With low-tech, trench warfare, the Ukrainian army is not NATO caliber

Above ground, plastic sheeting flaps in the icy wind. With Separatist trenches nearby, in a line of trees above a snowy field, the only truly safe place is underground.

Nothing about the unit indicates a NATO connection other than the name Lima, which is NATO’s phonetic alphabet designation for the letter L. As part of an overhaul as part of Ukraine’s bid to join the alliance, military units have been renamed in line with NATO standards.

The conflict is mainly fought with rifles, machine guns, bazookas, mortars and artillery systems from the 1970s or earlier. The US has been selling Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine since 2018, but these are primarily intended to repel a broad Russian attack, not for use on the front lines. Turkey provides another of the country’s newer weapons, the Bayraktar TB2 armed drone, but Ukraine’s military has admitted to using it in combat only once, last October.

Still, military analysts say the armed forces are in far better shape than they were in 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and fomented war in the east. The United States has provided $2.7 billion in military aid in the years since. In recent weeks, it has authorized Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to send US-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, and Britain has provided guided anti-tank missiles.

And the Ukrainian army is battle-tested. About 400,000 Ukrainian soldiers, including about 13,000 women, have been on rotations along the Eastern Front, providing a pool of experienced combatants who could be called up in the event of war. On Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed an order declaring his intention to increase Ukraine’s military by 100,000 soldiers over a three-year period and to increase soldiers’ salaries.

But multiple rotations have also taken a heavy toll, said soldiers in that position, who range in age from 25 to 59. Pvt. Volodymyr Murdza, 53, is halfway through his second three-year contract. His son is also serving in the war and his wife is very worried, he said. “She calls and says, ‘I’m worried because you don’t call me,'” Private Murdza said. “And I’m like, ‘Love, sunshine, I’ll call whenever I can.'”

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