A snapshot of Ukraine’s Armed Forces

ZU-23 - Ukrainian defenders shoot down Iranian shahids with this anti-aircraft gun
ZU-23 - Ukrainian defenders shoot down Iranian shahids with this anti-aircraft gun

The Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on Dec. 6 is a double holiday, which is marked in Ukraine both on the anniversary of the adoption of the law on the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) and in honor of the events of 1919, when the first independent Ukrainian state led an ultimately unsuccessful struggle against Bolshevik Russia.

Each branch of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has its own professional holiday, but it is Dec. 6 that unites all Ukrainian servicemembers. Today the AFU include the Ground Forces, the Air Force, and the Navy, as well as the Air Assault Forces, the Communications and Cyber Security Forces, the Special Operations Forces, the Territorial Defense Forces, the Medical Forces, the Support Forces, and the Logistics Forces.

NV recalls the holiday’s history and presents the most significant figures and facts about the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Why does Ukraine honor the AFU on Dec. 6?

The Day of the Armed Forces was established in Ukraine in 1993, according to the resolution of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament.

Dec. 6 is the day when, in 1991, the Ukrainian parliament passed the bill on the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It is this document that defines the AFU as “a military formation that, according to the Constitution of Ukraine, is responsible for the defense of Ukraine, the protection of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Today, not only the Constitution, but also millions of Ukrainians rely on the AFU to protect Ukraine from Russia’s barbaric aggression, which it began in 2014 and expanded in February 2022 to the full-scale imperial war of conquest.

The date of Dec. 6 is also symbolic because it was of decisive importance in the history of the national liberation struggle of the Ukrainian people in 1917-1921.

It was on Dec. 6, 1919, that the First Winter Campaign began, a partisan raid by units of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) through the rear of the [Russian General Anton] Denikin and Bolshevik troops. This operation lasted exactly five months (until May 6, 1920) and began after the Ukrainian troops found themselves surrounded by three enemy armies—the Red Army, Russian Volunteer Army, and the Poles.

The campaign’s participants under the command of Lieutenant General Mykhailo Omelianovych-Pavlenko covered more than 2,500 kilometers through the territory of modern Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Cherkasy, Kirovohrad, Mykolaiv, Odesa, and Vinnytsia oblasts. They had almost 50 victorious battles.

“The campaign became one of the most heroic and successful military operations of the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1921,” the Institute of National Remembrance noted.

The insurgent movement of Ukrainians against the Bolshevik occupation not only preserved the Ukrainian People’s Army, but also gained such strength that it became one of the factors of a temporary change in the conditions of the Soviet occupation. In the 1920s, the communists were forced to make concessions in national and economic issues, i.e., to abandon the policy of “war communism,” to implement Ukrainization and the New Economic Policy (NEP).

Since August 2019, the 28th separate mechanized brigade of the Ground Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been named the Knights of the Winter Campaign.

Key figures and facts about the AFU in the war against Russia

The Armed Forces of Ukraine are among Top 15 world armies

According to the annual Global Firepower rating, Ukraine ranks 15th out of 145 countries in terms of military strength. Although this rating takes into account not so much real combat capability and experience, but formal indicators of both the armed forces and the country’s general resources (from financial to natural resources needed to support the army), even in this ranking, Ukraine rose from 22nd to 15th place over the past year.

The infographic below shows that, in general, the list makers use more than 50 evaluation parameters, and on some of them, Ukraine and its armed forces are even ahead of the overall 15th place. These indicators include:

• power and number of self-propelled artillery (10th place);

• number of multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) (10th place);

• number of combat tanks (13th place).

At the same time, Ukraine ranks 2nd (after Russia and before Poland) in the ranking of armies in its region.

The first three places are taken by the Unites States, Russia, and China, followed by India, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Pakistan, Japan, France, Italy, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil, and Egypt.

Manpower and land power are the AFU’s most powerful advantages

The infographic below shows that the Manpower and the ground fighting capacity are the AFU’s advantages, while the Naval Power (Navy) is a major weakness.

Manpower includes the estimated number of active military personnel (about 200,000 in Ukraine), military reserve (250,000), as well as paramilitary forces (50,000). In total, this number is at least 500,000 of people in Ukraine.

The Global Firepower estimates the number of potentially serviceable people in Ukraine at about 15.5 million people, and the number of people who reach conscription age each year at 479,000.

It should be recalled that in July 2022, the then-Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov estimated the total number of Ukraine’s Defense Forces at 1 million people.

“Up to 700,000 people are mobilized to the AFU, up to 60,000 to the State Border Guard Service, up to 90,000 to the National Guard, and up to 100,000 to the National Police. Today, we have more than 1 million people in uniform ensuring the security and defense sector,” Reznikov said, later explaining that he also meant territorial defense units, the State Emergency Service, Ukraine’s SBU security service, as well as force units of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, etc.

Land Power, according to Global Firepower, includes the number of motorized and mechanized units, as well as artillery of all types, from towed howitzers to self-propelled MLRS.

