FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Earlier this week, Russia launched about a hundred missiles at Ukraine, aiming to cripple the country’s critical infrastructure. The attacks caused what was described as “colossal” damage, denying electricity and heating to about a million Ukrainians as winter weather sets in.

While many of the missiles were intercepted by Ukraine’s air defense system, one got through, demolishing a maternity hospital in the town of Vilnyansk in southeastern Ukraine. When the missile hit, a mother was delivering her baby. The mother and the doctor survived. The baby did not.

Losing in the battlefield against the well-motivated Ukrainian Armed Forces, Russia has been using its missiles to cripple her neighbor’s infrastructure with the intention of breaking the Ukrainian people’s will to resist. The strategy of wholesale terror instead solidified Ukraine’s desire to win.

One of the reasons the Russian army has been faring so badly in the battlefield is their inability to win air superiority. Modern anti-aircraft systems delivered to Ukraine by her western allies denied Russia the ability to control the skies. Hundreds of Russian aircraft have been destroyed in the eight months since the invasion commenced.

A second reason is the superiority of Ukrainian artillery, so vital in this sort of war. Again, rapid western deliveries of modern artillery systems and Ukraine’s own efforts to develop smart weapons must be given credit. The stream of military assistance continues.

A third reason is the obsolescence of Russian military doctrine. Although they possess an awesome nuclear arsenal, they do not have a state-of-the-art conventional warfare capability. The Russian generals never appreciated the combat roles drones play, forcing Moscow to import hundreds of drones from Iran late in the game. The slow-moving Iranian drones, however, proved easy targets for Ukraine’s air defense systems.

Outdated military thinking is compounded by backward logistics systems and poorly trained troops. Undisciplined Russian troops are responsible for atrocities committed against civilians. Poor logistics left many Russian military units cold and hungry.

After absorbing huge battlefield losses, Moscow has been forced to conscript hundreds of thousands of new soldiers. Barely trained, they have been thrown into the frontlines. They were killed en masse.

Video taken by the recruits, and circulating widely in social media, show the poor quality of training and upkeep. Many recruits are literally left out in the cold, foraging for food. They sorely lacked proper gear and essential equipment.

As a consequence, protests have been held in various parts of Russia, led by mothers of the draftees. Mothers have a special standing in Russian society and this week, on the day set aside to celebrate mothers, Vladimir Putin found it unavoidable to meet with the mothers of recruits. He assured them the state was not neglecting their sons. The battlefield toll belies that.

The missile attacks against critical infrastructure in Ukraine is working on a tight timetable. The Russians want to bring down power and water supplies to Ukrainian cities before winter sets in. The attacks will cause untold civilian suffering. Moscow has no other strategic option.

Western military analysts conclude that Russia could soon be running short of missiles. What the eight months of warfare in Ukraine has demonstrated is that Russian missiles have poor targeting capabilities. Furthermore, the Russians are sourcing critical electronics from outside. This is why they are encountering supply problems.

While Russia is rapidly depleting its supply of missiles, Moscow has gained little in terms of breaking Ukraine’s will to fight. In addition to having NATO-grade training for its regular armed forces, Ukraine has impressed the world with the quality of its civil defense services.

As Russia rained destruction from the air, Ukrainian civil defense units were quick to respond. They rushed to put out fires, evacuate hospitals and deliver relief to displaced communities. The civil defense units are supported by thousands of volunteers who drive close to the battlefronts to evacuate the wounded, assist civilians fleeing the fighting and delivering fresh food to the troops.

In one city, a few months back, a Russian missile landed squarely at a busy intersection. A repair crew was quickly on the site, filling up the bomb crater and repaving the road. Traffic was moving by the end of the day.

Where possible, Ukrainians are determined to live their lives as close to normal despite the war. Underground (literally) bars are crowded at night despite the brownouts. Commuter trains are operating normally – most recently in freshly liberated Kherson. Hospital services operate at all hours.

In the capital Kyiv, besieged a few months ago by a mammoth Russian armored column coming in from Belarus in the north, life seems to be going on normally. Foreign dignitaries are regularly received by Ukraine’s rock star president. All the government agencies are fully functioning, explaining the smooth flow of assistance and the persistent reconstruction activities going on.

Russia will continue to weaponize winter with its attacks on critical infrastructure. But there is little indication the Ukrainians are breaking.

As Russia’s supply of missiles rapidly deplete, the Ukrainians have been quick to repair the damage. Power is quickly restored after facilities are hit.

The determination and resilience of the Ukrainian resistance reminds all of us of the unyielding spirit of the Vietnamese who endured the heaviest bombardment by the Americans and yet continued to fight. In the end, they won.

There is much to be said about the fighting spirit of a heroic people – possible because their cause is just.


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