On Ukraine’s frontlines, soldiers show steely determination. But they also experience burnout, depression, divorce, ‘and a lot of PTSD’ – DIGIWIZ CENTRAL

On Ukraine’s frontlines, soldiers show steely determination. But they also experience burnout, depression, divorce, ‘and a lot of PTSD’

A Ukrainian soldie poses for a portrait, in an undisclosed location near the town of Orikhiv, in the Zaporizhzhia region, on October 1, 2023.

ROMAN PILIPEY/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine’s soldiers are “steely” and “determined” but also experiencing burnout, an expert says.Melinda Haring, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, just returned from a trip to the frontlines.“There’s a lot of stories of divorce and of family separation and also depression,” she told Insider.

For more than 600 days now, Ukraine has withstood a full-scale invasion that it was supposed to lose in about 48 hours. But that defense is taking its toll on frontline soldiers who feel they are bearing a heavy burden that is not shared by the rest of society, Melinda Haring, an expert on Ukraine, told Insider in an interview following a recent trip to the country.

“They’re flinty and steely and determined,” Haring, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, said of the soldiers she spoke to in Zaporizhzhia, a southeastern region of Ukraine, about two-thirds of which is occupied by Russian troops. “But when you talk to them for more than five minutes, they’ll tell you that there’s frustration.”

A big issue is time, or the lack thereof, away from the battlefield. Soldiers only get 30 days off each year — and can only take up to 10 days off at a time. That means, since February 2022, most “haven’t seen much of their family,” Haring said. And that, she said, is a source of tension.

“A lot of them feel like there’s not a whole-of-society effort behind them. There’s a lot of people who are in Kyiv posing for selfies and eating in restaurants, while a small segment of Ukrainian society is the one that’s sticking its neck out,” Haring said. “That’s a common feeling. There’s a lot of stories of divorce, and of family separation, and also depression. And a lot of PTSD.”

There’s also a feeling that Ukraine’s allies are asking the country’s armed forces to fight a war in a way that they never would ask their own soldiers.

“When I was talking to soldiers on the frontlines, they did say, overall, the mood was one of determination, but also: ‘We can’t keep doing this without air power. You can’t ask us to do this. You can’t ask us to fight in a way you wouldn’t fight yourself.’ They’re very eager to have air cover,” Haring said.

Russia has suffered staggering losses in Ukraine, even as it largely enjoys air supremacy. In August, US officials said as many as 120,000 Russian troops had been killed and up to 180,000 wounded, The New York Times reported. But Ukraine has also lost many people: about 70,000 soldiers have been killed, the officials said, and as many as 120,000 injured.

That toll, Haring said, is felt on the frontlines. Those who have survived the fighting thus far are eager for it to end — albeit not at any cost.

“One thing that I was surprised with is we have these intricate debates about, ‘What is victory?'” Haring said. ‘But when you go and talk to soldiers, they just want to go home. They want peace, and they want to go home.”

That’s a normal human reaction to a year-and-a-half of bloodshed. But it should not be read as a desire for peace on Russia’s terms, Haring stressed. After all the alleged Russian war crimes in cities such as Bucha and Mariupol, most Ukrainians feel they “have given too much” to settle for anything less than fully expelling the enemy forces.

Although freezing the conflict with a cease-fire may have some attraction, Russian President Vladimir Putin is not interested in good-faith negotiations, Haring argued, and Ukrainians see any hypothetical pause in the fighting as only serving the Kremlin’s interests.

“They know that Putin is not going to be satisfied with, ‘Oh, let’s give him Crimea in exchange for peace.’ They know that he’s going to come back. He’ll reconstitute his forces and he’ll be back at it,” Haring said.

It’s true: Ukrainians are tired, they’re exhausted, and they want a normal, stable, safe life,” Haring said. “But they are unwilling to give up their land and their territory. This fight for them is existential. If they stop fighting, they will lose their homelands, and they will lose their lives.”

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