Marco Levytsky, NP-UN Western Bureau.
The International Peacekeeping and Security Centre in Starychi, Ukraine, is commonly known as the Lviv Polihon, where 200 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel are training Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) members under Operation Unifier. The Lviv Polihon occupies a vast territorial expanse, making it the largest military training compound in Europe.
Currently it covers 36,153 hectares (361.53 square kilometres, or almost 90,000 acres), which constitutes 36 per cent of the Yavoriv Rayon, located just west of Lviv.
Originally a training base for the Austrian army, later, the Polish, Yavoriv was greatly expanded in 1940, when the Soviet Union first occupied Western Ukraine and then again with the second coming of the Red Army after 1944.
That year, there were also continuous battles between the Red Army and the anti-Nazi, anti-Soviet Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in the region.
During the Soviet expansions a total of 170 villages and hamlets were razed, 12 Ukrainian churches and chapels, two Polish ones, 14 cemeteries and hundreds of cultural and historic monuments were destroyed. The inhabitants of the area were forcibly deported into the south part of Odesa Oblast, which had been annexed from Romania.
One church, St. Michael’s in the village of Vyshenka Velyka, was allowed to stand – so that the Soviets could use it for target practice.
It was rebuilt several times from the ruins, just so the Soviets could once again shell the structure. Miraculously, one fresco has survived all the artillery fire.
The training centre eventually turned into a base for tactical nuclear weapons aimed at the West.
When Ukraine gained its independence, the centre was taken over by the UAF and since 1995 served as a location for the Peace Shield exercises under NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program.
Since the war with Russia began in 2014, it has been used as a training centre where Canadian, American and British military teach Ukrainians.
There are firing ranges that use both live ammunition and duds. The hub contains numerous buildings surrounding the command centre, among them barracks, mess halls, a simulation centre where battles are fought out on computers, and a medical centre of which the Canadians a very proud.
As mentioned in the previous issue of New Pathway – Ukrainian News, Canadians are mentoring the Ukrainian military on ways of saving lives on the battlefield.
“Our successes have involved monitoring the training of over 1,000 Ukrainian Armed Forces members, that’s basic medical training, as well as about 100 roughly enhanced level of training and then another 55 instructors were trained during our time as well,” says Warrant Officer Tim Stackhouse, Lead Instructor at the LOE5 (Line Of Effort) medical administration centre.
Another accomplishment the Canadians are very proud of is their kitchen, which provides a huge dietary variety of meats, fish, vegetables, potatoes and so on, that is considered to be the best military kitchen in Ukraine.
The purpose is to show the UAF that a well-fed soldier is a good soldier. Up to this point the feeding of soldiers in Ukraine’s army was based upon the old Soviet standards. While officers could partake of gourmet meals, enlisted men were served mostly buckwheat porridge and cold soup.
“They are looking at us as models, and looking at ways how to improve the feeding of military men,” says one of the chefs at the base.
“We have a NATO standard now so they are going to put more money in their system so to reach that level they need to have more money to upgrade their standards,” he adds.
Our tour of the centre on September 11 coincided both with the regular six-month rotation of CAF members and the start of the Rapid-Trident exercises, held each year since 1996. The two weeks of war games, which ran until September 23, are designed to test and build Ukraine’s interoperability with NATO allies and partners.
The latest deployment of CAF members came in at 0300 the morning of our visit. They included members of the Royal Canadian Regiment from Petawawa, ON, who replaced members of the 3rd Canadian Division from Edmonton.
As of September 1, the CAF Joint Task Force-Ukraine (JTF-U) has trained more than 5,580 Ukrainian soldiers. There have been about 140 course serials that covered all types of training.
On September 16, Lieutenant-Colonel Kristopher Reeves assumed command of JTF-U from Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Lubiniecki.
The CAF’s primary focus in Ukraine is on tactical soldier training. This is also known as small team training. It consists of: individual weapons training, marksmanship, movement in areas of potential conflict, explosive threat recognition, communication in troop movement and command and control, survival in combat and ethics.
Other training includes: explosive device disposal training, and military police training. This consists of Use of Force and Basic Investigative Techniques courses, medical training that provides casualty evacuation and combat first aid training and modernizing logistics.