Territorial Defense of Ukraine - Combat 2022
On 15 May 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi replaced the Commander of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This is evidenced by the relevant presidential decrees. Instead of Yuri Galushkin, who had been the commander of the Troops since their inception, Major General Igor Tantsyur, former Chief of Staff of the Land Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, was appointed. On May 2, Zelensky awarded Tantsyur the Order of Bohdan Khmelnytsky III degree "for personal courage and selfless actions shown in defense of state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, loyalty to the military oath."
The Territorial Defense force was conjured out of thin air in early 2020, barly weeks before the Russian invasion. The enlisted troops were some combination of patriots, adventurers, and others with some prior military experience. Eight years of war with Russi in the Donbas had given many Ukrainians a taste of combat, some wanted another taste, and others did not. There are some experienced brigade commanders and other commanders with combat experience, and other much less experienced officers. The main task at training is to teach officers to act harmoniously in the platoon, company, battalion and the brigade as a whole.
But patriotic mood and personal motivation cannot substitute for competence. Many if not most of the shortcomings of Territorial Defense Forces are attributable to the fact that most troops enlisted to defend their local community, but were in fact sent to the meat grinder at the front. They were poorly trained and equipped for such frontline service in high intensity combat. Upon closer examination, particular emphasis must be placed on the shorcomings of officers. Officers were frequently said to be in the rear with the gear, rather than leading from the front. Territorial troops complaints about shortages of weapons, ammo and other supplies reflect defficiencies in inexperienced Territorial officers organizing efficient supply chains within hastily organized chains of command.
The units organized for the war had a small cadre of regular officers and noncommissioned officers and large numbers of enlisted men with little if any recent military training. The effectiveness of Territorial units varied significantly. Combat service revealed that the training of Territorials in all aspects of military operations was, for the most part, grossly inadequate to the demands of active duty and extended field operations. Regular Army officers had believed that the Territorial Defense was incompetent and unreliable, and the belief that the Territorials as an institution was unsuitable for modern war remained strong. Such local "home guards" or militia were not primarily designed to be a mobile fighting force; it is a "back-up" for the better-trained and better equipped regulars.
On 04 May 2022, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a law allowing the use of territorial defense armed formations to carry out combat missions in combat zones. “The adopted changes provide an opportunity for territorial defense to carry out tasks together with other groupings of troops (forces) or groupings of joint forces intended to conduct military (combat) operations “to cut off armed aggression against Ukraine”, in the areas of military (combat) operations”.
Earlier territorial defense units could operate exclusively outside the war zones, performing auxiliary and police functions. It is worth recalling that earlier the Ukrainian authorities expanded the list of weapons that are allowed to be used by members of volunteer territorial defense formations [terbats = territorial battalions], including artillery and missile systems. It is possible that the decision to use territorial formations on the "front line" could be caused by a shortage of regular troops or heavy losses of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The Verkhovna Rada allowed the territorial defense to perform tasks in areas of hostilities. Relevant amendments to the law "On the basis of national resistance" to enable territorial defense to perform tasks in areas of military (combat) operations were adopted by parliament on 03 May 2022. Some 338 people's deputies voted in favor. These changes "are designed to enable territorial defense to perform tasks together with other groups of troops (forces) or / or groups of joint forces designed to conduct military (combat) operations to repel armed aggression against Ukraine in areas of military (combat) operations." , it is said in the explanatory note to the bill.
A scandalous bill submitted by [Ukraine’s parliament] Verkhovna Rada deputy Mariana Bezugla, giving officers the right to execute servicemen for desertion, was withdrawn on May 24. However, the very appearance of such an initiative clearly indicates that the problem is real, and the authorities are sounding the alarm.
This type of army emerged two months before the large-scale invasion, and on February 24 it became an honor for many men and women to enlist in the defense. In Russia's ruthless war against Ukraine, terrorist defense worked wonders. There are areas where the breakthrough happened due to these - yesterday civilians. But three months of war also showed that the system was not working as well as it should. Some units found themselves in a situation where they were faced with tasks that they could not perform. A survey of soldiers from many brigades revealed a probable reason: the problem is where commanders did not take care of training.
