Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko visits the headquarters of Ukrainian anti-terrorist operation near Izium in Kharkiv Oblast and finalizes a plan with Ukraine’s army on July 8 for a military offensive against Kremlin-backed insurgents. More than 200 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the fighting since mid-April, but Ukraine’s fighting forces are showing gains. They have liberated the Donetsk Oblast cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk and have promised to free Donetsk and Luhansk soon.
With the West wimping out on tough sanctions against Russia or significant military aid to Kyiv, Ukraine is pretty much going it alone in defending the nation against the Kremlin-backed war that began with the Feb. 27 military invasion of Crimea.
More than 30,000 troops are engaged in what increasingly looks like a fight to the finish in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Forces have been marshaled from the army, police and border guard.
Also, some 2,000 of them are volunteers who provided muscle during the EuroMaidan Revolution that succeeded on Feb. 22 in ousting President Viktor Yanukovych, who is hiding from mass murder charges in Russia.
Andriy Parubiy, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, says their presence is crucial for bolstering the nation’s broken army and raising its combat spirit. “People came forward asking for weapons and saying we will fight,” Parubiy recalls. “We had to find a mechanism to channel this. The fact that we managed to direct this huge energy of Maidan towards protection of the motherland, this helped a lot.”
The nation has 22 volunteer battalions, but only eight to 10 of them are taking part in the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine at any given time. They are all part of the official law enforcement structure and take orders. Their names, however, are informal, a reference to their revolutionary history.
Fighters of the Donbas Battalion train at an Interior Ministry base in Novi Petrivtsi near Kyiv on June 5. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)
“These are the guys who stood on Maidan,” says Parubiy, who was in charge of self-defense troops during the revolution. After taking on his new role, he continued to coordinate the self-defense units and oversaw their training and incorporation into the formal structure of Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies.
Parubiy describes them as “high level professionals” and says that “none of the battalions act on oligarch orders, or act on their own.” Continue reading