Nation avantgarde: the path of volunteer battalions

Volunteer battalions became a unique occurrence in modern Ukrainian history, although it was not succeeded to save their independent status.

One more holiday recently has been celebrated in Ukraine – Volunteer Fighter’s Day.

It will be celebrated on the 14th day of March on that particular day when in 2014 the first volunteer fighters left to training military base in Novi Petrivtsi nearby Kyiv right from Maidan Nezalezhnosti.

At the very first stage of the war the country challenged the fact that not many of the professional military men were eager to protect their country. The volunteer battalions became that supporting point, which Ukraine could push off, call to active duty and prepare professional rotation to volunteer battalions. Afterwards it is hard to say that after three years of war who was more effective on the war – AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine) or volunteer battalions. But it’s hard to over-estimate the input of volunteer fighters of the first wave.

As of September 2014 it was aware of existence of only 44 battalions of territorial defense of AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine), 32 volunteer battalions of militia patrol, 3 Special Forces battalions of the National Guard of Ukraine as well as several from the Ukrainian volunteer Corps.

Not all of them took part in the real battles: the civil corps notified of 37 fighting units.

But what happened to volunteer fighters, where they serve and what is the future of separate volunteer battalions – has been discovered in material by LIGA.net.

Loss of independence

Soon enough after beginning of military campaign the volunteer battalions being integrated as well as into the Armed Forces of Ukraine and into the National Guard of Ukraine.

As it was explained to LIGA.net in the General Staff while answering question why it was so important the transfer of volunteer battalions into the structure of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the National Guard of Ukraine, the General Staff reminded that it is prohibited the activity of any armed units with respect to the legislature (article 17 of the Constitution).

The only battalion remained independent – Ukrainian volunteer Corps. of Right Sector although many of its soldiers undersigned the contract with the Ministry of Defense.

“We are not registered at all. As Yarosh was our commander, we considered such variant as integration into the structure of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, by the example of the Estonia Defense Union. But we were refused. We were told that if we want to serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine thereafter “go to register in the Military Registration and Enlistment Office”. But that was unacceptable, because we had already well-coordinated combat unit. Hereon, any discussions were stopped”. – told Artem Skoropadskyi the press secretary of social movement Right Sector.

The only ideologically driven volunteers remain in Ukrainian volunteer Corps. of Right Sector by Skoropadskyi. They buy weapons themselves, gain in battles as capture, receive as aid from the Armed Forces.

Information on the accurate records of the quantity of the soldiers of Right Sector is not revealed. The number of battalion stuff, depends of the type and kind of military forces, has made 500-700 soldiers and officers, brigade – near 5-7 thousand persons and the corps – makes several military brigades.

In 2015 the source from LIGA.net which is enough aware of organization structure, announced that Ukrainian volunteer Corps. of Right Sector numbered almost 20 battalion and the total quantity of military personnel made up to 2,000.00 persons. 700 persons of them permanently on active service that regarding the military terms means quantity of Right Sector military personnel made up a little bit more than 1 % of quantity of all Ukrainian forces combating in Donbas.

Irrespective its uncontrollability, the soldiers from Right Sector have good standing and show up good in military actions, soldiers said.

It is rather not good at the first glance.

Nowadays the volunteer battalions in formation of regular Armed Forces do tasks as well as on the front line and other sectors of the front.

“Essentially there is no difference whether you serve in Donbas battalion or you serve in one of 131 corps of the 10th brigade”   – tells us  Dmytro Reznichenko, former soldier of the Donbas battalion  – Ukraine (the unit was split away from Corps Donbas in January 2015  and assigned to the control of the Ministry of Defense, commander Vlasenko “Filin ” Viacheslav.

The same situation happened to Donbas battalion as a part of National Guard of Ukraine as well as Aidar battalion as a part of  Armed Forces of Ukraine – they can be hardly differ from the usual military units of Armed Forces of Ukraine or National Guard of Ukraine. However, they gained the right to receive state supply and weapons.

If the military unit subordinated by the command of Armed Forces of Ukraine, so it operates as any other military unit of the structure as it was explained to LIGA.net by Leonid Matiukhin the press officer of Anti Terrorist Operation.

“All the military units have equal rights in the structures of Armed Forces of Ukraine. Therefore the former volunteer battalions operate as any other military unit. For example, we met boys in Svitlodarsk Bulge   who previously were registered in the Right Sector but now they serve in the official Armed Forces”, – told Matiukhin.

The former commander of Dnipro-1 battalion, now he is people’s deputy Yuriy Bereza told  LIGA.net, that at present almost 10000 persons from those volunteers of the battalion who went on front in 2014 are now in ranks of military units on the front line.

“Unfortunately, Dnipro-1 battalion has been drawn out from the front line and battalion is not participating in military actions, deployed on the second defense line. That is determined due to existence of military units which have heavy weapons and they are on the front line and the police military units – on the second and third defense lines securing fellows from the other military units”, – explained Bereza.

