Training a New Ukrainian Military
We recently held a rather unconventional training. Our students were not servicemen, but members of a military camp. For nearly 20 years, PLAST Ukraine has been running its “Legion-18” military affairs educative-training camp for young boys. Instructors at the camp are older scouts returning from the front, some of whom we trained in tactical medicine. And now we come to teach their children.
“Patriot Defence” instructors put an emphasis on first aid training under fire, and held a full course and competition for the sanitary instructors (younger medical staff of the military medical services) at camp. Instructor Anastasiya Shevchenko said that the boys were very quick to take in the new information. Our other instructor Stanislav Hajevskiy was so impressed by what he saw at the camp that he wanted to join PLAST. The camp ended on August 23rd and the participants who were most active during our tactical medicine course were recognized.
We spoke with Bohdan Kukharuk, an older PLAST member, commander of the “Harpoon” Battalion, and the camp’s tactical instructor, to learn more about the “Legion-18” PLAST camp.
What is the history of the “Legion-18” camp?
There are variety of special interest programs within the PLAST scouting organization as well as new ones being developed in the 21 Century such as military scouting. After Ukraine gained independence, pre-conscription training was destroyed. In fact everything that was supposed to be done in schools with young men on the subject of military equipment, interest to join the military, and promotion of military affairs, was canceled. Seeing how boys find this subject matter interesting, we developed a patriotic-military program in PLAST.
Throughout the year, we organize games, trips to military bases, meetings with the military and at the end of the PLAST year, in August, we hold a nationwide camp for Ukrainian Yunaks (boys aged 15+) who have fulfilled a number of requirements throughout the year.
The camp has been in existence since 1996 with small changes made each year. Until 2000, the camp was stationary--we lived in tents. Since then, the camp has become mobile, and its participants move around in groups. We are no longer tied down to our tents, kitchens, and latrines etc. Everyday we move forward. We have changed our attitude towards our equipment and towards the program. We try and visit a military unit each time. Our goal is not to teach everyone how to shoot or how to become a soldier but rather to promote this area, making the military and security forces interesting and prestigious.
What is camp like these days?
Camp takes place in two stages. The first (training) stage starts near Lviv on the Tsuniv “Society for the Defence of Ukraine” base. Earlier there was an aerodrome there, so there is an existing military base. The second stage is taking place at the “Harpun” Battalion base. The men from “Harpoon” have combat experience and were once instructors, so they help run the camp. Their work includes training with both mock and real weaponry, reconnaissance technologies and with demining equipment.
All camps are organized to end on Independence Day. Those individuals under the command team are recruited in June. They are involved as junior officers at camp--they help run the program, are responsible for their group of participants and work with them in separate group activities. They arrive to camp well prepared. Some of the junior officers are selected based on their excellent participation in previous camps. This year, camp started August 9-10th.
What role does First Aid play at camp?
Whenever a camp was organized, we always relied on a doctor. Until the year 2000, first aid was taught according to a book. No one knew anything about gunshot wounds. We read some instructions, the doctor arrived with his own “idea” of how to treat such an injury. They organized some simulations with fake blood, moreso to judge the reactions of the young boys. Of course these days, greater attention is given to medical matters. Kabul (senior Plast member, “Harpoon” Battalion fighter) came to camp and shared his experiences with everyone. Also, other men from the front came to visit us as well as professional tactical medicine instructors from “Patriot Defence”.
For other workshops, you don’t need to pay as much attention; but when it comes to tactical medicine, you must listen closely and integrate the knowledge so it becomes like a reflex. Some things may be left up to interpretation, however, with tactical medicine, it is imperative to follow standardized protocol. Because there are people like Kabul, walking here. Walking! He is alive thanks to such trainings and medication that were able to help him. And the trainings were effectively conducted and interesting.
Participants of the camp are pre-selected. What needs to be done in order to become a Plast-Legionnaire Scout?
Participants apply for camp in May. Information about the camp and program requirements are sent to various PLAST branches around March/April. The boys should be at an appropriate physical level in order to keep up with the others at camp. The weaker ones have the opportunity to train and attend camp the following year. Some participants are very resilient; I have witnessed boys with leg injuries who insist on continuing to the very end. The participant must also submit written work including an essay on how he sees himself in the military. There are also a number of projects to be completed before attending camp.
Many “Legionnaires” were mobilized by the Armed Forces and others went on to study at higher military educational institutions. When communicating with their commanders, these men are highly praised. Because Legionnaire-scouts always add something new to the program and are well prepared, making things more interesting and motivating for others.
Did the camp change because of the war in Ukraine?
This year, given the national situation, the camp puts a stress on psychology and physical ability and maintains a close relationship with the military directly. The military is quite open to the public these days, which makes it easy to visit their base and learn from them. Considering that 80% of the participants will be conscripted within the next six months, it makes it easy for us to arrange these types of meetings.
Many of the camp’s instructors were once combatants. Earlier in the program, there was a focus on the military, however, the camp now emphasizes the requirements of the current war: reconnaissance training, demining and first aid. The camp’s program more closely resembles one conducted on a military base.
Many people who returned from the front are now instructors at camp. They are passing along their newly acquired experiences. When there are 10 veterans at your camp, it is obviously more interesting for our boys to learn about the valor of the Ukrainian Army firsthand, as opposed to hearing about it on television.