The Ground Forces’ official website states that they are “the main bearer of the combat power of the Armed Forces of the independent Ukrainian state.”

“The Ground Forces make up half of the combat staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the report says.

According to The Military Balance 2023, the largest annual assessment of 173 armies worldwide by the U.S. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), as of 2023, Ukraine’s Ground Forces were armed with:

• 953 tanks of various types and modifications (500 T-72, 250 T-64, 80 T-80, etc.);

• 770 infantry fighting vehicles (armed with an automatic cannon: tracked BMP-1, BMP-2, BMP-3, YPR-765, etc., and wheeled BTR-3, BTR-4, etc.);

• 1,159 armored personnel carriers (without weapons or with machine guns: tracked M113 and wheeled BTR-60, BTR-70, BTR-80, ACSV);

• 200 reconnaissance vehicles (BRDM-2, BRM-1 class)

• 512 self-propelled guns;

• over 493 towed guns and howitzers;

• 231 MLRS of various calibers;

• 300 120 mm caliber mortars;

• a certain number of the Tochka-U tactical missile systems;

• about 35 Mi-24 attack helicopters and 15 Mi-8 multi-role helicopters;

• various strike unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) weighing up to 20 kg;

• over 80 air defense missile systems (Osa-AKM, Strela-10, Igla, Tor, S-300V);

• anti-aircraft guns (ZSU-23−4 Shilka, Gepard, ZU-23−2, S-60).

Modern equipment makes up at least a third of the AFU’s armament

This is stated in the general assessment of the Ukrainian military capabilities on WarpowerUkraine, the branch page of the Global Firepower rating.

According to these data, modern equipment makes up to 34% of the Ukrainian army’s weapons, while the remaining 66% are Cold War-era equipment.

WarpowerUkraine calls Western support and Western-centric modernization of the Ukrainian army as two of the three key qualities, while the last one is burgeoning drone force.

The AFU remain the absolute leader of Ukrainians’ trust

Today, over 90% of Ukrainians trust the Armed Forces of Ukraine, according to the data of a sociological survey conducted by the Razumkov Center on Sept. 21-27. According to these data, Ukrainians most trust in:

• the Armed Forces of Ukraine – 93% of respondents (the most among all social institutions);

• volunteer forces – 85%;

• volunteer organizations – 84%;

• the State Emergency Service – 83%;

• the National Guard – 81%;

• the State Border Guard Service – 76.5%;

• the president of Ukraine – 72%.

After 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and invaded Donbas, the Ukrainian army ranked 1st in terms of trust among Ukrainian citizens year after year, but the full-scale war raised this level of public support to a record high.

Only 59% of citizens trusted the AFU in 2011 against 71% in 2020. The level of trust in the AFU reached its record high of 96% in the autumn of 2022.

The balance of trust and distrust in the AFU (+87.9%) is now also the best among all Ukrainian social institutions. For comparison, this balance is currently +51.5% for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (the difference between those who trust and those who don’t trust).

Today 40% more women serve in the AFU than before the war

The number of women in the army has increased by 12,000 over the past two years: almost 43,000 female military personnel are currently serving in the AFU, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported in October 2023.

Restrictions on the access of female military personnel to any positions have also been lifted.

“If previously women could serve mainly in the positions of medical specialties, communication workers, accountants, clerks and cooks, now a woman in the army can be a driver, grenade launcher operator, deputy reconnaissance group commander, infantry fighting vehicle commander, maintainer, machine gunner, sniper, etc.,” the Defense Ministry emphasized.

Women also have access to all levels of military education. They are allowed to master the same specialties as men, and then serve in a wide range of officer positions. Women have been allowed to enter military lyceums since 2019.

Over 70,000 Ukrainian military personnel underwent training abroad

Former Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov announced such a figure in September 2023. Rustem Umerov’s predecessor said that 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers had undergone training on the territory of partner countries over the first year and a half of the full-scale war against Russia.

In general, these are more than a dozen allied countries, in which both narrow specialists (medics, sappers, divers, intelligence officers, etc.) and military personnel of newly created brigades underwent training. The United States, the United Kingdom, as well as EU countries, in particular Germany, France, and Poland, have largely joined the Ukrainian military training programs.

How much equipment and weapons the AFU received in 18 months of the full-scale invasion

Upon resignation from the post of defense minister, Reznikov reported to the Verkhovna Rada in September 2023. In particular, he summed up the weapons received (including international aid), manufactured and ordered by the Defense Ministry for the Armed Forces in 18 months of the invasion after February 2022:

• over 6,500 armored vehicles: tanks, combat vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and armored cars;

• over 4,500 artillery systems, including mortars;

• over 7 million artillery shells, mines, shells for tanks and MLRS;

• about 3,500 air defense systems, including MANPADS;

• over 2,000 trucks.

As reported by the Defense Express portal, the announced figures can be compared with the data before Russia’s invasion based on the Military Balance data for 2021.

At that time, according to IISS experts, over 9,300 armored vehicles were in service with the AFU (from tanks to armored cars), as well as over 1.8 million of all artillery systems, including 120 mm mortars.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine