Ukrainian Military Should Have Become ‘Good Deed’ Ministry for Civilians in the East
Hlib Bitiukov has been a “Patriot Defence” instructor since the very founding of the organization. Apart from leading trainings in tactical medicine, Hlib also spends his time taking photos of military life, thus he may be said to have a personal perspective on the world.
On November, 7th, together with a group of instructors, He returned from another training mission in the East. This time, it was the “Aidar” battalion, the Border Guards and the 93rd Guards Mechanized Brigade who passed a course.Over one and a half years of training, we have encountered people from all walks of life, having their own outlook of the world, their personal attitude towards life and various perceptions of the situation in the country as a whole and of the events in the East in particular. Hlib shared his thoughts and impressions from the last trip.
It’s a rather specific kind of people that serves in the “Aidar” battalion. They have gone through a lot in the course of the war, especially last year, when the unit suffered great losses. Most of the men here come from the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, so the situation in “Aidar” is quite similar to what is generally going on in the East at the moment. One of the fighters, to whom we spoke the most, had spent 40 years working at Luhansk coalmines before the war broke out.
The local population is diverse in each of the towns. They are rather at a loss more than firmly set ‘for’ or ‘against’ the Ukrainian government, so they could easily be persuaded and enlisted as friends. Ukraine should perhaps seize the opportunity and make an effort to help these people. Instead, the same apathetic local government stays in power, the same separatist sentiments remain in place, the same ‘lords’ keep splitting the region up and selling the bits they’ve tucked away. So the attitude of the locals to Ukraine really boils down to their attitude to the local government. Remember that Soviet song: “What Does Motherland Begin With?” For them, it begins with the robbed collective farm, the ruined roads, the abandoned schools and kindergartens. That means no opportunity for development, either for the adults or for the children.
The same applies to the Ukrainian army. For these people, it’s embodied by the soldiers they see every day, walking down the streets of their town, shopping, or waiting for the bus. The way locals treat the military is based on what they feel about the behavior of the particular servicemen in their town. If our men had set out getting their own dwellings in order upon arrival, if they had helped the population, demonstrating the strength and humanity of the armed forces, the war would have been won without a single shot fired. The Ukrainian military could have become a ‘good deed’ ministry for the civilians. What people see instead is this: the army that is supposed to protect them can barely drag itself back to the station point at night. What kind of treatment could this army expect?
Nobody used to care for these people before, and nobody does now. The situation bears huge resemblance to the one “Aidar” has found itself in. The soldiers feel abandoned at the moment, just like the majority of those in the East. They are desperate: with no particular goal, with no objectives, the only thing they do is stay in position and dawdle away. Despair leads them to alcoholism, fights and conflicts, then weapons are flung, and before you know it, they turn into a mass beyond control. It looks like a sequence from an action movie or a cowboy film.
There is nothing for them to be occupied with, but they can’t be demobilized all the same. We met some of these ‘avatars’ (alcoholics) at a training facility, where the administration was trying to get rid of them, then we travelled to another one, in a different part of the country, just to meet them there again. It turned out they had been redeployed ‘not to catch anyone’s eye’. Now that’s the modern approach to problem-solving – make sure ‘it doesn’t catch the eye’, while the critical mass of issues stays unchanged.
What we’ve seen in numerous units is that the officers were busy dealing with their own issues, while the soldiers were left to themselves. For instance, the conditions “Aidar” fighters live in are pretty much the same as elsewhere in the ATO zone: no hot water, cold water available only if previously delivered. Some dwell in houses, some rent living space from the locals, some try to live in the abandoned farms assigned to them, with holes in the walls, taped windows, leaking roofs, smoking cast irons for heating, sleeping in bags or on cots.
As an example of a different kind of treatment, the Border Guards we taught right after “Aidar” should be mentioned. The attitude is completely different there. That could be told judging merely by appearance. They choose better living spaces, they try to get them in order, they have people cooking for them, they have showers, they have garages for the vehicles. Against the backdrop of general havoc, this looks quite respectable. This sort of attitude is not just limited to living conditions: it is there in the officers-soldiers relationship and in the way they treat training.
The question arises: “What do we need so many mobilization waves for?” It looks like an imitation of activity, really. Men are mobilized, so there’s a need for commanders to head units, companies, battalions, brigades, regiments, so the pyramid of command keeps multiplying. We don’t need six mobilization waves. In fact, if most of these people were demobilized, better conditions could be created for the rest of the military. Our men would start working better than their commanders have ever dreamt of. What we have now is the substitution of quality for quantity. To meet the mobilization requirements, people are recruited nearly off the streets. The truth is, if the 10 or 15 thousand men, who are forever-drunk, have no wish to serve and are wasting their time and the army’s resources, were demobilized, they would have to be substituted. But where do you find substitutions? They don’t pick the best; they are just trying to meet the numbers.
Our problem, and it isn’t just about the military, is that everything is done for show, so that you can put a ‘tick’ next to a task. This is why random people are involved in providing medical training. There is no guarantee of teaching quality. No tactical medicine as such had existed in Ukraine, so there’s an acute shortage of professional instructors. I mean not just medics, but instructors, able to get the message across and train the fighters to an appropriate level. We used to have Soviet norms that have been changed lately. The medical system as a whole must be reformed.
It has occurred several times that our trainees had participated in courses before we taught them. From what we hear, we’ve arrived at the opinion that we’d rather those courses had not been held at all. During this recent training with “Aidar”, we’ve been told things like: “We’ve heard of pneumothorax: you should stick some occlusive tape at the front, and then use gauze at the back, to let it breathe” or “If he has trouble breathing, you should cut his throat, no doubts about it”.
There’s a completely different system in the West: one first has to pass training as a paramedic, and then he or she will be allowed to teach others. We have been certified in Western countries, but the documents are not acknowledged here. The way to solve this problem is to have international medical certificates recognized and homologated in Ukraine. These could be various documents. For tactical medicine, I think TCCC and CLS instructor certificates, or “Train the Trainer” should be on the list.
A system of constant requalification through repeated courses is in place all over the world, and it applies to the military, too. For this reason, there are instructors constantly going out to teach and reteach the soldiers. It works differently from country to country: some have compulsory training for each fighter, some apply the ‘every fourth’ system. The British are the most advanced in this respect: before setting out on a mission, all the soldiers pass a CLS course, while a part of them (say, every fourth) must take an advanced course.
So why come up with anything new, if there is a system successfully applied by the Europeans? The Ukrainian and European standards differ, just like train track width. They are incompatible. Us and them, we’re like different systems that can’t be made to work together. We haven’t even any data on the number of wounds and casualties in the ATO. With respect to our specifics, such as evacuation time, or the distance to the nearest medic, more attention could be devoted to certain aspects during training. Yet, no integrated database is available. We are forced to collect bits of information ourselves and to try and puzzle out the general picture.