UARU
NATO Soldiers Train Ukrainian Paratroopers
29 June, 2018

Over the last few years, military instructors from NATO countries have been helping to train soldiers from the Ukrainian Armed Forces at the Yavoriv training center. This training aims to improve combat skills needed for the war in Donbas, though it also ensures the gradual introduction of NATO standards into the Ukrainian Army.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

At 8 a.m. a group of paratroopers from the 80th Air Assault Brigade prepare their weapons for target practice. They’ve been at war since day one of the conflict in Donbas. They were sent to the conflict zone in the spring of 2014. First they liberated Sloviansk and then the outskirts of the Luhansk airport. Today they are training at the Yavoriv training center, and then back to the East.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

24-year-old Yuriy Kosinchuk and his fellow servicemen are inspecting a large-caliber machine gun. The trigger is jammed and they are trying to fix it. All the subdivisions come here to learn how to use their weapons so as to avoid any nasty surprises on the battlefield. It’s extremely hot and, somewhere in the distance, single shots can be heard.

They start firing. Polish military instructors carefully watch over the Ukrainian soldiers and paratroopers. For the most part, they do not interfere, they just silently observe and take notes, talking with their translators. Each day after training, the instructors meet with the commanders and discuss any mistakes they’ve noticed.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

However, the foreign instructors also conduct practical training sessions. We watch how two Polish instructors lead a class on battlefield first aid.  

“I consider them professional instructors. It’s not just a formality before being sent off, like in the Soviet Army, when a soldier would come here, shoot 12 rounds and that’s it – everyone knows this, everyone has served. It’s completely different,” Kosinchuk says.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

The Yavoriv training center, otherwise known as the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security, is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe. It began fully operating after the start of the war in Donbas. Now several military training missions are based at the center, including those from the US, Canada, Poland, the UK and Baltic countries.

“This training is a platform for exchanging experience, both for the Ukrainian soldiers fighting in Donbas, and for the Polish soldiers, who have taken part in military operations in various countries around the world. It’s an exchange of military experience and skills,” explains commander of the military training mission Miroslav Shpunar.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Foreign instructors train the Ukrainian servicemen in a variety of aspects: artillery, intelligence, fire support operations and sapper [combat engineer –ed.] groups. However, most attention is given to staff training. The outcome of a battle will depend on the planning of special operations and the decisions of the commanders.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

During the staff training, officers from the 80th Air Assault Brigade reflect on hypothetical attacks from the enemy and prepare their counteroffensives. The soldiers talk loudly over their radios and make marks on the map.   

“Bring up the artillery, station the mortars! What is intelligence saying?” shouts one young captain.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Commander of the 80th Air Assault Brigade Oleh Apostol oversees the actions of his subordinates. He does not interfere in the “military action.”

“In the war, I realized that fear of making decisions is a huge problem in the Ukrainian Army. Everyone looks toward the generals and waits for their commands. But it should not be like this in a real war,” he says.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Fifteen kilometers away from the headquarters, the paratrooper mortar unit is preparing to shoot heavy artillery. On both sides of the road, we occasionally see broken and scorched tree trunks – evidence of where the missiles have landed. It seems like the birds in the area have become accustomed to artillery fire.

“Artillery is the real god of war. Artillery weapons are the most powerful today, in my opinion. Because you can stand several kilometers away from the rocket, the main gun, and you won’t even see it, but it will launch, then maim and kill,” Kosinchuk explains.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Kosinchuk was injured as he was leaving Luhansk airport. A missile hit the roof of a building he was in, and concrete slabs landed on his legs. His fellow soldiers pulled him out, and he did not lose his legs.

He doesn’t want to talk about what happened. These conversations evoke difficult memories:

“My thoughts about war have changed slightly. I studied psychology, but sometimes I have these dreams that I can’t escape at night. It rarely happens, only when we talk with friends and recall these events. I’ve become tougher, I think.”

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

We talk to the soldiers in a dilapidated building. The walls have been plastered over to cover up the holes. This was once an army barrack, but now it’s used for training. The paratroopers check their equipment and ammunition, lining up in military order.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

After every exercise, the soldiers work on their mistakes: who was standing where, who was covering whom.

“Everything we do here could save someone’s life in actual war,” Kosinchuk says, “It could be my partner’s life, if I don’t cover my sector properly, my life could depend on it.”  

/By Dmytro Replianchuk

/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko