“Before the invasion, I was a normal civilian”: Ukrainians trained by the British Army in England for use at the front

Before heading to the battlefield in their country, Ukrainian civilians train in the English countryside in the south of the UK with the Weapons and First Aid Training and Combat Simulation program.

More than 5,700 have already completed the training and returned to Ukraine since the program was announced in June, the defense ministry said. In all, the UK, which has provided significant military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24, has offered to train 19,000 Ukrainian civilians on its soil.

When AFP visited the training ground near Durrington (south) on Tuesday, none of the recruits present had any military experience. They participated in gunnery and first aid drills on the battlefield as part of their five-week training aimed at making them soldiers.

Among these future soldiers is a former engineer now codenamed Panda. “Before the invasion, I was a normal civilian. But after that it was no longer possible, I could no longer live as a civilian. So I joined the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”he told AFP.

“Our British and Ukrainian instructors gave us tactical, medical and psychological training. They taught us international martial law.”explained this Ukrainian. “I am ready to go to the battlefield and put everything I have learned into practice”.

The training builds on initial British infantry training. It is aimed at recruits with little or no military experience.

More than 1,000 British Army, Royal Air Force and Navy personnel participate in the programme. Canada, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand have notably joined the formation.

“rather more offensive”

“The two most important skills we need to teach them are how to survive on a battlefield and how to get the most kills in close combat.”said Lt. Col. Kempley Buchan-Smith, commander of the Fifth Rifle Battalion.

“The training program covers a variety of operations. Of course, defensive operations are one aspect, but as you can see from the progress that Ukraine is currently making in the east of the country, we have changed the nature of the program to be more like you so perfectly prepared to continue these advances.”added Lieutenant Colonel.

“Training is necessary, especially in such a difficult and unpredictable situation. It is essential and very valuable for every soldier”according to one of the Ukrainian officers overseeing the formation, which goes by its codename Neptune.

Every soldier goes back to Ukraine with equipment. About 195,000 items have been donated so far, including helmets, clothing, boots, sleeping bags.
Since 2015, British troops have trained more than 22,000 members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. This training for civilians “represents a logical step in British aid to Ukraine”for the Ministry of Defence.

The United Kingdom “has pledged £2.3 billion in military aid to Ukraine, more than any country except the United States”remembers this service.

Juliet Ingram

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