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Numbers of war and peace


Last month, I walked through Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). In the open grassed area are a multitude of small blue and yellow Ukrainian flags planted into the soil, each flag bearing the name of a fallen Ukrainian soldier. Each flag was placed there by mourning relatives of fallen soldiers who were killed in combat over the last two years since the Russian invasion, and now the ground is thick with them, completely carpeting the space in front of the Independence Monument. It’s hard to comprehend how many flags are there, stabbed into the grass. 

Its a powerful symbol, the price of our independence. How many additional flags must be planted before the war is over? What will be the outcome and when will this come to pass? These are questions played through my mind as I lingered in the square. I tried to tally the number of flags stuck into the grass and I couldn’t. When I returned home, I did some quick calculations based on publicly accessible information about the war. 

Russia has lost more than 500,000 soldiers in Ukraine since the war began, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported on Facebook on 25 May. A rule of thumb is that an enemy needs a 3-to-1 advantage to mount a successful attack. While the war may result in higher casualties for the defenders in the long-term, I decided rather not dwell on pessimistic probabilities. When you divide 500,000 by three, you end up with a pretty grim number: 166,666.66 

Even if the figure of half a million Russian casualties was exaggerated by the General Staff, it still indicates that from a numerical standpoint, tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers had to die to defend against such overwhelming numbers of invaders.

And that’s without considering those who were left with severe injuries. It’s widely accepted that around 2-to-4 soldiers are wounded for every soldier killed in war. Assuming that half of the wounds are minor and can be treated, we are still left with the other half who are crippled and suffering from PTSD or ‘shell shock’. Such is the mathematics of war, and it feels like there’s nothing we can do about it. Especially in a war-torn place like Ukraine, the truth of what the war is actually costing us can be hard to accept. But we have to face the facts, no matter how difficult or unpleasant. The truth remains the truth.

Despite the recent approval of $60 billion in military aid to Ukraine by the United States Congress and the permission granted by NATO allies for Ukraine to launch strikes inside Russian territory using Western missiles, our army is being compelled to gradually withdraw due to the overwhelming strength of enemy forces.

This has put the Ukrainian leadership under immense pressure to mobilize a larger number of people and make other unpopular decisions to safeguard the country. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent statements indicate his willingness to condense his ambitious 10-Point Peace Plan into three basic demands for Russia: return all captured Ukrainian territories, pay reparations for war-related damages, and create a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes — demands that have been unsurprisingly and categorically rejected by the Kremlin.


'After what feels like countless devastating battles that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, it is understandable that the enthusiasm of 2022 has diminished. Unlike the initial days of the war, when thousands eagerly gathered at recruitment centers, the army now faces difficulties in enlisting new soldiers as the troops continue to endure ongoing hardship.' 


To stop the advance of a better armed and more powerful Russian army, Ukraine urgently needs fresh soldiers. After lengthy discussions in Parliament, a law has been approved for a massive mobilization of men between 18 and 60 years old. Presently, there are about 900,000 individuals serving in the Ukrainian military, with many of them are beaten and exhausted from two years’ fighting along 1000 km of frontlines in the east, north, and south.

Roughly 1.2 million additional troops remain in reserve, given that the total length of the Ukrainian land border with Russia spans around 2000km (1240 miles), along with an extra 900km (560 miles) of Putin-dominated Belarus. Each of these vast stretches of land requires protection.

Military analysts estimate that an additional million people are needed to maintain the combat effectiveness of the Ukrainian Army. Some suggest that in the autumn, there will be another round of mobilization to replace soldiers who have been killed, injured, or fatigued. But at this point, how many people do Ukrainian commanders have at their disposal?

As of 6 June, Ukraine’s population was reported to be 37,841,696 according to Worldometer’s analysis of the most recent United Nations data. However, a significant portion of this population resides in territories occupied by Russia, so as of February 2022, only 31.6 million individuals were present in Ukraine when Russia began their full-scale invasion. Then consider the ongoing war has resulted in approximately 6.5 million Ukrainian refugees. This accounts for approximately 16 per cent of the population (as of February 2024, according to UNHCR Regional Director for Europe, Philippe Leclerc).

So we’re left with a comparatively small population of 25.1 million people living in Ukraine. Of these people, much has been demanded. The majority, around 83 per cent, continue to donate regularly or volunteer to support the armed forces.

But we need to consider how many among them are males who possess the ability and, most significantly, the willingness to engage in combat. According to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine, there were 86 men per 100 women, giving us approximately 11 million males, of whom 2.5 million are boys below the age of 18 and 2 million are men aged over 60. At this point, we still have more arithmetic to do.

The most recent analysis by BBC Ukraine, based on Eurostat data, reveals that a total of 768,000 men of conscription age have left the country to seek refuge in the European Union since the invasion began. Meanwhile, within the confines of Ukraine’s borders which are closed to them, an estimated 6 million men are obligated to remain.

Within this group, there are men who are not willing to risk their lives for their nation and are actively looking for ways to avoid being drafted. Research conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) indicates that about 30 per cent of them have no intention of join the Ukrainian Armed Forces if called upon to mobilize.

The point of all this is that the war cannot go on forever. History shows that as casualties mount, public support for conflict inevitably wanes. In Ukraine, over two-thirds of the population have a close friend or relative who is serving or has served on the front lines. Many have endured the profound loss of a loved one. The term heartbreaking fails to capture the full scale of the impact on these lives.

After what feels like countless devastating battles that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, it is understandable that the enthusiasm of 2022 has diminished. Unlike the initial days of the war, when thousands eagerly gathered at recruitment centers, the army now faces difficulties in enlisting new soldiers as the troops continue to endure ongoing hardship. 

Its not surprising that, as per the results of a recent survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 72 per cent of Ukrainians have indicated their willingness to enter into negotiations with Russia to put an end to the war.

This is an excruciatingly difficult yet unavoidable choice for a nation where 70 per cent of electricity generation capabilities has been destroyed or damaged. A third of our children can’t even go to school due to constant Russian shelling. The economy is suffering. Many cities are in ruins. Sea routes are cut off. Industry lacks male employees.

And these countless memorial flags on Independence Square — it’s like a whole field of blue and yellow. It looks so beautiful, and so terrible. From now on, whenever I see the banner of Ukraine, my mind goes to this forest of small flags. This is reason enough for me to never join the ranks of armchair warriors who call for fighting until the bitter end while they remain comfortably at home, staring into their electronic devices. Instead, they should take a stroll along the memorial lawn in the heart of Kyiv and count the flags representing lives lost, each one bearing a name.

Wars eventually come to a close, and it is better to end them sooner rather than later. If I had to choose between protecting land or protecting people, I’ll always choose the people.




Sergey Maidukov is a Ukrainian writer, author of Life on the run and Deadly bonds, written for the US publishing house Rowman & Littlefield (Bloomsbury). Both were written in English, in the midst of war. His journalism has appeared in numerous Western publications.

Main image: (Getty images)

Topic tags: Sergey Maidukov Sr. Ukraine, Russia, Invasion, War, Soldiers, Attrition



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Existing comments

What Putin needs is a dinner party to host the Russian Orthodox primate at which all diners see a finger writing on the wall the Cyrillic translation of 'Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin'. 

Unfortunately, the Divine doesn't do parlour tricks.

However, that doesn't have to stop protestors outside Russian embassies and consulates from doing the light show thing on the walls around those facilities. Perhaps we could even have the characters emblazoning the shells of the Sydney Opera House.

roy chen yee | 21 June 2024  

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