Front-line Ukrainian soldiers told Kyiv Post their units are suffering from poor morale because of constant and accumulating losses, sometimes poor support and limited summer offensive ground gains against a tough and deeply dug-in Russian opponent.

Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) enlisted soldiers in individual interviews said slow, deliberate assault tactics currently used by Ukrainian military that have left individual fighters strongly suspecting they will be hit, and possibly killed, well before a break-through on the front could take place.

“The situation is very hard. The Russians were given too much time to get prepared for the widely announced Ukrainian counteroffensive. It was clear to them that one of the directions of the Ukrainian strike, if not the main one, would be Zaporizhzhia,” a combat medic said. He requested Kyiv Post not make his name public.

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He added: "And they prepared very well… Every square inch is mined. They plant mines on approaches to their positions and blow them when they retreat.

“Nobody expected the whole terrain to be mined, so we’ve been banging our heads against the minefields, moving at a snail's pace,” he added. "We really lose very many sappers. They always go ahead of the troops.”

The soldier said front-line AFU units suffer slow drip losses of dead and wounded not just to minefields, but to booby traps, shell strikes, tanks firing from the far side of a distant hill, drone-controlled artillery and guided and unguided aerial bombs.

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He said in his unit soldiers are still willing to attack, but the ration of very little gained for fellow fighters killed or wounded was demoralizing.

Ukrainian medics from the 5th Assault Brigade treat wounded Ukrainian soldiers at a stabilization point in an undisclosed area near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on July 1, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.Genya SAVILOV / AFP

“In one month, we have only advanced one kilometer and a half… We move forward by inches, but I don’t think it’s worth all the human resources and materiel that we have spent,” the medic said.

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An AFU Major with extensive front-line fighting and higher-level staff experience, and speaking on background, told Kyiv Post the AFU’s total lack of an air force, limited reserves of artillery shells and doctrine to preserve its own soldiers’ lives if possible has left Ukrainian commanders with few other tactical options but launching short-range assaults against prepared Russia-held positions and accepting the cost in blood and lives.

Russian forces are taking heavy losses trying to stop that, and the strategy of hollowing out the Russian army with continuous attacks is working, he argued.

“The idea was to push along this front and not use our main reserves so that when our forces started to break through the triple Russian lines of fortifications, nothing would work on them, and they would only deal with those sitting in those fortifications,” the major said.

“So far, it’s working, and our forces are advancing.”

A Ukrainian soldier of the 28th Separate Mechanized Brigade fires a 40mm grenade launcher at the front line near the town of Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on June 17. PHOTO: AFP

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An infantryman fighting near the Russian-occupied Donetsk, the central hub city of the Donbas region, told Kyiv Post that from his perspective, at the sharp end of the AFU, that success comes only with pain.

He recounted how his unit captured and then lost a series of Russian trenches because AFU fighters had trained hard, prior to the launch of the summer offensive, in capturing defensive fortifications, but had not practiced holding them against counterattacks. Taking a Russian fortification means becoming an inevitable target, he said.

“As soon as there is an attack, Russian artillery starts to work on us with everything it has, and they hammer our positions from front to back, the infantryman said. “Every hundred meters of land we gain means 4-5 infantrymen who have left the ranks – this is the average loss.”

“As long as we are standing and holding on, we can say there are no losses; there may be some light injuries. As soon as we move forward, there are hefty losses. Up to half a unit for every kilometer we capture, and it is not a given that we will hold this kilometer later,” he said.

Photo:libkos/instagram

The soldier told Kyiv Post his unit had “internalized” the reality of continuing losses and that he and his buddies would continue to attack. The problem, he said, is doing that against an opponent whose air force is dominant, whose population is four times larger than Ukraine’s, and whose artillery has ranged and targeted any fortification Ukrainian troops are likely to capture. Troops on the frontline are becoming resigned to getting hit eventually, he said.

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“I think about it like this: people in a crashing plane have no chance, and according to statistics,
we have 30 percent killed and 40 percent wounded, so there is a chance of survival, and people in the plane have none. So, it’s not so bad. In ordinary life, too, bricks can fall on your head,” he said.

Complaints about AFU weak support to frontline Ukrainian soldiers are echoed in media controlled by the Kremlin. In a video published on Friday by the pro-Russia Telegram platform U_G_M, 12 Ukrainian soldiers purportedly from 10th Mountain Assault Brigade and describing themselves as recently taken prisoner named accumulating casualties as a key reason for deteriorating soldier morale.

One man with bound hands identifying himself as a 10th Brigade member, said: “They [his brigade’s commanders] sent us on assault, then we got grenades dropped on us, then we got taken prisoner… Our morale is bad, very bad.

"Those who sent us there, they pressured us, we had zero weapons, zero ammunition, there was no food, no water. When it rained we rolled up tarps and collected water to drink that way. I went to tell our commanders that they are all (expletive), they just throw people forward like meat.”

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All men in the video were shown with bound hands. Soldiers interviewed in the video published on Moscow-controlled platforms all repeated the “we are thrown in battle like meat” formula, a common Kremlin propaganda narrative on Ukrainian attack tactics.

Kyiv Post asked Ukraine’s Army General Staff (AGS) to comment on allegations of weakening morale among frontline AFU units. There was no immediate response. A Ukraine Defense Ministry spokesperson contacted for comment referred Kyiv Post to the AGS.

Morale in some AFU units still seems relatively healthy, Kyiv Post found. Two members of one of the AFU’s standout formations, the Kyiv-raised 3rd Assault Brigade, in text communications said that their unit’s attacks in the Bakhmut sector are consistently successful, that coordination between infantry, tanks, drone operators and artillery is improving, and that official reports of advances in the Bakhmut sector are accurate. A long-serving sergeant said food and ammunition supplies are excellent.

