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Ukraine is in a worse state than you think

It has been said that, given how massively Ukrainian troops were believed be outmatched early in Russia’s invasion, not losing the war is itself a form of victory for Ukraine. The difference between expectations and the surprising resilience of Ukraine’s military makes it easy to misinterpret the current situation in Ukraine’s favor. But not winning…

I t It has been stated that, considering how badly Ukrainian troops were thought to be outmatched in Russia’s invasion early on, it is a form victory for Ukraine not to lose the war. It is easy to misinterpret Ukraine’s current situation as a result of the difference in expectations and the remarkable resilience of Ukraine’s army. However, not winning is not necessarily winning. Ukraine is in a much worse state than people believe and will continue to require a tremendous amount of support and aid to win.

We love the underdog. We love the underdog. This gives us hope for our normal selves and makes us feel morally superior. This is why Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zilensky appealed to the world so well. We had someone to cheer for against a bully because of his defiance of the odds. While cheering on the scrappy, outmatched Ukrainians, we could also assuage some of our shame at leaving them–to whom we had made promises of protection, “security guarantees“–to die alone in the snow and the mud.

Unfortunately, Zelensky’s leadership, as well as the international humanitarian and military assistance it has received, have not prevented an alarming level of destruction of Ukraine’s cities and economy. The fact that Kyiv is still standing and that Russian troops have fled to the east does not mean that Ukraine is in a worse place than it has been reported.

It is worth remembering that Ukraine has been fighting a Russian invasion since 2014. Between 2014 and February 2022, almost 10,000 were killed in the simmering war in the Donbas, but little or no military progress was made. Ukraine now fights with the same army in an expanded theater against an even larger enemy force. It is a testament to the pure valiance of its troops that Ukraine has managed since February 24 not only to hold its line but force the Russians into a retreat from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernigiv, and surrounding areas.

Nonetheless, Russia now controls significantly more Ukrainian territory than before February 24. Putin’s army controls Kherson, including all of Mariupol and any other territories. This includes Luhansk, Donetsk, and the entire Donbas Oblast. For example, whereas Ukrainian authorities controlled approximately 60% of Luhansk before the recent Russian invasion, now Russian forces control over 80% of the region. They also have about 70% of Zaporizhye region. Cumulatively, this accounts for an increase of Russian occupied territory from approximately 7%, including Crimea, before February more than double that now. This makes it seem that losing is more common than winning.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense is not releasing combat casualty numbers to maintain morale, but experts believe it has lost at least 25,000 troops — up to 11,000 deaths and 18,000 wounded –since the February 24 invasion. Over two and a half months into the war, Ukraine’s losses are at least 10% of their now undoubtedly exhausted army of under 250,000. This is, however, many, many fewer than Russia’s casualties, believed to be over 35,000, and buttressed by an astonishing loss of weapons and equipment, such as tanks and warships.

Read More: Inside Volodymyr Zelensky’s World

Ukraine’s relative success is due in part to the weapons at least 31 western governments have been donating. The U.K. has sent anti-tank, anti-air, and anti-ship missiles, air defense systems, and other weapons; Slovakia the S-300 air defense system; the U.S. drones, howitzers, missiles, and anti-armor systems; and this is just a sampling. These weapons allowed Ukraine to increase its home-field advantage, exploit Russia’s military weakness and lack of proper planning and preparation, and leverage its troops’ greater resolve. These donations could have made Kyiv fall without them.

While Ukraine has plenty of weapons and military supplies, both the Ministry of Defense and the volunteer fighters admit that they don’t have enough to absorb all of it. Much of the equipment and weaponry requires new training to be used. It takes time, even if that training is available. Similarly, the influx of 16,000 or more foreign volunteer fighters would seem like a decisive boon, but in fact almost none of them had any military experience or training. According to the Ministry of Defense staff, and some of the foreign special forces volunteers on the ground, they proved little more than an extra meal for most people.

Economically, Ukraine is doing well, but not enough to be considered a success. The sanctions on Russia that are expected to cause a less than 7% contraction in GDP compare rather unfavorably to the 45-50% GDP collapse Ukraine is facing. At least 25% of businesses are closed, although the number that have completely stopped has fallen from 32% in March to 17% in May. However, a Black Sea blockade by Russia’s navy of Ukraine’s ports-Mariupol Odesa, Kherson and others–is preventing fuel imports for the agricultural sector and the export of grain. The inability to export is costing Ukraine’s economy $170 million per day. Russia is pursuing Ukrainian fuel storages, grain silos and warehouses for agricultural equipment, causing damage to already fragile supply chains. The power sector is facing default because so few Ukrainian citizens and companies are able to pay their electricity bills.

May is a crucial month for agriculture. Naftogaz also buys natural gas in May to store for the winter in Ukraine. The state-owned energy giant was already in bad shape before the invasion, with the CEO asking the Ukrainian government for a $4.6 billion bailout in September 2021. Now, with very tight gas markets and no funds, it is unclear how the country can prepare for winter, when temperatures can fall to below 20 Fahrenheit. Adding to the prospect of a tragic 2022-2023 winter, most of Ukraine’s coal mines are in the Donbas, where Russia’s offensive continues.

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