Lt.-Col. Jason Guiney knew he had a lot to offer when he was appointed commander of the Joint Task Force Ukraine.
A veteran of four operational deployments – to East Africa with the United Nations in 1999, Haiti in 2004, Pakistan with the Disaster Assistance Relief Team in 2005, and Afghanistan in 2008-2009 – Lt.-Col. Guiney brought a wealth of experience to his new job.
He commands about 180 Canadian soldiers stationed in western Ukraine – many veterans of the war in Afghanistan and other international deployemnts.
Their task is to train Ukrainian soldiers to take on the Russian-backed rebels if the bloody civil war in eastern Ukraine flares up again into full-scale fighting.
Still the Canadian soldiers realize they can learn a great deal from the Ukrainian military’s experience, Lt.-Col. Guiney said.
“Although they have learned a lot of skills from us, I think we have learned equally as much from them about the type of threat they face on the front lines,” Lt.-Col. Guiney said. “What they are facing is what we refer to as a hybrid threat; so it’s a mix of conventional tactics, insurgency tactics coupled with modern technology. There are modern main battle tanks, electronic warfare, jamming, use of drones, cyber attacks, and these are all valuable lessons for the Canadian military because these are threats that we have not faced ourselves.”
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They are the boots on the ground in the Operation UNIFIER, “Canada’s contribution to support Ukrainian forces through capacity building, in coordination with the U.S. and other countries providing similar training assistance.”
The training mission occurs under the rubric of the Multinational Joint Commission which includes Ukraine, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Canada joined the Joint Commission in January 2015, and co-chairs, with Ukraine, the Sub-Committee on Military Policing.
The Canadian soldiers are spread out in three key locations, Lt.-Col. Guiney said. The main component of the training takes place at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) in Starychi, in western Ukraine, near the border with Poland. About 150 Canadian soldiers there conduct infantry and medical training, Lt.-Col. Guiney said. They live in Soviet-style open barracks of the Ukrainian military, he said.
Another 20 Canadian soldiers are based in southern Ukraine at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence Demining Centre in Kamyanets-Podilsky, teaching counter-improvised explosives and bomb disposal skills. And on a periodic basis, there is a small team of military police trainers in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, Lt.-Col. Guiney said.
“The infantry training pillar consists of everything from basic soldiers’ skills from marksmanship and rifle shooting, patrolling, all the way up to mechanized tactics with armoured personnel vehicles,” Lt.-Col. Guiney said. “And an important part of that infantry training is medical training. We actually teach the Ukrainians roughly the same medical skillsets, the same medical course that we ran for our soldiers in Afghanistan.”
Lt.-Col. Guiney said there have been about 500 cases of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Ukraine since January 2014 and the bomb disposal training team in Kamyanets-Podilsky makes a very important contribution to the ability of the Ukrainian armed forces to respond to this kind of threats.
“We teach them how to effectively find and neutralise these kinds of bombs, which are very lethal,” Lt.-Col. Guiney said. “And this is also tied to Global Affairs Canada equipment donation, where Canada purchased $3.5 million of counter-IED equipment, such us bomb suits and bomb disposal robots. And I’m very happy to report that this equipment is now being employed in the Donbass region to help clean up the battlefields.”
Mix of experience
The Ukrainian soldiers that the Canadians are training come from the Ukrainian army and for most part have rotated right out of the frontlines of the Donbass region, he said.
“What we’ve found that there is a good mix of experience, everything from veterans who’ve been on the frontlines for the better part of the year to troops that have just a few weeks of training,” Lt.-Col. Guiney said. “So it’s been a little bit of a challenge for us to make sure that we can adapt our training to meet all the skill levels.”
The Ukrainian soldiers are extremely patriotic and motivated, Lt.-Col. Guiney said.
“I think especially the combat veterans, they really appreciate and see the value of the skills that we deliver to them, because they know that this training is extremely helpful to them on the frontlines,” he said.
Overcoming old Soviet military culture
The biggest challenge the Canadians have had so far in training their Ukrainian counterparts is the difference in the military culture, Lt.-Col. Guiney said.
“The Ukrainian army is very much organized and trained, and uses Soviet-style doctrine,” Lt.-Col. Guiney said. “And that’s remarkably different from Western or Canadian doctrine.”
For example, under the old Soviet model, decision-making was centralised at the highest levels of command, their non-commissioned officers – the sergeants and the warrant officers – didn’t have a lot of room for decision-making or initiative, which is the complete opposite of the Canadian military that relies on the expertise of its sergeants, Lt.-Col. Guiney said.
