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U.K. turning Ukrainian men into combat-ready soldiers

By Daniele Hamamdjian

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    LONDON (CTV Network) — With martial law still in place in Ukraine, civilian men are only allowed to travel for exceptional reasons and one has been offered by the United Kingdom: its armed forces are training Ukrainian men and turning them into combat-ready soldiers.

The program has turned Ukrainian lawyers, builders, even dance choreographers, into soldiers after a five-week course which is based on the U.K.’s infantry training. In this case however, the average man is in his 30s and their instructors say the level of maturity and urgency they project come from knowing what’s waiting for them. In just a few days, many will be leaving the picturesque rolling hills of southern England for the frontlines of the war in eastern Ukraine more than 3,000 km away.

“For our Ukrainian allies, there is no more mission rehearsal,” Lt. Col. Kempley Buchan-Smith, told CTV News, adding “when they leave here, they need to be ready for the fight.”

Some came here having never held a weapon. But as their country celebrates Defender’s Day on October 14, they leave as the newest crop of soldiers having learned about trench and urban warfare, patrol tactics, battlefield first aid and having spent days firing live rounds in a setting meant to simulate the chaos of war.

One recruit in his 20s, who now goes by the name of Panda, says watching fellow recruits from so many different backgrounds change their thinking and develop instincts in the field, is inspiring. “There are no air raid sirens here, no missiles going over our heads,” he says, “it means we are motivated to keep training until we’re ready,” he adds.

Over the past few months, the course has had to be tailored to developments in the battlefield, meaning switching from a defensive battle to an offensive one.

“Rather than defending a position, remaining static in entrenched locations or in houses, we’re looking at how you assault those houses, how you assault trenches and how you take the fight to the enemy,” explained Buchan-Smith.

Translation in the training field is provided by Ukrainian refugees – mostly women – who fled the war and who believe this is the best way they can help their country.

The U.K. has committed to training 19,000 recruits and more than 5,700 have completed the course since June.

As part of Operation Unifier, the Canadian Armed Forces were training Ukrainian military personnel in Ukraine until February, when the war began. They’ve been deployed to the U.K. since August and will remain here until at least December.

“It’s so rewarding, so fulfilling, in light of what’s going on in Ukraine,” Maj. Mike Pal told CTV News, “it’s really good to see a sense of purpose for how important this is,” he went on to say.

“It remotivates us when we see indiscriminate killing and war crimes going on,” he adds.

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Sonja Puzic

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Regional

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