Ukraine recruits get training in UK
Program aims to get thousands ready for battle in homeland
A BRITISH ARMY BASE, England — A few weeks ago, Serhiy was a business analyst at an IT company. Zakhar was a civil engineer.
Now they are soldiers, training to liberate Ukraine from Russia’s invasion — but doing it more than 1,000 miles away in Britain.
They are among several hundred Ukrainian recruits pounding through an intense form of infantry training in southeast England.
As the Ukrainians practice house-clearing amid the rattle of gunfire and pall from smoke grenades on a mock townscape where British soldiers once trained for operations in Northern Ireland, they think about driving Russian troops from the streets of their own cities.
“The most important part is urban training, because it’s the most dangerous combat, in cities,” said Serhiy, who like the other Ukrainians did not want his full named used because of security concerns. “The British instructors have a lot of experience, from Iraq, Afghanistan. We can adapt all this knowledge to the Ukrainian situation and use it to liberate our country from Russian invasion.”
The initiative, announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in June, began with more than 1,000 British soldiers from the 11th Security Force Assistance Brigade, which specializes in training foreign militaries.
This batch of the 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers that the British military has pledged to train within 120 days are spending several weeks learning skills including marksmanship, battlefield first aid and — crucially for
their country’s future — urban warfare.
About 2,000 recruits have completed the program and returned to Ukraine, British officials said.
Other nations — including Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden — have pledged to join the effort, which is in effect a retooled version of Operation Unifier, an international training initiative that began in 2015.
In that program, troops from the United States, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Poland and Sweden, among other nations, trained about 35,000 Ukrainians.
British trainers are putting the Ukrainian troops through a condensed version of the British Army’s infantry training, covering weapons handling, first aid, patrol tactics and the law of
conflict. The aim is to turn raw recruits into battleready soldiers in a matter of weeks.
“We are running a basic infantry course, which takes Ukrainian recruits and teaches them to shoot well, to move and communicate well within any tactical environment, and to medicate well,” said Maj. Craig Hutton, a Scots Guards officer helping oversee the training.
Hutton says many of the Ukrainian troops have little military experience, but “they are so motivated. They have a fantastic will to learn, and they just want to practice, practice and practice more.”
Britain is sending the Ukrainians home with new uniforms, body armor, helmets and other gear, part of $2.8 billion worth of U.K.
military aid to the country that also includes anti-tank missiles and sophisticated rocket-launch systems.
“We are at a phase in the war where we need to reclaim our cities from occupying forces,” said Snizhana, a 34-year-old trainee. “The British officers training us have experienced this warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan — so now it is very useful for us.”
The training exercises were planned in collaboration with Ukrainian military and intelligence officials, he added, and were designed to replicate scenes they could encounter on the battlefield back home — down to the spray-painted insignia on vehicles.
Many of the Ukrainians taking part in the exercise were given variants of the AK-47 weapons that they
would likely use on the front lines. Others toted anti-tank weapons called NLAWS, thousands of which Britain has donated to help Ukrainians to destroy Russian tanks and armored vehicles.
“Nobody wants to die,” Zakhar, the former engineer, said through an interpreter.
A civil engineer before enlisting three weeks ago, he said he was motivated to join his brother in the army and avenge his best friend, who was killed in battle.
“I want my children and grandchildren to live in a free and flourishing, independent country,” he said.
Serhiy, the onetime IT worker, has been in uniform for less than a month and is equally determined.
“I know that Ukrainian soldiers are dying to protect our homes right now. So it’s hard to know that I am not
with them,” he said. “But the Ukrainian army needs only professional soldiers, so I am ready to train as hard as possible to be ready for the battle ahead.”
Brigadier Justin Stenhouse, who is in charge of the training as commander of the 11th Security Assistance Brigade, said seeing the motivation of the Ukrainians is “humbling.”
But he acknowledged that preparing for the chaos of urban combat is “almost impossible to do in training.”
The goal of the mission, he said, is to “train them so they can adapt to survive in those early weeks of combat.”
“They will learn more in the first weeks of combat than we can possibly give them here,” he said.