As Russia’s war in Donbas enters its fifth year, it is taking soldiers’ lives not just at the front, but when they return home, exhausted and traumatized by battle.
Since 2014, at least 1,000 Ukrainian combat veterans have committed suicide due to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to lawmaker Oleksandr Tretyakov, the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada’s committee for veteran affairs.
“In Ukraine, over 1,000 persons who fought (in the war in the Donbas) have committed suicide,” Tretyakov said at a veterans conference held in Kyiv on April 24-25.
He added that the ongoing war in Donbas was causing damage even worse than that from other conflicts in which Ukrainians have been involved in recent decades, such as the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979-1989, which left tens of thousands of psychologically disturbed veterans.
“In Afghanistan, there was a kind of war in which small arms were used (mostly),” the lawmaker said. “(In the Donbas war), artillery is engaged, and naturally, all psychological traumas are largely connected with this fact. Many are suffering from shell-shock.”
Various types artillery were used in combat by Soviet troops in the Soviet-Afghan war, including 85- 122- and 152-millimeter self-propelled and towed guns, 82- or 120-millimeter mortars, and multiple launch rocket systems. There were reports of the occasional use of captured artillery pieces by the Afghan mujahideen against Soviet forces, but this was rare.
Tretyakov also said that as of April 2, 2018, up to 329,500 persons were given combatant status for participating in the so-called “Anti-Terror Operation” (ATO), the term officially used by the Ukrainian government for Russia’s war against Ukraine in the Donbas, which has been ongoing since April 2014.
In all, according to the official, Ukraine now has over 1.6 million veterans from various conflicts, starting from World War II, which is nearly 4 percent of the country’s population.
As recent official figures show, the suicide rate among demobilized Ukrainian soldiers in civilian life has doubled since last year.
Back in June 2017, Ukraine’s Minister of Interior Affairs Arsen Avakov in an op-ed for the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet claimed that as many as 500 ATO veterans had committed suicide since 2014 due to post-traumatic disorder issues.
Following this disturbing revelation, Ukraine’s Health Ministry in September 2017 created a register of combat veterans who had killed themselves. According to the lawmaker Olha Bohomolets, most of the veterans in the list were under 30 years old; they had been unemployed, and committed suicide by shooting themselves while under the influence of alcohol.
Official figures published by the Health Ministry in September 2017 showed that every third ATO veteran was receiving psychological help.
Due to the growing problem of post-combat issues among the military, the Verkhovna Rada on Feb. 27 asked the government to initiate the creation a new Ministry for the Veteran Affairs on the basis of the already existing State Service on War Veterans and Participants of the Anti-Terrorist Operation.
According to Ivan Vinnyk, a lawmaker from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko, the new ministry will take care of all veteran from all wars, including World War II. Lawmaker Maksym Burbak, the leader of the 81-member Narodniy Front faction in parliament, said it would be based on the model of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
However, the deputy chairman of the State Service on War Veterans, Vyacheslav Marchenko, has said the new ministry is unlikely to be launched until the fiscal year 2019.
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