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As Ukraine loses troops, how long can it keep up the fight?

ZHYTOMYR – As soon as they finished burying a veteran colonel who was killed by Russian shelling, the cemetery workers prepared the next hole. Given how quickly death crushes Ukrainian troops on the frontlines, the empty tomb is bound to not stay that way for long.

Colonel Oleksandr Makhachek left a widow, Elena, and her daughters, Olena and Myroslava-Oleksandra. In the first 100 days of the warHis grave was the 40th that excavators dug at the Zhytomyr military cemetery, 90 miles (140 kilometers) west of the capital Kyiv.

He was killed on May 30 in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, where fighting is raging. Nearby, on the grave of Viacheslav Dvornitskyi, which was also freshly excavated, the grave marker states that he died on May 27. Other graves also showed soldiers who were killed within days – on May 10th, 9th, 7th and 5th. And this is just a cemetery in just one of the cities, towns and villages of Ukraine where soldiers rest.

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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week that Ukraine is now losing 60 to 100 soldiers in combat every day. For comparison: In 1968, an average of almost 50 American soldiers died every day the deadliest year of the Vietnam War for US forces.

Among those who paid their respects to Makhachek at his funeral on Friday was General Viktor Mushenko, chief of staff of the armed forces until 2019. He warned that casualties could worsen.

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

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Concentrations of Russian artillery are causing many of the casualties in the eastern regions that Moscow has focused on since its inception invasion launched on February 24, Kyiv failed to take.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of US Army forces in Europe, described the Russian strategy as a “medieval approach of attrition” and said until Ukraine is promised supplies of US, British and other arms to Russia to destroy and disrupt batteries, “those kinds of sacrifices will continue.”

“This battlefield is so much deadlier than what we’ve all become accustomed to in 20 years of Iraq and Afghanistan where we didn’t have numbers like this,” he said in an AP phone interview.

“That level of attrition would include leaders and sergeants,” he added. “They’re the brunt of the victims because they’re more exposed and they’re constantly moving and trying to do things.”

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

“When 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 dugout. He hid in another. Unfortunately, an artillery shell hit the shelter where he was hiding.”

Ukraine had about 250,000 men and women in uniform before the war and was adding another 100,000. The government has not said how many were killed in the first 100 days of fighting. No one really knows how many combatants or civilians died on either side, and claims of casualties by government officials — who sometimes exaggerate or downplay their numbers for publicity reasons — are all but impossible to verify.

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But as Ukraine’s losses mount, the grim mathematics of the war require it to find replacements. With a population of 43 million, it has a labor force.

“The problem is recruiting, training, and getting them to the front lines,” said retired US Marine Col. 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, then you have to build systems to get replacements,” he said. “This was a difficult moment for any army in combat.”

Muzhenko, the Ukrainian general, said Zelenskyy’s admission of heavy casualties would further boost Ukrainian morale and more Western weapons would help turn the tide.

“The more Ukrainians know 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 that 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

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/business/2022/06/04/as-ukraine-loses-troops-how-long-can-it-keep-up-the-fight/ As Ukraine loses troops, how long can it keep up the fight?

Sarah Y. Kim

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