• Ukraine is facing a severe manpower shortage as it continues to battle Russia's invasion.
  • But Ukraine's 3rd Separate Assault Brigade is one of the most popular units in the Ukrainian army.
  • It attracts new recruits with its PR-savvy approach and 12-strong media team.

For months, Ukraine's armed forces have faced a severe manpower shortage.

In April, one brigade commander told Ukrainian news outlet Suspilne that the country's manpower problems were "much more important than ammunition" and that one Ukrainian soldier was having to carry out the tasks of three to four soldiers.

Since December, Ukrainian military officers have sought as many as 500,000 extra recruits.

Lawmakers have since taken steps to try to address that need.

In April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed into law a bill lowering the minimum conscription age from 27 to 25.

And in May, Ukrainian lawmakers passed a bill allowing convicts in certain categories to serve in the military.

Though people recognize the need to fight, "since the mobilization system is not very well organized and is not perceived as just, this lowers motivation," Julia Kazdobina, a Senior Fellow at Ukrainian Prism's Security Studies Program, and a former advisor to the Ukrainian Information Policy Minister, told Business Insider.

The 3rd Separate Assault Brigade

Recruits of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade taking part in military training. Foto: ANATOLII STEPANOV/Getty Images

But one place Ukraine isn't struggling to find new recruits is in the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, an elite fighting force that has taken part in a number of the war's most intense battles, from Bakhmut to Avdiivka.

The squad emerged from the Azov Brigade, a controversial regiment founded by the right-wing politician Andriy Biletsky in 2014 that played a crucial role in the Russian siege of Mariupol in 2022.

The 3rd Brigade has since become famous for its battle-hardened, fearless approach to combat.

But this is just one of the reasons the unit is receiving more than 900 volunteers a month, according to an April report by the Washington DC-based think tank the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).

While many brigades use social media platforms to advertise and celebrate battlefield wins, the 3rd Brigade is especially skilled at PR.

The unit has 12 full-time media staff, including press officers, cameramen, and editors — and they are "pioneers in running a public recruitment campaign," Kazdobina said.

"The brigade is run by people with extensive combat experience and a reputation for bravery," she added.

The 3rd also has a professional website as well as a YouTube channel with more than a million subscribers — where some videos have attracted more than nine million views.

Last week, the brigade released a video appearing to show Russian troops emerging from a trench with their hands raised or tied behind their backs. The prisoners of war were later filmed and interviewed, sitting in what appeared to be a school classroom.

All of this is designed to appeal to young and eager potential recruits.


Elina Beketova, a defense fellow at CEPA, told BI that the brigade has had success recruiting "because they have a system."

"They start with intensive training to prepare volunteers for frontline duties both physically and mentally," she said. "Then, they match people's preferences with different roles. If someone isn't ready for combat, they continue training them and find the best role for that person."

Four Ukrainian soldiers of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade preparing mortar rounds for intensive firing at a position near Andriivka on September 25, 2023, in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Foto: Getty Images

The brigade has four recruitment centers — Kyiv, Dnipro, Lviv, and Odesa.

The unit's website says it offers a seven-day training course for potential recruits who want to assess their readiness to join the armed forces.

"If you realize that the army is not for you, you can halt the test and leave at any time," it says.

Those who choose to join undergo a 30-day training program. If, at the end of this program, the recruit does not feel ready, the training period can be extended.

Yurii Kovtun, a brigade sergeant, told Radio ROKS last year: "Our task, if he is weak, is to make the weakest the strongest."

"We will not send him somewhere to die," he added.

The 3rd also tries to help recruits with specific skills find the role that best fits those abilities.

"The 3rd Brigade customizes mobilization and contracts tailored to individuals. If someone isn't ready for artillery work but is prepared for another role, they will try to find a different position for that individual," Beketova said.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry has noted the benefit of this.

In March, the department announced that it would be rolling out a new recruitment algorithm for the armed forces.

This algorithm "offers a clear mechanism for voluntary enlistment through recruiting centers and online," Beketova said. "Candidates undergo interviews and tests before being assigned to their chosen unit."

The brigade also offers a "patronage service," which is designed to care for wounded fighters and prisoners of war.

"One often hears that there are two Ukrainian armies," Kazdobina told BI.

"One following Soviet tradition of inefficiency and humiliation and one that is dynamic, well organized and respects soldier lives," she said. "The Third Assault Brigade falls into the second category."

The 3rd Brigade did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

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