Fend­ing off foes

Rus­sians en­coun­ter­ing dogged re­sis­tance from Ukrainian mil­i­tary, with Canada’s help

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - LUBOMYR LUCIUK Lubomyr Luciuk is a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal ge­og­ra­phy at the Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege of Canada.

Look­ing out and down from the in­side of a Ukrainian Armed Forces Mil Mi-8 he­li­copter, I sur­veyed Ukraine as I have never done be­fore — mar­vel­ling at that coun­try’s mea­sure­less tracts of sun­flow­ers and wheat fields nour­ished by the fer­til­ity of its cher­nozem soil — un­der­stand­ing by see­ing it from this height why this land, known from an­cient Greek times as the “bread­bas­ket of Europe,” has again and again been made a ravin by the depre­da­tions of ra­pa­cious in­vaders. Since Fe­bru­ary 2014 the tres­passers have been the Rus­sians, whose army seized Crimea then at­tacked in eastern Ukraine, oc­cu­py­ing much of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (prov­inces). To this day they de­spoil there and so threaten the peace of Europe.

But the Rus­sians are en­coun­ter­ing re­sis­tance, and an in­creas­ingly dogged one at that. From the very start of their un­pro­voked in­va­sion of Ukrainian ter­ri­tory they found them­selves im­peded by vol­un­teers who rushed for­ward from all parts of their home­land to thwart the ag­gres­sor. The brav­ery and sac­ri­fices of what we might well de­scribe as Ukrainian ‘min­ute­men’ helped blunt and then con­tain Moscow’s im­pe­ri­al­is­tic de­signs. And, since Novem­ber 2014, Canada, stal­wartly deter­mined to help Ukraine re­main sov­er­eign, sta­ble, and se­cure, has been as­sist­ing in the en­hance­ment of Ukraine’s de­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties. As part of a Multi­na­tional Joint Com­mis­sion, in­clud­ing the United States and United King­dom, about 200 Cana­dian Armed Forces (CAF) spe­cial­ists, cur­rently drawn largely from the 3rd Cana­dian Divi­sion and de­ployed on 6 month ro­ta­tions, have been train­ing Ukrainian troop­ers at the In­ter­na­tional Peace­keep­ing and Se­cu­rity Cen­tre (IPSC) lo­cated near the ham­let of Starychi in Lviv oblast. Other Cana­di­ans are teach­ing at the Ukrainian Min­istry of De­fence’s Dem­i­ning Cen­tre in Kamyanets-Podil­sky.

The IPSC is found within the Ya­vorivsky mil­i­tary poly­gon, a 40,000-square-kilo­me­tre train­ing area, the largest in all of Europe, cre­ated by the raz­ing of 29 western Ukrainian vil­lages at Stalin’s com­mand. My ma­ter­nal grand­mother’s was one of them; her home once stood no more than a few dozen me­tres in­side this re­stricted zone’s front gates.

As of July 1, 2017, the CAF Joint Task ForceUkraine had trained some 5,000 Ukrainian sol­diers. Canada has pledged its sup­port for ‘Op­er­a­tion Uni­fier’ un­til at least March 2019. We may need to stay longer, for Vladimir Pu- tin, the KGB man in the Krem­lin and ‘pres­i­dent-in-per­pe­tu­ity’ of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, cer­tainly knows Rus­sia can never be an em­pire with­out dom­i­nat­ing Ukraine. Restor­ing an im­pe­rial Rus­sian realm re­mains his fun­da­men­tal goal, no mat­ter how many of his sol­diers’ lives are squan­dered pay­ing the butcher’s bill.

I was able to visit with our troops at the Dem­i­ning Cen­tre and the IPSC in a day, the mo­bil­ity of an Mi-8 and the cour­te­ous­ness of Lieu­tenant-Gen­eral Paul Wyn­nyk, Com­man­der Cana­dian Army, and his ac­com­mo­dat­ing staff, fa­cil­i­tat­ing this sally. I learned more dur­ing this one sum­mer’s day than I do in most weeks. Let me also es­tab­lish how it was agreed, well be­fore we left, that I could write as I please, pro­hib­ited only from pho­tograph­ing in­di­vid­ual sol­diers or oth­er­wise iden­ti­fy­ing them, a rea­son­able con­di­tion. I also trav­elled at my ex­pense. And when I took leave of the gen­eral’s party it was clear that if I went far­ther, up to the front lines in eastern Ukraine, I would be do­ing so pri­vately and en­tirely at my own risk. I did. Be­fore I de­parted, how­ever, my aim was to find out whether this Cana­dian mis­sion was ben­e­fi­cial only in one di­rec­tion — pre­sum­ably our side teach­ing as Ukraini­ans do all the learn­ing — or if there was more to it than just a pa­ter­nal­is­tic, one-way re­la­tion­ship.

I got my an­swer at the Dem­i­ning Cen­tre. Quite by chance I over­heard a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the gen­eral and a Cana­dian of­fi­cer who, when asked if he had learned from Ukraine’s sap­pers, re­sponded with an em- phatic “Ab­so­lutely!” and then went on to de­scribe how the ‘lessons learned’ by Ukraini­ans en­gaged in the eu­phemisti­cally-named Anti-Ter­ror­ist Op­er­a­tions (ATO) zone of Ukraine were be­ing in­cor­po­rated into the ad­vanced train­ing of­fered to mil­i­tary stu­dents. Cana­dian, Bri­tish and Amer­i­can sol­diers’ lives will be saved in fu­ture be­cause Ukrainian troops are bring­ing hard-won in­tel­li­gence, paid for with their flesh and blood on the bat­tle­field, and shar­ing it with their Western friends.

Later in the day I would, time and again, get pos­i­tive re­sponses from Cana­dian sol­diers, in­clud­ing two grad­u­ates of the Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege of Canada, when­ever I asked if they were ben­e­fit­ting from this de­ploy­ment. In­deed, most said they would like to stay longer, to learn even more. As for the Ukraini­ans, they have wel­comed our troops as com­rades-in-arms and, to a sol­dier, stressed how grate­ful they are to Canada for stand­ing with them as they fight what has truly be­come Ukraine’s war of in­de­pen­dence. The Ukraini­ans, by the way, be­lieve they will win it. From what I saw of their pro­fes­sion­al­ism and pluck, not only in western Ukraine but on the eastern front, I think they’re right. For do re­mem­ber what Putin seems to have for­got­ten — this is not the first time in their his­tory that Ukraini­ans have fended off a foe. They re­main un­bowed.


Cana­dian mil­i­tary train­ers watch over Ukrainian sol­diers storm­ing a build­ing dur­ing a live fire demon­stra­tion. Many troops told the au­thor they would like their mis­sion to be ex­tended.

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