Exhausted Ukrainian soldiers fight mental fatigue as the war drags on

by | Nov 22, 2022 | Top Stories

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Ukrainian infantry soldiers go through training exercises at a military camp outside Dnipro, Ukraine, on Oct. 24. Official “morale officers” watch over the soldiers, keeping them focused on the fight, addressing any problems quickly and not letting them fester inside, which can be dangerous on the battlefield.

Franco Ordoñez/NPR

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Franco Ordoñez/NPR

DNIPRO, Ukraine — Lt. Anton Pendukh says the trauma he experiences on the front lines of the war against Russia is much different than how he pictured military life before joining the Ukrainian forces. It’s not that he didn’t know previously that lives were lost and sacrifices made. But it’s much different, he says, when you’re living it — and the losses include the friends you’ve come to rely on and who rely on you. “When I see it with my own eyes,” he says, “it injures my soul. I understand that this happens, but when I see it…” He pauses, looks down and then takes a deep breath. “We will not be the same, never,” he says. “Never.” Ukrainian forces are physically and emotionally exhausted after nine months of war. Commanders say their forces’ motivation and spirit are the most important weapons in the fight to protect their homeland. But they’re not immune from the physical and mental costs that have weighed down so many soldiers in battle. Many of the Ukrainian forces have not been home in months — some not since the war began in February.

Pendukh, 33, is at a training camp in eastern Ukraine, after serving several months on the front lines. His battalion is expanding and they’re training some new members — some of whom have never picked up a gun before. Like many soldiers, Pendukh is highly motivated. His purpose is clear: to liberate his homeland from Russian occupiers. But the war has taken a toll on him.

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Lt. Anton Pendukh, a morale officer, speaks with fellow soldiers at a training camp outside Dnipro, Ukraine, on Oct. 24. He says he’s tired, but has no choice but to fight.

Franco Ordoñez/NPR

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Franco Ordoñez/NPR

Still, he considers himself lucky. Friends in his battalion have served with squads that lost more than half their members. “Lots of problems, even psychological problems,” he says. “Some people from those formations, they need psychological help after this. Very serious psychological help.” Pendukh works on communications and logistics for the battalion. He’s also an official “morale officer,” with special training to spot si …

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