrition would include chiefs, sergeants,” he added. “They’re the hardest hit because they’re the most exposed, constantly moving around trying to do things.”

Makhachek, who was 49, was killed in a village in the eastern region of Luhansk. A military engineer, he led a detachment that laid minefields and other defences, said Colonel Ruslan Shutov, a friend of more than 30 years who attended his funeral.

“Once the shelling started, he and a group hid in a shelter. There were four people in his group, and he told them to hide in the canoe. He hid in another. Unfortunately, an artillery shell hit the canoe 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 did not say how many people were killed in the first 100 days of fighting. No one really knows how many fighters or civilians died on either side, and casualty statements by government officials – who can sometimes exaggerate or underplay their numbers for public relations reasons – are virtually impossible to verify.

Yet as Ukraine’s losses mount, the grim mathematics of war demands that it find replacements. With a population of 43 million, it has a workforce.

“The problem is recruiting them, training them and putting them on the front lines,” said retired US Marine Colonel Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“If the war now turns into a long-term attrition struggle, then you have to build systems to get replacements,” he said. “It has been a difficult time for every army in battle.”

Muzhenko, the Ukrainian general, said Zelensky’s admission of many casualties would further galvanize Ukrainian morale and that more Western weapons would help turn the tide.

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

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