Military Training Bonds British and Ukrainian Soldiers
Learning is not a one-way street; the British military also uses the Ukrainian experience of modern-day war to assess and evaluate their own tactics
Zhytomyr Region — Confidence, concentration, coordination and command skills are essential on the battlefield — and as Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine rumbles on for the sixth year. British Army trainers from the 1st Battalion of the Mercian Regiment are putting a group of Ukrainian soldiers through their paces as part of its basic infantry course called, Operation Orbital.
“What we’ve just done is a basic, what we call, ‘section attack’. They adopted one of the patrol formations which we’ve given them. I’ve given them a ‘contact’ [a target] and we’ve reacted to the ‘contact’ as we’ve taught them … Once they’re happy that have dealt with the enemy, they then start to withdraw,” LCpl Mason Stead said as he describes a training exercise.
The Ukrainian soldiers also practice magazine changes while sprinting, correct postures and stances for shooting and moving from bound to bound. This is just one exercise. Anticipating and handling a sudden enemy attack, delivering first aid to wounded comrades or taking out enemy targets from long range are also part of the course.
Lt. Oliver Scott describes various factors that soldiers become aware of, “They are learning about how the weather can affect their marksmanship. They are learning about the trajectory of the round. How they may have to ‘aim off’ depending on the range of the target and what their sight setting is.”
The British soldiers we met at a minesweeping exercise help the Ukrainians identify and react to improvised explosive devices; in particular, the clearing, cordoning off and controlling of suspected threats. Of course, this is all to NATO standards. The Ukrainian soldiers ask questions, critique themselves and each other and look for ways to improve.
“They are all keen to learn. They are all brilliant. There is a lot of interaction as well. That rapport and that relationship is really good,” 2nd Lt. Lewis Davies says about the bonds and mutual appreciation of the training. But learning is not a one-way street. The British side also uses the Ukrainian experience of modern-day war to assess and evaluate their own tactics.
“The way the British Army conducts its defense is different to how the Ukrainians work. For example, rather than long trenches like the Ukrainians use, we use small, separate trenches – and the application is slightly different.” Lt. Davies says.
Since Ukrainian’s are fighting an actual war, the British gain real-time feedback, “But we’re learning things, about how they come up against snipers, how they come up against IEDs, the different ways in which they adapted to the threats that they are seeing, that we haven’t been able to identify or learn yet,” Lt. Davies said.
Warrant Officer Darren Street, said, “Over the years, with all the experience that our guys have got, we are now able to help out the Ukrainians. They create a good bond over a five week period. And good friendships. It’s interesting to see that the guys are treating them like friends and trying to teach them the skills and drills to be a soldier.”
Since 2014, Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine has evolved from one of heavy artillery attacks and a fluid front line – to tic-for-tac trench warfare. Some Ukrainian soldiers were already deployed to the Donbas at least once.
Second Platoon Commander Zalizniak, who has seen combat in Shchastia, Krasnyi Luch and other strategically important areas of the Donbas, says the training is hugely helpful. “It’s very interesting. There are a lot of new things. Over the past few years of war, a lot of things have been forgotten. Now, we’re having this drills, and it’s a whole new level of training on tactics, firing, working with personnel. There are a lot of medical actions which we hadn’t practiced before,” Commander Zalizniak said
Since the UK established Operational Orbital in 2015, British personnel have trained over 17,500 members of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Land forces training like this is just one component.
Following the Russian Coastguard’s attack on Ukrainian vessels in late 2018, more focus is being put on maritime training to help the Ukrainian Navy handle Russian threats in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.