A distinctive feature of these troops is that most of them, "farmers and startups", could continue to cope well with the Ukrainian economy and the maintenance of the army. But the desire to repel the aggressor himself won out, and here they are. These people did not consider themselves to be at least to some extent professionals in the military and spoke honestly about it. They studied. Despite the fact that these people were on the other side of the budget - not the taxpayer, but its consumer - they still continued to spend most of their time. They calmly accepted that it was their task to provide for themselves.
The combat experience of the Izium TRO crossed the line in three months, and although on the other side of the front line they are opposed by the Russian army with air reconnaissance, artillery and aircraft, even in such conditions the terrorist defense successfully performs tasks. For example, she has a ten-day defense of the oil depot with a strategic fuel reserve of Kharkiv region. This battalion is constantly provided with everything necessary for resistance by volunteers from Slovyansk, Rivne, Chernivtsi, Cherkasy, and Kyiv. They do not have direct combat clashes with Russian soldiers, but are constantly under artillery and air fire, including cluster munitions.
The fact that Irpen was not completely captured is the merit of the Irpen TRO," said Territorial Defense Officer Yevhen Leshan. People had their own weapons, and the state was able to issue anti-tank weapons. And the people were ready to act decisively.
Some units entered the combat zone without minimal knowledge of how to carry out the tasks set before them. Because the fields and beams of Donbass, where Russian and Ukrainian forces have been burying themselves in the ground for eight years, are not the roads of the Sumy region that the Kremlin army set foot on for the first time; and not agglomerated Irpen, where armored vehicles had something to destroy. For example, one of the battalions reported in April that his fighters had not received any training to give them an understanding of how to dig under artillery and mortar fire. Due to the refusal of some territorials to move to the border, a scandal broke out around the brigade instead of solving the problem: she was accused of desertion, and some popular speakers said that the unpreparedness of the TRO rear was continuous and therefore normal.
One Territorial reported "Everything was more or less ok with the training in our unit, although it is not the merit of the leadership: there were just fighters with combat experience who did not sit on their asses, but taught the basics of beginners. But this applied only to the company. There were only two problems - clothes and ammunition. 95%, if not more, we did not receive from the state: except for a machine gun and 4 horns with ammunition, well, more helmets, but not all. The bulletproof vests were brought before leaving by the Return Alive Foundation, some of whom, like me, received relatives-friends-colleagues. But the biggest problem, as everyone says, is the lack of heavy weapons. Our direction is tank-dangerous, and we have only *** NLAW and *** RPGs. They asked for additional heavy weapons, at least LNG and large-caliber machine guns, but we are told - it is not allowed. Of the machine guns, by the way, the machine guns of Diaghterev in the thirties and Maxim of the 44th, which did not work, and which the guys were already repairing here on the spot. The regular PKM was taken away from us back in Kyiv. To sum up: the main problem is the lack of heavier weapons. Other problems, such as clothing and ammunition, are more or less solved with the help of volunteers and relatives. " Another battalion of this brigade said that the classes were adequate to the tasks. They mastered both different types of weapons and tactics, moving on the battlefield, surveillance and reconnaissance. The training was conducted by the commander of the company participating in the anti-terrorist operation, but it is also possible to invite staff instructors from other units of the brigade.
The branch commander in another battalion of the same brigade believes that they received almost zero level of training, but tells how they got out of this situation. "The main training was devoted to how to interrogate at a checkpoint in a car: we killed for several days. They also taught me how to handle a sniper rifle. Only half of the department was taken to dig trenches for four days, although according to the documents, everyone went. Eight people were shot at by me. But the guys who were in the anti-terrorist operation pushed us. We prepared ourselves, got acquainted with the men who took us *** (tells how they went on someone else's combat mission). We traveled and studied on our own, doing everything to be useful. When we arrived at another location, we were sent to study for 4 days. There we fired 25-30 rounds. In preparation, so that I would not be verbose - we were not prepared. Whoever wanted to, he prepared himself. Now part of our company is being sent to fight. I look at them and realize that 70 percent of them are "cannon fodder". They hold the machine gun incorrectly, go to bed with them incorrectly, and dress the shops incorrectly. They will be covered by artillery, they will not understand anything and will not do anything. They will fall and cry. We have already learned how to dig trenches and move around the battlefield on our own with the guys who were anti-terrorist operation. "
One of the battalions of Brigade C, is now on the front line: "SAR units are used on the front line as" cannon fodder ". After the mobilization, we had two weeks of "training", during which we tried to teach everything at once, except for one thing that we would need later - digging trenches, as the role of our unit - to take positions that are under constant fire.. Positions, of course, on a straight line of contact with the enemy (distance to the enemy - 300-400 meters). Material and technical equipment - almost absent, the position was sent with one shovel to the platoon (and the trenches had to be dug already under fire). Weapons - in the face of constant shelling is not the set that could ensure the effective implementation of the task. There is also no cover-up of positions by the Armed Forces (which must stand on those positions). Heavy armored vehicles of the enemy stand and shoot positions, artillery or mortar fire to destroy equipment and cover positions - is not conducted. Why exactly - due to lack of funds in positions, or simply out of malice - the question is open."