Azov battalion is almost the only one volunteer structure which succeeds to preserve its identity as a part of National Guard of Ukraine. By the way, the soldiers of the battalion have questions to the command of the National Guard of Ukraine.

The one and a half years ago the battalion was drawn out from the first Anti Terrorist Operation line. To the opinion of the former commander of Azov battalion Ihor Mykhailenko callsign Cherkas, hereafter Azov has been not allowed to carry out functions which appertain to the National Guard of Ukraine.

“To stay on the third defense line, on block-posts nearby Berdyansk – it is not the task for combat military unit. Special Forces military units purposed to serve on the front line, some of the National Guard of Ukraine military units carry out tasks on the front line, providing support to the Armed Forces. But they are not assigned with such missions”,  – stated Cherkas.

Last year Azov challenged the personnel drain. According to Cherkas, the soldiers of the military unit were paid the lowest allowance rate comparing with other military units of the National Guard of Ukraine; therefore, many specialists tempted with larger salary and transferred to the other Special Forces military units.

“And military unit consisting of 1400,00 persons became military unit consisting of 1000,00 persons. During autumn and until now we called into our forces 100 – 120 persons. But we even could not renovate that amount of people which was lost during last months”, unhappy Cherkas

After battalion was drawn out from the front line, it was not supplied with heavy weapons, large quantity of which was assigned to Azov in 2015.

According to first commander of battalion, people’s deputy Andriy Biletskyi, on January 2, 2017 the battalion was ordered to turn in heavy weapons.

LIGA.net sent written request to the National Guard of Ukraine to get a comment. However, they have not received answer during two weeks. The press-service announced us by phone that statements of Biletskyi “are unreasonable”. Which statements – they did not specify.

As to techniques drawing out from Azov they added: “Nobody has drawn out anything there”.

Why volunteers leave military structures

One of the reasons is loss of motivation. There were a lot of people among volunteers without military experience who entered military structures with only one purpose: to defend country from Russian aggression. When the peak of military actions passed lots of them returned to the ordinary life.

To the opinion of soldier of Ukrainian volunteer Corps of Right Sector, veteran DAP Oleksandr Chub, who was wounded in his leg in 2014, now the necessity for volunteers exist also in civil sector behind the lines, not only on the front line. “What can you do now – rot in the trench lines” he answers rhetorical question and reminds, that volunteers carried out their mission during active military campaign immediately after Euromaidan.

Someone consider that volunteer battalions integrated in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and National Guard of Ukraine, deliberately dilute with contract soldiers, to deprive the built collectives of their identity.

To the opinion of military expert, Dmytro Snyehyriov, leader of non-government initiative the Right Matter, integration of volunteers into the regular army have to give more strength to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, giving to military men the real example of actions and motivation, because volunteers are the most motivated soldiers.

“As practice showed the decision was enough fair. Moreover, the most of combats found themselves in the structure of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and National Guard of Ukraine not losing their personal qualities and moral principles” , – said Sniegyriov to  LIGA.net.

The former soldier of Kulchytskyi battalion Ihor “Shveik” Shvaiko changed over the fourth direct-action brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine. Shvaiko left volunteer battalion, because wanted to be a gunman, develop as professional, but he has no possibility for this in his previous battalion. However, some of his former comrades-in-arms stayed introducing changes to the system, which, frankly speaking, penetrate slowly due to definite resistance of old commanders, which stayed in the armed forces until now.

“I hope eventually those who were soldiers after several years of military service shall hold key positions in armed forces. Therefore the aim is to survive for those people and hold key positions then it will be easier to introduce changes not even holding position of lieutenant but holding position of colonel or major”, – optimistically consider the military man.

We cannot affirm that volunteer battalions are pulled down deliberately. However the fact is undeniable that often they are not allowed to develop, told many volunteers. This damage confidence to military structures and demoralize the soldiers.

To the opinion of Snyehyriov, volunteers made their duty, however the country was not always ready to see those people as its heroes. The protest masses who changed wooden shields of Eromaidan into the Kalashnikov gun and now facing with bureaucrats of old school who still occupy the high positions in the army.

“But talk about the fact that I don’t want to fight because I do not trust the commanders is not acceptable. Nevertheless, for the purpose of general idea it is worse to sacrifice our own ambitions, get over the element of disappointment. After all, we fight not for generals. The war is for Ukraine”, – expert assumed.

Nowadays the most of soldiers on the front line in ATO – contract military professionals. The volunteer battalions almost stopped their existence. However, volunteer veterans continue military contract service. Moreover, the war will come to the end only after the victory for many of them.


See also: Ukrainian “Foreign legion”: foreign volunteers and their reasons to fight in Donbas on Ukrainian side


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