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Ukrainian frustration grows as losses mount and Russia takes more territory

Kyiv, Ukraine— Russia’s invasion in February sparked an outpouring of public support for President Vlodymyr Zelenskyy’s government as millions of Ukrainians rushed to help defend their homeland. Four months later – amid Russian advances and mounting losses – anger and frustration over the handling of the war is growing.

In interviews with Ukrainians whose family members are fighting the invaders, many said they were upset with the military leadership for deploying inexperienced people to the front lines and sometimes sending them into battle without even passing a medical or psychological examination.

“I am ready to protest,” said Viktoriia Bilan-Rashchuk, 43, from Kyiv, whose husband, Volodymyr, a theater actor with no military experience, is fighting on the eastern frontline in Sievierodonetsk. Last month, she said, she raised money to send her unit protective headphones – standard military equipment used to prevent hearing loss in soldiers firing rocket systems.

“No one even taught him to shoot.”

says Olena Zhabyak-Sheremet

“The government is not doing enough to support them. The longer it goes on, the more people will be upset,” Bilan-Rashchuk said in Ukrainian, speaking through an interpreter.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Since Russia’s invasion in February, thousands of Ukrainians without military training have volunteered to fight. To bolster its war efforts, the Ukrainian government also banned men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country in case it needed to begin conscription. In May, Zelenskyy said the country’s army had 700,000 servicemen, including women.

Through an incessant campaign of apparitions, interviews and statements, Zelenskyy fought to maintain the morale of the troops and the general public and to plead the country’s cause to the international community. But Russian artillery attacks have intensified in the east in recent months, bringing the Ukrainian military death toll to between 100 and 200 soldiers a day in combat, with at least 500 others injured every day, said Mykhailo Podolyak, a Zelenskyy’s assistant, in an interview earlier this month with the BBC.

A soldier rests at a checkpoint in Sievierodonetsk, eastern Ukraine, where the fighting was particularly fierce.Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

In his June 14 daily address, Zelenskyy called the losses “painful,” but said Ukrainians “have to hold on.”

Despite the high death toll, Ukrainian officials said the troops were well taken care of, with sufficient training, food, equipment and rest.

But as the war continues, what makes some Ukrainians especially angry is the lack of basic military equipment for those on the front lines. Some military families have been forced to organize fundraisers to send medical supplies and military equipment to the front lines.

Svitlana Lukianenko, whose husband worked in information technology before the war but also fights near Sievierodonetsk, fears that the Ukrainian army is not replacing dead and injured soldiers quickly enough, leaving her husband more at risk every day that pass.

“The government needs to mobilize more people, but it also needs to train them. There’s not enough training and that’s a big problem,” she said. “That’s why we have such a high death toll.”

“We are angry for them,” Lukianenko added.

Zelenskyy also dismissed reports that some frontline troops had poor protective gear.

“The reports I get are very different from what the company talks about,” he says in the same address. “Today, everyone in areas of hostilities must have everything they need to protect themselves,” he said. “The state provides these supplies.”

Luiza Dorner, 25, from Kyiv, whose husband is fighting in the Donbass region, said statements by Zelenskyy and other government officials have begun to ring hollow. When she talks to her husband on the phone, she says, she can hear the fear and exhaustion in his voice.

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