“What’s been great about showing them how we do business is that they’ve seen the value in developing their non-commissioned officers,”Lt.-Col. Guiney said. “And in fact, over the past five months, they have asked us if could modernize their junior leadership that way. So right now, we are running a junior leadership academy in Starychi.”
Over the next months Canadians will concentrate on helping the Ukrainian military to develop their instructional cadre so when the Canadian mission ends, they leave a legacy in which the Ukranian military can sustain their own training, Lt.-Col. Guiney said.
“It’s been great for me, because this training mission is something very different from anything I’ve ever done in the military,” Lt.-Col. Guiney said.
700 million in assistance
Since January 2014, the federal government has announced more than $700 million in additional assistance to Ukraine that include a broad range of initiatives to “strengthen security, promote economic stability and growth, advance democracy, human rights, rule of law, and to promote a civil society,” according to government officials.
Canada’s military assistance to Ukraine also includes the purchase and shipment of non-lethal military equipment. Canada has so far bought and shipped tactical communications systems, a mobile field hospital, explosive ordnance disposal equipment, tactical medical kits, and night vision goggles.
Timeline of Canadian military assistance to Ukraine (Source: Government of Canada)
28 November 2014 – The first shipment of donated non-lethal military supplies (cold weather clothing including approximately 3 000 pairs of boots 2 400 coats, 3 500 pants and 3 300 pairs of gloves) arrived in Kyiv Boryspil Airport, Ukraine via Royal Canadian Air Force CC-177 Globemaster.
8 December 2014 – Minister of National Defence announced that Canada had signed a Declaration of Intent with Ukraine for joint military training and capacity building.
10 January 2015 – The first of two sealift shipments of non-lethal military supplies arrived in the port of Odessa, Ukraine.
29 January 2015 – The second of two sealift shipments of non-lethal military supplies arrived in the port of Odessa, Ukraine.
14 April 2015 – The Government of Canada announced that Canada will deploy approximately 200 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel to Ukraine until March 31, 2017.
13 June 2015 – Approximately 8 personnel in the field of Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) and Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) departed for Ukraine to liaise with Ukrainian military partners, observe training, and prepare training plans. They were augmented in late August by approximately 12 combat engineers.
20 June to 4 July – A team of approximately 30 CAF personnel in the field of tactical soldier training observed U.S. instructions to Ukrainian forces and further refined the CAF training plans.
5 August to early Sept – A theatre activation team of approximately 90 personnel deployed to Ukraine to set up the CAF facilities and support structure necessary to the deployment of the Task Force.
25 August – Approximately 60 personnel from the main task force – including Headquarters (HQ), Small Team Training unit and support personnel – arrived in Ukraine.
31 August – A second group of approximately 90 CAF personnel, to complete the deployment of approximately 150 CAF personnel as the main Task Force, arrived in Ukraine.
14 September – The beginning of the military training mission was marked with dual ceremonies at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre in Starychi, and at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence Demining Centre in Kamyanets-Podilsky.
14 September – The Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED) training portion began at the Demining Centre in Kamyanets-Podilsky.
19 September – The first class of Ukrainian military personnel trained by the CAF graduated from C-IED training at the Demining Centre in Kamyanets-Podilsky.
5 October 2015 – Military Police training starts second serial of training near Kyiv, Ukraine teaching use of force and basic Investigation techniques.
29 October 2015 – Military Police graduates Ukrainian candidates after a month of training near Kyiv.
2-21 November 2015 – Canadian engineers deliver basic counter-improvised explosive device training course at the National Demining Centre in Kamyanets-Podilski.
23 November 2015 – Canada, Ukraine, the United States, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom hold a parade to mark the stand-up of the Joint Multi-National Training Group – Ukraine headquarters in Starychi, Ukraine.
24 November 2015 – Canadian soldiers begin their second training serial of small team training, including medical training, with a new Ukrainian infantry company at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre.
28 November 2015 – Task Force Ukraine assists in the delivery of approximately $3 million dollars’ worth of Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) equipment to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence on behalf of the Government of Canada.
28 November 2015 – Ukrainian soldiers graduate from the first serial of small team training at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre. All graduating soldiers are presented Individual First Aid Kits (IFAK) as part of this graduation.
30 November 2015 – Canadian EOD experts begin training a Ukrainian instructor cadre course in Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) operations at the National Demining Centre in Kamyanets-Podilski.