The allied effort to train Ukrainian recruits accomplished a major achievement this week when Ukraine confirmed 5,000 of its troops had been put through the British-led program.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces made the declaration in a Facebook post Wednesday — just days after the country’s military won a lightning swift victory that forced the Russian Army into a hastily-organized retreat in the northeast of Ukraine.
The achievement, just months after its inception, is “quite, quite significant,” said one defence expert.
“It’s almost a brigade’s worth of personnel,” said Sean Maloney, a professor of history at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., who added those soldiers might also help increase the training capacity within Ukraine itself, creating a multiplying effect.
“If they’re training the trainer, they will go back and train people in Ukraine.”
The initiative was announced last June by former British prime minister Boris Johnson and involves more than a thousand British soldiers from the 11th Security Force Assistance Brigade, a unit that concentrates on training foreign militaries.
Canada has sent roughly 225 troops, including instructors. The Netherlands and New Zealand are also contributing trainers.
The Ukrainian recruits are flown to the U.K. on British military planes. There they receive instruction at four different bases, including a major training centre in Kent where urban combat is taught.
The three-week course covers basic offensive and defensive combat tactics, weapons handling, medical training, engineering and mine clearing, and an introduction to the laws of war.
Aside from the recruit training, Britain has instructed seasoned Ukrainian soldiers in the use of some sophisticated weapons systems, such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) units allied countries have been providing.
In its online post, Ukraine’s general staff said it is hoping to expand the U.K.-based instruction beyond recruits to include training for current junior officers, whose leadership is considered to be the backbone of an army.
Maloney said the basic training is a step above the instruction Russian troops are getting because western soldiers are taught what’s known as “combined arms tactics” involving ground troops, tanks, artillery and aircraft.
“It will be a more sophisticated approach to manoeuvre warfare, probably enabled with a variety of other technologies,” Maloney said.
The withdrawal of Russian troops in areas east and southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was described as frantic and chaotic by local residents who spoke to international media outlets in the region.
The swift assaults over the past week have allowed Ukraine’s military to recapture hundreds of square kilometres of territory and strategic towns.
Ukrainian soldiers have also netted dozens of abandoned weapons, including tanks and armoured personnel carriers.
Maloney said the Russian military has lived off of the myth of the Soviet Red Army for decades. What recent weeks and months have shown, he said, is that Ukraine is facing a “devolved Russian Army” crippled by years of “corruption, opportunism and political interference.”