“It was 4:25am when I woke up, went out to have a smoke and started hearing gunshots,” said Volodymyr, one of the Ukrainians undergoing military training in the United Kingdom to return home and defend their country.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022 in an escalation of the Russian–Ukrainian War that started in 2014.
The invasion was the largest attack on a European country since World War II and is estimated to have caused tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilian casualties and hundreds of thousands of military casualties.
By June 2022, Russian troops had occupied about 20 per cent of Ukrainian territory while about eight million Ukrainians had been internally displaced. By April 2023, more than 8.2 million persons had fled the country, creating Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.
Volodymyr, a carpenter before the war, lives in a border town with Russia. His village was one of the first to be captured by the Russians who told him he was living too well. ‘You have all the facilities in your house; it’s too good for you’, he said the attackers told him.
“So, they were occupying all the houses in the town,” he told Daily Trust in an interview in one of the camps in the UK where civilian Ukrainians were getting basic military training ahead of deployment on their return home.
- Why I am hated – Burna Boy
- Backlash trails composition, postponement of APC standing c’ttees’s inauguration
32,000 trained so far
Since June 2022, over 32,000 Ukrainian civilians have so far undergone military training in the United Kingdom coupled with its partners, in a bid to equip them so they could defend their country against the Russians.
The governments of Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Romania have all committed to this operation at several locations across the UK.
The Commander of Operation Interflex, which is the command responsible for the training of the Ukrainian infantry soldiers, Colonel James Thurstan, said the programme was designed to equip the Ukrainians with the basics of warfare.
“It also gives them the defensive spirit to win the war and go ahead to establish the international boundaries,” the commander said. “The training will give volunteer recruits with little to no military experience the skills to be effective in frontline combat.
“Based on the UK’s basic soldier training, the course covers weapon handling, battlefield first aid, fieldcraft, patrol tactics and the Law of Armed Conflict,” the UK’s Defence Ministry said.
The recruits are trained for five weeks in five different camps in the UK before their return to Ukraine for immediate deployment.
According to Thurstan, there are about 3,000 Ukrainians currently undergoing different training exercises under the Operation Interflex programme.
“In the training, I learnt how to fight and defend my country. I have three kids; I don’t want my kids to suffer. I want to fight the enemy”, said Volodymyr.
A return to the battlefield
On his part, Artem, a 28-year-old factory worker before the war, told Daily Trust through an interpreter that he decided to join the army to defend his country despite his ill-health.
A Russian sniper shot him in the face in March 2023 but that wouldn’t stop him from returning to the battlefield.
He added, “I joined the army because I needed to fight for my country. I am not that healthy but I decided to join the army. I was injured after a Russian sniper hit me. I was told I wouldn’t be able to join the army but here I am again.
“I have a girlfriend. I planned to get married but everything failed once the war started. All the plans are set aside, unfortunately.
“All of us men, we need to train hard to fight for our country. We do not intend to escape from all of these. We try to stay alive as long as possible to take what belongs to us. I can’t afford to just go back home and do nothing while my mates are dying. So, no matter how it feels, one must die.”
“If I was lucky enough, of course I want to survive. I want to live. I will do everything possible to defeat the enemies.”
Meanwhile, Igor, a 33-year-old procurement manager at an international company before the war, said he joined the army to protect his family.
“Do you have a wife; do you have kids? If your neighbour comes to your house and wants to kill you and your family, what will you do? You will try to protect them. That was why I joined the army,” he said.
“I think it’s the right decision to join the army. My wife is doing her best to help a lot of injured soldiers, she is a medical worker.”
Ukraine making headways – UK
The United Kingdom has disclosed that with its support, Ukraine has been making headway in the fight against Russia despite recent drone attacks on Kyiv.
Since the invasion in February 2022, the UK government has committed to supporting Ukraine and is the second largest military to donate to Ukraine, with a commitment of £2.3bn in 2022, and an additional £2.3bn in 2023.
In October 2023, the Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced new equipment support for Ukraine worth over £100m, including air defence systems and crucial equipment to help Ukrainian soldiers cross minefields and bridge capabilities to assist with river and trench crossing.
While addressing foreign journalists in London, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), said the UK alongside its partners would continue to support Ukraine to defend itself.
“Ukraine has made progress and it’s important to note that it has recaptured almost half of the territory that Russia illegally seized since the beginning of this conflict. Russia has been unable to defend several places across the landfront,” it added.
It said Ukraine had also made some strategic gains away from the land front, saying it had destroyed many Russian ships, regained a part of the Black Sea and forced Russia to explore a different tactical approach to the war.
The FCDO noted, “The toll of the war against Russia is striking. The Russian forces are weakening at a significant rate. Russia has suffered between 240,000 to 290,000 casualties, which is more than what they suffered in 10 years of Russian occupation of Afghanistan.
“Russia also lost a huge amount of equipment in the process.”
The UK government said as part of efforts to continue prosecuting the war, Russia was making deals with countries which it had previously sanctioned as a member of the United Nations Security Council.
It emphasised the need for countries and international organisations to increase the pressure on Russia to end its assault on Ukraine, saying Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s aggression on Ukraine would create a bad precedence, if allowed to stand.
Also, the UK government said it would continue to starve Putin of the funds he needs to prosecute his war on Ukraine.
The UK said it, along with its partners, had issued many sanctions against Russia which had reduced the impact of its war on Ukraine.
- Russia has lost almost 12,000 pieces of equipment, including 2268 tanks over 4000 other armoured vehicles, 247 command and control systems, over 1000 artillery pieces, almost 200 air defence systems, 85 aircraft and 103 helicopters.
- Russia’s oil export earnings hit the lowest monthly value in June 2023 since the beginning of their invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s oil export revenues fell to EUR 397m per day in June 2023, 7% lower than May and 16% below April levels.
- Ukraine has lost about 6m hectares (~24%) of arable land due to occupation, mine contamination and other environmental impacts of war (e.g. destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam).
- Russian attacks destroyed over 300,000 tonnes of grain in two months, enough to feed over 1.25 million people for a year.
- Russia has destroyed more grain in the month since withdrawing from the BSGI than all of the grain it has promised to donate for free to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and the Central African Republic combined.
- £20 billion of UK-Russia bilateral trade (2021 figures) is now under full or partial sanction. There has been a 99% fall in Russian imports into the UK, and a 72% fall in UK exports to Russia.
- As of April 2023, the Ukrainian government has identified over 19,546 children forcibly transferred by Russian forces to Russia and temporarily Russian-controlled territory in vast numbers.