“We teach them how to survive on the battlefield and how to be deadly in close combat”

Faces and clothes smeared with mud, Ukrainian soldiers run screaming across the flat field as the smoke from a fresh explosion wafts in front of them.

However, this scene is not part of the hostilities in their homeland, but takes place thousands of kilometers away – in Great Britain.

Since July, the British Army has trained around 5,700 Ukrainian recruits as part of Operation Interflex, a program which aims to train 10,000 new soldiers in Kyiv’s forces in vital combat skills within a year.

Training takes place in a network of training camps across the UK.

The instructors are putting the Ukrainian recruits through an abbreviated version of the infantry training that the British Army uses for its soldiers. It involves a variety of skills ranging from urban combat and trench warfare, to handling weapons, ammunition and military vehicles, to patrolling tactics and providing medical aid to the wounded.

The soldiers themselves who arrive on Operation Interflex have little or no combat experience, and in just five weeks they are expected to become battle-ready warriors.

Among the fighting groups are former IT specialists, builders, engineers and representatives of other civilian professions.

“We run a basic infantry course that takes Ukrainian recruits and teaches them to shoot well, to move and communicate well in any tactical environment, and to medicate well,” Maj. Craig Hutton, an officer at the Scots Guard, which oversees the training of Ukrainian recruits.

Photo: Getty Images

Hutton explains that while these soldiers lack experience, they make up for it with strong motivation, a willingness to learn and a willingness to “practice and practice some more.”

According to Lt. Col. Kempley Buchan-Smith, commander of the 5th Infantry Battalion, which conducts part of the exercise, the two most important skills being taught to Ukrainian recruits are “how to survive on the battlefield and how to be as lethal as possible in close quarters. fight”.

He explained to AFP that the program is constantly adapting to the changing situation in the war. For example, after the Ukrainian forces went on the counteroffensive, the trainers included in the program different tactics for attacking enemy targets.

“As we saw the progress being made by Ukraine in the eastern part of the country, we changed the nature of the training to be more offensive in nature. So that the soldiers are absolutely ready to continue the progress that is being made,” he commented.

An important part of the exercise involves fighting in an urban environment, using an old training ground where British soldiers previously trained for operations in Northern Ireland. Exercises now involve clearing houses and blocks of enemy soldiers and capturing terrain.

“The most important part is urban training, because fighting in cities is the most dangerous. British instructors have a lot of experience from Iraq, Afghanistan. We can adapt all this knowledge to the Ukrainian situation and use it to free our country from Russian invasion,” said Serhiy, one of the Ukrainian soldiers, who is a former IT specialist.

According to Brigadier General Justin Stenhouse, who is in charge of training as commander of the 11th Security Support Brigade, it is almost impossible to train people for the chaos of an urban battle. Therefore, the exercises here are designed for the new soldiers to acquire adaptability that will help them survive “in these early weeks of combat.”

“They will learn more in the first weeks of the fight than we can give them here,” he says.

Ukrainian recruits are also trained in a variety of weapons currently available to Kyiv’s forces, including the US FGM-48 Javelin man-portable anti-tank missile system, the Soviet MT-LB amphibious assault vehicle and the SA-13 surface-to-air missile system.

Photo: BGNES

After five weeks of training, the soldiers now feel ready to fight back in their homeland.

“Before the Russian invasion started, I was just a normal civilian. But after the invasion started, I couldn’t do that anymore, I couldn’t live my civilian life anymore. So I joined the ranks of the Ukrainian army,” he told AFP one of the recruits training in Britain – a young man with the fighting nickname “The Panda”.

After the training, he is adamant that he is ready to go to the battlefield to put into practice everything he has learned.

Former IT developer Sergey has only been wearing the uniform for a few months, but he’s also determined to return home and fight.

Over 30 countries around the world have provided billions of dollars in aid to the Ukrainian military

“I know that Ukrainian soldiers are dying to protect our homes right now. So it’s hard to swallow that I’m not with them. But the Ukrainian army only needs professional soldiers, so I’m ready to train as hard as possible, to be ready for the coming battle.”

Interflex is the successor to a longer-running British program, Operation Orbital, which began shortly after the occupation of Crimea and the start of separatist actions in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Within its framework, the British army has trained more than 22 thousand Ukrainians for the period between 2015 and May of this year.


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