The Ukrainian military is far surpassed by that of the Russians: Russia has the second-highest-ranked military in the world while Ukraine’s is ranked 22nd, the Russian navy has 74 warships and 51 submarines compared to Ukraine’s two warships, and Russia has 13,367 tanks compared to Ukraine’s 2,219. And yet the Ukrainians are resisting and defending their homeland without bowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The outlook, however, remains bleak, with Western intelligence predicting that Kyiv could fall within hours or days; the Pentagon saying that Russia has already launched more than 160 missiles into Ukraine, including short-range ballistic missiles, medium-range missiles, and cruise missiles; and U.S. intelligence predicting a large-scale bombardment of Kyiv, with Sen. Mark Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying, “My sense is that they may be going into Kyiv imminently,” according to the New York Times.
Despite the grim circumstances, and with tens of thousands of Russian troops deployed on Ukrainian soil, the Ukrainian government insisted that the “enemy has an extremely low morale.” The commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s military, Valeriy Zaluzhny, said that Ukrainian forces had killed 137 Ukrainian troops and destroyed 30 tanks, up to 130 armored vehicles, seven planes, and six helicopters. A spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said there are no plans for him to leave the country, even as he announced that Russian forces were seeking him out as their primary target and that sabotage groups had already entered Kyiv.
The Ukrainian resolve to stand up to Russia is inflicting pain on Putin’s war plans. Some speculated that Putin had expected the offensive to be easier — or even that Ukraine might surrender after the initial barrage of missile attacks. “We really have to consider the possibility that Putin expected the Ukrainians to fold and did not expect them to fight,” said Frederick Kagan, who is the director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.
Earlier this month, some speculated there could be internal divisions among Russia’s military commanders after a retired general called for Putin to resign. Anti-war protests also broke out throughout Russian cities Wednesday. If the Ukrainians are able to hold on long enough, Putin could conclude that he could no longer maintain his grasp on power without ending the conflict.
Ukrainian forces showed resolve in their defense Thursday, even while some military operations, such as those in the south of Ukraine, appeared to be going badly for them.
There were reports that the Russian military was able to take over the Gostomel airfield near Kyiv, but the Ukrainian defense minister later said that the Ukrainian forces had reclaimed the airport. “The enemy paratroopers in Gostomel have been blocked, and troops have received an order to destroy them,” Zelensky said in a video address. The airfield is critical because possessing it would allow Russia to fly in troops and supplies right near Kyiv.
Videos emerged showing the effects of Ukrainian resolve, including that two Russian Ka-52 helicopters were downed near Kyiv and that Russian military vehicles near Kharkiv were destroyed.
Thirteen Ukrainian service members died while defending Ukraine’s Zmiinyi Island after refusing to surrender to Russian forces. Zelensky said the men would be named Heroes of Ukraine, the highest national title for Ukrainian citizens.
The Ukraine’s defense ministry said that Ukrainian forces were able to stop the Russian 58th Brigade in northeastern Ukraine. But the head of the Sumy Regional State Administration, Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, said on social media that the Russian troops had returned in order to capture a military town in Sumy Oblast.
The defense intelligence firm Janes concluded that those Russian forces crossing into northwestern Ukraine had encountered stronger than expected resistance, saying they “appear to have become bogged down in heavy fighting.”
Late Thursday night in Ukraine, Ukraine’s interior minister announced that men ages 18 to 60 were banned from leaving the country. Soon after, Zelensky ordered a general military mobilization. The mobilization includes men from all of Ukraine’s major cities.
Zelensky also urged Ukrainian citizens to take up arms if they are able to fight. “We are defending our country, we fight for our country and we protect our country,” he said. Zelensky tweeted that Ukraine would give weapons to “anyone who wants to defend the country,” adding, “Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.”
The Ukrainian interior minister said that civilians had taken Zelensky up on that offer, as over 10,000 automatic rifles had been distributed to civilians since Russia began its attack.