Year of war in Ukraine: moult of Ukrainian army outside Soviet fold

The Kiev armed forces have changed profoundly since 2014, integrating motivated and technologically agile civilian volunteers.

by Emmanuel Grynszpan

On February 24, 2022, most western chancelleries and the Kremlin agreed on one point: the Ukrainian army would be swept away in a few days. Many had in mind the axiom that “a small Soviet army can only be crushed by a large Soviet army”. The attention focused on the great Russian army, which remained structurally and mentally close to its ancestor, while the small Ukrainian army remained in the dead angle of military analysts. However, since 2014 and the clashes in Donbass, in the east of the country, the Ukrainian armed forces (FAU) have ceased to be an army of Soviet model. Their moult was already underway when Vladimir Putin launched his massive invasion. Supported by a momentum of patriotic resistance, also underestimated, the FAUs proved to be less vulnerable than the Kremlin did not think so.

In spring 2014, these same Ukrainian forces were however far from the standards of the Organization of the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO), which kyiv wishes to join at all costs. The annexation of Crimea, then the insurgency of the Prorussian separatists piloted from Moscow in the Donbass then seemed to have won them a fatal blow. In the peninsula invaded by the Russian soldiers, without insignia, half of the Ukrainian contingent had just passed with weapons and luggage on the side of the enemy. And nothing illustrated as much the demoralization of the FAU as the spectacle of these paratroopers of the 25 e airport division of Dnipropetrovsk (today Dnipro), jumping from their armored vehicles and depositing their weapons on April 16 2014, in Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region, facing a few dozen vociferating civilians.

These images have created an electroshococ. As Ukraine left the Soviet fold and acquired its independence, in 1991, its armed forces had 800,000 active soldiers. In 2013, they were only 120,000. “President [Viktor] Ianoukovitch [from 2010 to 2014, today exile in Russia] wanted neutral status for Ukraine and claimed that no one had intended To attack us, remembers the lieutenant general Ihor Romanenko, former first deputy of the chief of staff (2006-2010). This is how he justified a defense budget equal to 1 % of the gross domestic product and Programmed the slow death of the army. “Strongly increased from 2015, this budget is now approaching 5 % of GDP. 2>


For all Ukrainians, war did not start in 2022, but eight years earlier – and the first reaction came from civilians. “Many, in the elites and in the army, depended on Russia personally. Moscow knows how to make people dependent, transforming them into puppets through corruption and intimidation,” says Vadim Iounik, 47, founder of ‘Aerorozvidka (“air recognition”), which presents itself as an NGO helping the army to integrate the use of drones. According to the latter, Maïdan – named after the clashes at the heart of the Ukrainian capital in winter 2013-2014 which led to the flight of President Ianoukovitch – “was a reaction to that”. “We were a group of people, 90 % of whom had no military experience, but who did not want to stay in the swing, he analyzes. We understood that we had to help our very weakened army.”

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/Media reports cited above.