This Is How War Profoundly Transforms Army in Ukraine
20 April, 2017

Ukraine is the only European country at war, which is fighting on and for its own territory. The country has doubled its defence budget over the last three years, and increased the size of its army twice over. We analyze the way Ukraine has managed to rebuild and transform the army in the last three years while being engaged in active warfare. 

The waves of mobilisation

The seizure of Crimea and the war in Donbas, both instigated by Russia in 2014, have exposed how bad things really are in the Ukrainian army. The speech given by the then Ukrainian Defence Minister, Ihor Tenyukh, is testament to this. On 1st March, 5 days before the fake ‘referendum’ in the peninsula, where the people allegedly decided to become a part of the Russian Federation, he announced that there were 41 thousand troops on the ground ready to take action. Only 6 thousand turned up.

Precisely a week after this speech was made, the then interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, signed, and then the parliament approved, a decree on the partial mobilisation of troops. More than 35,000 people from the ranks of the armed forces and the National Guard of Ukraine (Ukrainian national gendarmerie) were called up. First in line were volunteers and those with experience in the military service.

Another 5 waves of mobilisation have followed the initial wave, triggered by the ongoing hostilities in Donbas. In total, 200 thousand people eligible for military service have been called-up.

The army is a profession

The 7th wave of mobilisation, which was discussed in April 2016, was deemed unnecessary. In summer, the Ministry of Defence announced that the number of officers and soldiers enlisting in the army was high enough that those called-up as part of the 6th wave of mobilisation could be replaced. In 2016, 69 thousand soldiers signed up to the Ukrainian army. 7500 of them are officers.

Joining the army has become a financially attractive prospect. The 2016 budget made room for a three-fold increase in minimum wage for contract soldiers. They now receive around $260 (7000 UAH) per month. Soldiers and officers that volunteer for service in the ATO zone also receive a ‘bonus’ of up to $224 (6000 UAH) for those on the front-line, and $90 (2400 UAH) for those deployed just outside the first echelon of the ATO zone.

A representative from the Office Project of Reforms in the Ministry of Defence, Olesya Favorskaya, says that the motivation behind joining the volunteer army is not always purely financial. $260 may be incentive enough for someone in an area suffering from financial depression, but for a young professional from Kyiv, there may be other deciding factors. In her opinion, besides increased financial security for both rank-and-file soldiers and officers serving in the military, a clear path for career progression to the rank of staff sergeant should be developed. This would solve another trade-mark problem of post-soviet armies, in that rank-and-file soldiers often choose not to sign up to the volunteer forces or extend their military service.

Another complicated dilemma is providing servicemen with housing. According to Ukrainian law, the state must provide servicemen (and ex-servicemen) with accommodation. There are currently more than 44 thousand families waiting to be housed. The Project Office of Reforms in the Ministry of Defence decided to look more closely at the tender process for construction and monitor the way in which the contractors do their jobs. This is to ensure that all targets are met on time and are tasks are completed to a high standard. It will also reduce budget spending. In 2017, the housing programme was allocated $28 million (750 million UAH), which is 25 times less than the necessary amount. Therefore, the Project Office is looking into buying housing rather than constructing it, and providing less compensation to those people who only recently decided to dedicate their lives to the army. If this money is transferred into deposit accounts, once they leave the army they will have enough money saved to buy a house.

At the same time, the volunteer soldiers have the opportunity to do what they came to do. 900 exercises were carried out over the course of 2016. 20 of those were brigade-level exercises. 5 battallions were trained according to NATO standards. The special operations forces were created - they are the elite of the Ukrainian Army and recruit from both conscripts and contract soldiers. A flexible contract-signing system has also been developed. There are half-yearly contracts for conscripts who have served less than 11 months, and 2 to 5 year contracts for officers.

These reasons for joining the army will become even more convincing in 2017, when, according to the law which has recently been adopted, soldiers will have the opportunity to terminate contracts signed before the Russian invasion. If someone replaces them without resorting to a new wave of mobilisation, then this will mean the government has succeeded in creating the suitable working conditions for the servicemen.

There’s no refusing the call

However, despite the growing number of contract soldiers, the Ministry of Defence is not going to give up on the planned call-up. The recruitment campaign began at the start of April this year and will continue to the end of May. In this time, 14,000 men aged 20 to 27 will be called-up for military service. Those with higher-education will serve for a year, and those without, for a year and a half. Conscripts will not be sent to combat zones.

The head of the mobilisation department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Oleh Boyko, explained that the main aim of military service to create a battle-ready reserve of soldiers. “This is a massive resource, which gives young men the opportunity to recieve a military education and train in centres and military units…These "Сonscripts” are also the main source of potential contract servicemen. Signing the contract is often a hard decision when you're a 'civvie', but if you’re already serve in the Armed Forces, been through special training, served in a unit, you see and appreciate this field in which you could continue to work and live you life in”.

The Ministry of Defence hasn't forgone the the opportunity to allure university graduates who have been through reserve-officer training. This initiative was announced in the beginning of the year, but call-ups haven’t begun yet. The Ministry wants to calculate how many officers would exercise their right to terminate the contract in advance.

A focus on the reserves

The 200,000 Ukrainians called-up over the six waves of mobilization could form a powerful military reserve in the event of further hostilities. This idea is one of the points of the National Defence bulletin, a document which outlines the main directions in military policy implementation. According to the bulletin, this reserve should be capable of “conducting an offensive, strenghtening combat groups against threats, ensuring the rotation of military personnel, in terms of reinforcement or replacement if fighting capacity has been diminshed.”

The Ministry hopes that volunteers will become the core of the reserve. Once they have been transferred to the reserve army, they can then sign their contracts with the army obligating them to attend yearly assemblies. During these assemblies, reservists are emersed in military training, which consists of 15 days private tuitition in training centres, and then training within their brigades.

For the time spent at the assemblies, reservists are paid their salaries for their regular jobs and also recieve travel expenses. In addition, they are also paid for participating in these assemblies, the amount of which is dependent on their rank.

The Ministry of Defence's ambitious plan is to devlope an effective system based primarily on professionalism and personal motivation. In this way, they will be ready to protect the country. However, this requires changing the whole system, which in turn needs money, time, and people who are ready to spend this time and money wisely.

/by Fedir Prokopchuk / translated by Sofia Fedeczko