Ukraine's Army Is Old for a Reason (But That Might Have to Change)

Ukraine War Tanks
January 23, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaUkraineWar In UkraineMilitaryDefense

Ukraine's Army Is Old for a Reason (But That Might Have to Change)

The average age of a Ukrainian soldier fighting in the frontline is 43. Despite fighting a war of survival, Ukraine still operates a voluntary military. To fight in the front lines, you have to sign up—no one is dragging you out of your bed in the middle of the night. 

More than half a million people have been killed or wounded in the war in Ukraine so far. With over 320,000 losses, most of the casualties are Russian soldiers, paramilitary mercenaries, and pro-Russian separatists. The rest are Ukrainians. 

Due to a better combat medical system—and also because Kyiv cares more about its troops—more than half of the 200,000 Ukrainian casualties are wounded, with a smaller number killed. But still, the Ukrainian military has suffered extremely heavy casualties in the 23 months of the war. 

To make matters worse, the war doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. Over the last two weeks, the Russian forces have steadily upped their pressure across the contact line with daily assaults and artillery strikes. Meanwhile, Kyiv is licking its wounds after the failed summer counteroffensive and is training men and gathering weapons for the next big push against the Russian forces. 

The war could go on for years. But with every passing month, an unseen issue threatens the core of the Ukrainian military

A Middle-Aged Army for Ukraine 

The average age of a Ukrainian soldier fighting in the frontline is 43. 

Despite fighting a war of survival, Ukraine still operates a voluntary military. To fight in the front lines, you have to sign up—no one is dragging you out of your bed in the middle of the night. 

But there is an important catch. Only men over 27 can sign up for the fighting. Although that restriction might seem odd to the outsider, the Ukrainian government has imposed it on purpose to shield its younger generations from the war and thus safeguard its future. It’s a valid strategic decision that not every country would take. But as the conflict goes on and the casualties mount up on both sides, Kyiv might have to rethink this age policy and open recruitment to younger men. There are already signs that this is happening. 

In December, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for an injection of 500,000 troops as an answer to the Russian mobilizations that have called hundreds of thousands of troops to arms. General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, mentioned a mass mobilization of forces to meet the demands of the war. 

Older men might have more experience, but they are severely disadvantaged when it comes to the physical tolls of soldiering and active combat. A 23-year-old man can often accomplish physical tasks at twice the speed of a 45-year-old man. He can also recover faster and be ready to go again. 

T-84 Tank Ukraine

Moreover, older men can perform similarly to younger men in the defense, but they fall behind in offensive operations, which require constant movement and tremendous physical hardship. 

Interestingly, on the opposite side, the Russian military relies more on younger soldiers but is also mobilizing anyone it can, including older men, convicts from its vast penal colonies, and men with infirmities who would otherwise be disqualified from serving in active combat. 

Ukraine T-84 Tank

As the war continues and casualties mount, both sides will keep running to recruitment issues. 

About the Author  

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP. Email the author: [email protected].

Main image is from Shutterstock as well as all other images in this article.