Troop-starved Ukrainian brigades turn to marketing to attract recruits

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Slick recruiting campaigns brimming with nationalist fervor have become ubiquitous in Kyiv, the capital, and other Ukrainian cities in recent months. They are perhaps the most visible sign of a push to replenish Ukrainian troops depleted by more than two years of a brutal war — an effort that experts and officials say is crucial for fending off relentless Russian attacks.
KYIV — Billboards show assault troops in battle gear emerging from a ball of flames. On street posters, soldiers urge passersby to enlist, proclaiming that “victory is in your hands.” Take a seat on a high-speed train, and chances are high that a television will be advertising jobs for drone operators.
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But most of the campaigns are not the work of the country’s political and military leadership. They are the initiatives of troop-starved brigades that have taken matters into their own hands, shunning an official mobilization system that they say is dysfunctional, often drafting people who are unfit and unwilling to fight.
“These campaigns are much more effective because we’re getting exactly the people we need,” said Dmytro Koziatynskyi, a combat medic turned recruiter in the Da Vinci Wolves battalion.
The battalion is seeking about 500 new members and has advertised jobs as varied as medics, mechanics and sappers, combat engineers who clear minefields. Recruiters conduct lengthy interviews, trying to find positions that match candidates’ skills. People can opt out after a few days of training if they do not like it.
“It’s like a date,” Koziatynskyi said. “We’re trying to explain as much as possible what we are expecting from those people and what they can expect from us.”
That is a big change from the army’s mobilization process, which does not allow people to choose their position. Many Ukrainians fear that, if drafted, they will be sent straight into trench warfare without much training. Critics also say the official recruitment drive is too aggressive and mired in Soviet-style bureaucracy and corruption.
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Oleksandr Pavliuk, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said last Sunday that criticism of the official mobilization process was unhelpful to the war effort. “We are changing. We see our shortcomings, and we work every day to become better,” he said.
Meanwhile on Saturday, the Associated Press reported Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed a longtime aide and several advisers in a continuing reshuffle while Russia unleashed fresh attacks overnight.
Zelenskyy dismissed top aide Serhiy Shefir from his post of first assistant, where he had served since 2019. The Ukrainian president also let go three advisers, and two presidential representatives overseeing volunteer activities and soldiers’ rights.
No explanation was given immediately for the latest changes in a wide-reaching personnel shakeup over recent months.
Ukraine’s air force said Saturday that Russia launched 12 Shahed drones overnight, nine of which were shot down, and fired four missiles into eastern Ukraine, the AP reported.
Russia unleashed a barrage of 38 missiles, 75 airstrikes and 98 attacks from multiple rocket launchers over the last 24 hours, Ukraine’s armed forces said in social media posts.
Ukrainian energy company Centrenergo announced Saturday that the Zmiiv Thermal Power Plant, one of the largest thermal power plants in the eastern Kharkiv region, was completely destroyed following Russian shelling last week, the AP also said. Power outage schedules were still in place for around 120,000 people in the region, where 700,000 people had lost electricity after the plant was hit on March 22.
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Russia has escalated its attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure in recent days, causing significant damage in several regions.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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