One of the battalions of Brigade D has not yet performed tasks, but believes that it is ready: "The state did not prepare for the war at all, so the TRO brigades were formed in an emergency mode after its beginning. Instead of gradually recruiting. Plus - the vast majority of our team are really volunteers. Minus - for people it was more a decision on emotions (you need to defend the country and go plant gardens) than a balanced one. That's why we will have more problems, because people went to the sprint and won the marathon. We were provided with automatic weapons, second-hand, uniform, that's a plus. First aid kits for the brigade, turnstiles - all through volunteers. One month private entrepreneurs fed on a volunteer basis, two months later through the Ministry of Defense. With body armor and helmets - as everywhere, it was mostly a volunteer. Combat units on the positions are provided, and that's great.The leadership of the brigade regularly organizes training and shooting for new servicemen. I am not competent to evaluate quality, but in my humble opinion - everything is fine with training."
The first cases of group desertion began at the end of April and were associated with the deterioration of the situation for the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Donbass. At that time, the Russian Ministry of Defense stated that more than 860 soldiers had deserted from the units of the National Guard of Ukraine.
Criticism of the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine by servicemen has not been uncommon. The 115th Territorial Defense Brigade reported that the soldiers had not undergone any training on how to dig in under artillery and mortar fire. Soldiers in Severodonetsk recorded a video in which they complained to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valery Zaluzhny, about a lack of heavy weapons and reinforcements. The soldiers decried the incompetence of their commanders, who they said had remained in the rear. “We are simply being sent to certain death. There is no combat leadership, no combat commander, no respect for people.”
Consequently, a scandal broke out with the participation of the servicemen’s relatives, who appealed to the Office of the President of Ukraine for help. “My husband went to war as a volunteer, and now he’s sitting under shelling in Severodonetsk. There’s no command, they are their own commanders. And the people who left the brigade have been put in jail as deserters. How?! How can they fight without anything? With shovels perhaps, or with what?” said one of the military wives. “The 115th Brigade are not deserters! They just throw them in like cannon fodder. They are taking on tanks with machine guns from the 80s. Why are they dying? So that those sitting in HQ can receive stars?” another woman expressed with indignation.
A whole platoon of the 115th Territorial Defense Brigade appealed to Zelensky and Zaluzhny with a refusal to carry out a combat mission near Severodonetsk. Later, a similar statement was recorded by units of the 58th Brigade and the 46th separate rifle battalion. The soldiers accused the command of throwing them into a hopeless situation as cannon fodder in order to plug the most problematic areas of the front. They had been on their way to Zaporozhye, but eventually ended up at the front near Popasna – one of the hottest spots in Donbass. They did not have heavy weapons, no supplies arrived, and the command turned out to be incompetent. As a result, they suffered heavy losses and had to retreat from their positions.
Far from the combat in Stry in the Lviv Region, the relatives of fighters in the 65th battalion of the Territorial Defense’s 103rd Brigade staged a protest when they caught the unit’s commander in the town while their men were fighting on the frontline. They stated that they had been sent straight to Donbass, unprepared and without weapons, instead of protecting the Lviv Region. At a meeting with representatives of the Territorial Defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the soldiers’ relatives demanded that the men be returned home because, according to them, they are not ready to conduct combat. “The unprepared fighters were given a machine gun and two grenades and sent to stop an army that far exceeded our soldiers,” Valentina Mamon from Stry complained.
