In February 2022, when Russian forces advanced toward Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi promised Ukrainian soldiers huge rewards. In addition to their basic pay of 13,000 hryvnias (£293), the president offered an additional 100,000 hryvnias (£2,250). But now, it seems that things are taking a different turn.
The timing of the wage cuts is difficult as Ukraine prepares for a spring offensive. Several reports suggest that soldiers are becoming demoralized amid the ongoing war. Resisting Russia is taking its toll.
Taras Marshalok, an analyst at the Kyiv School of Economics’ Centre for Public Finance and Public Administration, warns that the cuts “can lead to negative social consequences.” In particular, he says, “a decrease in the amount of material support can lead to demotivation of military personnel.”
According to the National Bank of Ukraine, high wages helped stabilize citizens’ finances in the first year of Russia’s war. The analyst notes that local government finances felt the stabilizing effect most.
Soldiers were offered 13000 hryvnias (£293) and an additional 100,000 hryvnias (£2,250) each month – a sevenfold increase. President Zelenskyi promised to show gratitude towards those recapturing key territories from Russian forces.
Yet, due to Russia’s invasion, the economic impact on the Ukrainian state and citizen finances has been enormous. The soldiers have spoken. The new salary structure is leaving them unable to fend for themselves. Understandably, the government’s decision has sparked concern amid a challenging time for Ukrainians.
From 1 March 2023, a soldier’s basic monthly pay was raised to a minimum of 20,000 hryvnias (£450), including for those who are not at the front or are wounded. However, only frontline combatants will receive the 100,000 hryvnias (£2,250) bonus.
Salary cuts are occurring amidst the rising cost of essential goods, food, and electricity. Thousands of businesses have closed, moved, or have been destroyed – leading to further economic strain. The state is also grappling with a massive budget deficit of more than £20bn.
Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, when asked to justify the salary cuts, cited the need to buy weapons, equip, clothe, and feed the soldiers. Some Ukrainian soldiers are publicly criticizing the new measures, believing they could directly impact the country’s war effort. The soldiers claim that the new basic salary is inadequate, particularly for combat wounded.
The Case of Anatoliy
Anatoliy*, a 33-year-old platoon combat medic serving in the 81st brigade of the 90th battalion, was wounded in early January. While serving near the village of Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region, a piece of shrapnel pierced him just below the knee.
Anatoliy has already spent the 581,000 hryvnias (£13,000) he received for his seven months of frontline service. The medic needed new protective equipment, including body armor, boots, and a helmet. The gear provided by the army was often insufficient for his needs, he explained.
“I can fight with what [the state provides], but it’s ineffective. And sometimes it simply reduces your chances of survival,” he said.
The equipment cost 400,000 hryvnias (£9,000), which he paid for with his salary, as well as through the assistance of volunteers and crowdfunding on social media.
Now nearly fully recovered, Anatoliy anticipates returning to the frontline soon. However, due to his injury, he only receives a basic monthly payment of 24,000 hryvnias and a reduced bonus. Therefore, he relies on volunteers’ assistance to help him replace his lost personal equipment.
Anatoliy’s wife recently left her job due to the stress of worrying about his safety. According to Anatoliy, the extra 100,000 hryvnias per month provided soldiers with the means to be better equipped, even though he, like many other Ukrainians, did not enlist for the money.
The War is Taking its Toll.
Despite the challenges and dangers faced by soldiers on the frontline, some receive only a small fraction of their monthly payments. While Solidarity Collectives is helping some units to obtain essential items, such as car repairs and protective equipment, they also retain ownership of these items to manage any necessary paperwork arising from combat losses.
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As the Ukrainian government tries to muster much-needed funds for the war effort, the state military healthcare system is overwhelmed by an influx of wounded soldiers from the frontlines.
Only combatants serving at the frontline are entitled to a bonus payment of 100,000 hryvnias during their first months of patient treatment and medical leave. However, once the initial treatment and medical leave are over, all injured personnel are paid only the basic monthly salary of 20,500 hryvnias.
“What Will we do With the 5 Million Veterans?”
As the conflict in Ukraine continues, the country is preparing to receive millions of veterans. The government is concerned about how it will be able to support these veterans financially. How will they reintegrate them into the workforce for the long term?
Ruslana Velychko, Deputy Executive Director of the Ukrainian Veterans Fund, recently expressed her concern about the situation, asking, “After the war, there will be up to five million veterans. What will we do with them?”
Under current Ukrainian law, veterans and their families are entitled to certain privileges, such as preferential access to education and land. However, Velychko believes that these privileges should be converted into monetary benefits.
Anatoliy Ostapenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliamentary committee on social policy and veterans’ rights, has proposed that veterans become the “warriors of restoration” for Ukraine once the war ends.
He believes veterans should play a role in developing the country’s post-war economy.
*Note: Name(s) have been changed to protect identities.