KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Scores of protesters gathered on the streets of Ukrainian cities on Friday to demand a cap of 18 months on mandatory military service, amid new suggestions of possible Ukrainian and international weariness with the 20-month war.
Both the warring sides are striving to keep their military momentum, though neither side has been able to land a knockout blow, and the fighting is expected to drag on deep into next year.
Ukraine ordered a general mobilization of the male population between the ages of 25 to 60 when Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. The vast majority joined up as volunteers. As the war grinds on, Ukraine has ramped up the draft.
The 18-month service limit sought by the protesters would be the same maximum as before the war. It is currently open-ended for draftees. The protesters, who are part of a loose national network, want the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, to consider possible alternatives on service time.
About 100 wives, mothers, children and relatives of Ukrainian soldiers attended a demonstration in the capital, Kyiv.
They chanted “Demobilize the soldiers” and carried banners calling for the return of their loved ones. “Why is dad not coming back?” asked one placard carried by a child.
“I live in constant fear for his life,” Valeriia Koliada, 35, said of her husband, who volunteered for the military.
“It’s nerve-wracking for me. He is tired as well,” she said. “We are a young family. I also want to have a child and sleep calm at night.”
Protesters also gathered in at least six other cities.
There are no signs that Ukrainian public support for the fight against Russia’s invasion is waning. In Russia, meanwhile, authorities have cracked down on anti-war protests, and critics of the Kremlin’s policies are on the whole swiftly silenced.
Even so, U.S. officials say that Russian forces are experiencing morale problems as another winter campaign looms. The White House said Thursday that Russia is executing soldiers who disobey orders and threatening entire units with death if they retreat from Ukrainian artillery fire.
The latest hot spot draining resources is Avdiivka, a city in the eastern Donetsk region that Russian forces partially occupy. Avdiivka’s location provides Ukrainian forces with artillery advantages over the city of Donetsk and could serve as a launch pad for them to liberate the rest of Donetsk.
Avdiivka lies in ruins after weeks of bitter fighting in a costly effort, mostly for the Russian attackers, according to analysts.
The bid to overrun the city has backfired on the Kremlin’s forces, robbing it of troops and heavy equipment that “will likely undermine Russian offensive capabilities over the long term,” the Institute for the Study of War said late Thursday.
The Washington-based think tank noted that Ukrainian military officials said that around 5,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and wounded, and 400 armored vehicles lost in the area since Oct. 10.
Satellite images show the Russian military lost at least 109 military vehicles, mostly armored fighting vehicles and tanks, near Avdiivika between Oct. 10 and 20, the institute said.
The Kremlin’s forces have failed in their weekslong effort to surround the city, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he told U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a phone call on Friday.
“Our soldiers stopped them and inflicted significant casualties, amounting to at least a brigade of personnel,” Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel.
The Avdiivika fight and other battles are draining both sides’ resources.
Moscow has stepped up its military production and has reportedly turned to North Korea and Iran to replenish its stockpiles, observers say, while Kyiv is urging its Western allies to keep providing vital support.
The U.S. statement about Russian morale came as President Joe Biden met Thursday with new House Speaker Mike Johnson, a staunch conservative whose support for Ukraine has been more muted than that of the administration. He told Biden, who wants billions of dollars in new support for Kyiv, that Congress is “not going to abandon” Ukraine, but demanded more information about U.S. strategy in the conflict.
Meanwhile, cracks are showing in the unity of the 27-nation European Union over its backing for Ukraine.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, attending an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, said that he was right to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisting he was actively seeking peace in Ukraine. He recently gained a Russia-friendly ally in the bloc with the election of new Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.
In an address by videoconference to the EU summit, Zelenskyy urged the bloc to stand firmly together against Putin.
Russia is reported to be receiving supplies from Iran, North Korea and other countries.
Germany this week handed over a third IRIS-T SLM air defense system to Ukraine, the Defense Ministry said Friday. The first two of the sophisticated systems were supplied in recent months.
“Even if the security policy situation worldwide is further escalating and we are looking with great concern at the moment at Israel and the Middle East, we will not stop supporting Ukraine,” Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said in a statement. “This war will not be forgotten.”
Associated Press writers Hanna Arhirova and Nebi Qena in Kyiv and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine