Getting a count of Ukraine’s dead that isn’t the output of someone’s propaganda machine is difficult to do. But the number of dead is indisputably a horror. Measuring the maiming of Ukraine solely in deaths, though, is an injustice to the depth of the Ukrainian wound.
It is not just that using tens of thousands as the unit in which to measure the dead may be an understatement meant to maintain morale and keep Ukrainians fighting with the political West providing support. Deaths may be the worst way to scar a nation, but they are not the only way to scar a nation.
The promise that the sacrifice of soldiers in the counteroffensive would be worth it has been deflated and hope has been lost. The payment in lives it purchased is little, and a senior western diplomat told CNN that “for them to really make progress that would change the balance of this conflict, I think, it’s extremely, highly unlikely.”
The result is despair. An August 10 report from Kiev in The Washington Post begins with the words, “This nation is worn out” and continues with the hopeless observation that “Ukrainians, much in need of good news, are simply not getting any.”
Reports of Ukrainians lining up to fight in the early days of the war have been replaced by reports of Ukrainians doing everything they can to elude the draft. On August 11, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed every director of a regional military recruitment center. Though reports focused on the crackdown of corruption, the real news was what the corruption was selling. Those who were willing to volunteer have gone to the front and fallen; those who are left have seen the price and no longer want to go. The heads of the recruitment centers were fired for taking bribes to help them. They were fired for “exploiting their positions to enrich themselves through draft evasion schemes.” Zelensky described the “cynicism” and “treason” as the “illicit enrichment” and “unlawful benefit” for the “illegal transfer of persons liable for military service across the border.”
But death and despair are not the only costs. So too are loss of limb and loss of mental health. A Washington Post article of August 15 describes “Bodies ripped to pieces. Arms and legs mangled beyond recognition” from mines and “the mental anguish of amputating limb after limb after limb.” The Wall Street Journal recently reported that between 20,000 and 50,000 Ukrainians “have lost one or more limbs since the start of the war” before saying that “the actual figure could be higher.”
There are also unconfirmed reports of high numbers of suicides in the Ukrainian armed forces. A New York Times piece called “The Hidden Trauma of Ukraine’s Soldiers” reports on the “crisis of wounded psyches, in addition to broken bodies, among Ukrainian soldiers.” The report says that the need for “treatment for psychological trauma…far outstrips Ukraine’s ability to address it.”
There is no sign of an end to the horror. But what comes next for Ukraine may be worse….