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A Ukrainian soldier of the Aidar battalion walks at a front line position near Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, on April 22. PHOTO: AFP

A 3rd Assault commander confirmed his unit advanced 1.8 km. in its most recent assault, consistent with an earlier AFU announcement, and claimed his company recovered the remains of more than 40 Russian soldiers killed during an AFU assault, captured weapons and six prisoners, and took no losses. Morale in the unit was excellent, he said. Kyiv Post respected his request not to be identified publicly.

On Friday, Ukraine Army General Staff (AGS) spokesperson Andriy Kovalev in a statement said that AFU units were advancing or consolidating in recently captured positions “having achieved success” in three sectors of the front.

He claimed AFU artillery was outshooting Russian artillery. As has been typical for most official Ukrainian army statements from the start of the war, he made no mention of Ukrainian losses or morale in frontline units.

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Comments (10)

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Cooperation
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The head of the troupe should always have full attention. Because they have the main role. Everything and everyone involved should strive to maintain safety and comfort. So that they can be as successful as possible. It's nice that the Russians can only take on limited responsibility. And that at some point they will collect the bill for it.

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Maxim Gorki
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At this point I think most Ukrainians would welcome a Russian victory. The slaughter and destruction would stop and the nazis would be driven out. Russia would probably even help rebuild Ukraine. All the Ukrainians have to do is stop fighting and the war is over.

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db
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The longer this war lasts, the greater the losses for Ukraine, in men and territory. With Minsk II, Ukraine could have kept Luhansk and Donetsk. Now 4 oblasts are lost. If Ukraine wants to keep Odessa and Kharkiv, Ukraine needs a peace deal now.

Obama refused to provide lethal weapons because Russia has "escalatory dominance" in Ukraine. In other words, no matter how many weapons Nato supplies, the Russians can supply more. That is as much true today as it was 9 years ago. For Russia it is an existential issue, for the US it is not. The US will cut its losses and run as in Afghanistan, Vietnam and so many other places.

The only way to avoid defeat is a nuclear war between Nato and Russia. Aside from mad people, who wants that? Did Kyiv really imagine Nato would attack the greatest nuclear power on the planet? That is not a sign of rational thinking.

Western hubris which believes the US to be invincible and Western money to be inexhaustible is without substance considering that the US never won a war. Today the US is a declining power with the Brics set to become the dominant economic bloc in the world. The Ukraine war has triggered the terminal decline of Europe. Don't expect European money from a failing continent. It's game over for Europe.

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Hans Westmar
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The greatest tragedy of this war is the fact that the whole time the Western powers never expected Ukrainian victory, and have just been drip feeding weapon systems slowly over the months to give hope to Ukrainians to keep them fighting. Ukrainian victory was never on the table for the Western powers, only using Ukrainian men and women as a battering ram with which to reduce the combat power of the strategic adversary of Russia.

It's a shame.

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RK
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Change the approach. Get sniper rifles for long distances than close combat in the trenches.
Offer each Russian soldier who surrenders freely (vs being captured) food, accommodation, if confirmed money for the family at home and the permit to settle in eastern Ukraine after the war if they do not want to return to Putin‘s Russia.

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Pete Russell
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It was OBVIOUS from day 1 in February 2022 that Ukraine NEVER had a chance of winning this conflict. The United States KNEW this. President Zelensky was elected on a PROMISE o peace in the Donbas but the US used him to send the unfortunate Ukrainian men to the slaughter. SHAME on France, Germany and the United States for NOT requiring Ukraine to adhere to the Minsk Accords. And SHAME on Zelensky for NOT pursuing PEACE.

Kat
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@Pete Russell,

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Oslo
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Look people are dying for freedom and liberty why write this krap. How about writing an article about how they are fighting courageously with no air support and God bless them for it. Why undermine the troops and feed the Russian troll machine. Nuts.

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I support
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I want the Ukrainian men and woman fighting to know i love you. Why? Because you are so brave and so courageous. The fact that you are fighting with no air support shows how much you love your people. You are the light of the world the fire of freedom burns so bright that it gives me great humility. You will pervale against these assholes. If you are a soldier and you happen to read this know i believe in you. When the second invasion happened the world underestimated you you have proven them wrong. What these orcs don't understand is love is the greatest motivation to resist. They where so wrong to start this horrible war and their war crimes show they do not love anything . Glory to the heros.

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Andrew Lockett
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Ukraine should consider suspending the offensive actions in the south, fix the orcs in place there and focus on recapturing Bakhmut, which may actually cause significant political ruptures inside the Kremlin if Ukraine flag flies in the city once more. Paradoxically this may assist for the orcs southern lines to be compromised, as such a strategic loss for russia will be very serious and potentially cause a domino effect. Poohtie gave the capture of Bakhmut such high significance, and akin to a mini version of Crimea, the loss for russia here is likely to ease AFU pressures in the southern theatre.🇺🇦

Goldstein
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@Andrew Lockett, You are so right... Zelenski should put you in charge of AFU and we will be victorious for sure. The domino effect will be so great that we may even capture Moscow in a few weeks.

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Austen
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This is a great post that will boost the Russians and they will be delighted that you are encouraging them. Letting the Russians know all about the morale of the men on the front line is doing them a greta favour. It is just a shame that you are totally wrong! The men's morale has never been higher! They are fighting for their families and country... you should support them instead of undermining them.

Nathan
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@Austen, You must be speaking from the front line. Thank you for your sacrifice.

I support
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@Nathan, fuck the doubters you are awesome i believe in you and yes don't undermine the troops the are giving all.

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