“They went to the front in their cars, which they also had to refuel themselves. They spent several hours in pits with machine guns. And, most importantly, they shot at their own retreaters. It’s good that there were no casualties. When the volunteers brought in walkie-talkies, the battalion headquarters took them away,” added Galina Sidor. Many of the women also say that unprepared fighters were thrown in to stop the enemy “with their bare hands.”
In Khust in Transcarpathia, women attacked a military commissar for the fact that their men had been sent to Donbass without bulletproof vests or helmets. They accused the military enlistment office of violations and bribery. According to their information, you can get out of being sent to Donbass for $3,000.
There have also been claims that people with chronic heart disease or asthma are being sent to the front. “On what basis were these unprepared people, who did not pass the medical examination, being conscripted and sent to the front? Specifically my husband, who’s had a heart attack and needs a heart transplant,” said Inna Salautina, the wife of one of the servicemen in the 101st Territorial Defense Brigade.
At the end of May 2022, The Washington Post reported on the arrest of Ukrainian company commander Sergei Lapko, who had recently given an interview to the newspaper. The officer told WaPo about the extremely difficult situation at the front, particularly in the area of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk. The Ukrainian General Staff, as well as the chairman of the Lugansk regional Military Administration, Sergey Gaidai, had also reported on the difficult situation of the Ukrainian military in the Lugansk Region. Indeed, there is a constant flow of such messages coming from Ukrainian soldiers right now, but Lapko’s story added a lot of details to the picture of what is actually happening.
“Before being sent to the front, we were handed AK-47 assault rifles and had a training session that lasted less than half an hour. When we had fired 30 bullets, we were told we would not get more because ammunition is too expensive,” he said. When his company was sent to Donbass, twenty people refused immediately and were arrested for desertion. “When we were coming here, we were told that we would be in the third line of defense. Instead, we went to the zero line, the frontline. We didn’t know where we were going.” Of his company of 120 men, only 54 remained in the ranks – the rest either died, were wounded, or deserted. “We see on Ukrainian television that there are no losses. It’s not true,” the commander said. The Washington Post writes that most of the deaths had occurred because wounded soldiers were not evacuated quickly enough, often waiting 12 hours for transport to the Lisichansk military hospital.
Installed in the heights of Lyssychansk, the commander of a reserve unit does not hide his frustration and attacks his hierarchy directly: “ We were based in the rear. But our superiors deceived us, they sent us to the front line without anyone knowing it. My men were not ready to fight. Half of them had never even fired a shot. They are demoralized. The Russians are killing us and that's it. We are under bombardment 24 hours a day, it's non-stop. We don't even have ammunition supplies. Our hierarchy does not support us. Our leaders have forgotten us. My commander was injured and I don't even know where he is. We have to find our own lines of communication, equipment and food. Because our superiors don't know where we are or what we are doing.»
"It is obvious that we as a country did not have time to deploy a full-fledged system of territorial defense and carry out all preparatory activities," said Anton Muraveinyk , a senior analyst at the Return Alive Foundation . - This has even become one of the reasons for Russia's invasion right now, combined with other factors. The second point is that some of the fighters, while in the rear, did perform tasks more inherent in territorial defense, such as security, patrolling… Perhaps they simply did not have time to receive an order in time to move east. Also, I absolutely assume, and this applies not only to terrorist defense units, that the level of training of personnel depends very much on the commanders on the ground."
Territorial Defense Officer Yevhen Leshan is a long-time promoter of mass civilian military training. We asked him his opinion on how this was implemented. "As for the idea, the idea was a little different: it was about mass military training of civilians in peacetime, " he said. - Unfortunately, the state neglected this time, and it was done only by not indifferent public organizations and people who wanted to do it at their own expense. People were ready to defend Ukraine, but they were unprepared. Those who learned in peacetime put in a lot of effort, but it was not enough for everyone.... First of all, they need basic military training: basic infantry exercises, how to handle a machine gun, how to act in a group or in pairs. At least a two-week intensive course would be enough for people to do something. Some enthusiasts who fall into such units take it upon themselves. But not always.How to organize it depends on the command, the leadership of the brigade and the battalion: there is nothing super complicated here, you just need a trained person and a place.""
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