Forces: Ukrainian Volunteers Versus The Spetsnaz


October 16, 2014: Ukrainian forces fighting in eastern Ukraine (Donbas) against Russian sponsored troops and Russian regular forces consists of Ukrainian Army units and an even larger number of volunteer battalions. These volunteer units comprise about 20 percent of the 50,000 armed personnel Ukraine has sent to the Donbas.

There are four types of volunteer units;

-Territorial defense battalions are controlled by the Ministry of Defense. These battalions are formed from reservists (men who had earlier been conscripted and released from active service) and volunteers. The ratio of volunteers to reservists varies in individual battalions. In theory each of these battalions is supposed to have about 430 troops armed with light infantry weapons, but in practice these battalions gather as many people and weapons as they can, but rarely contain more than 400 men. The idea behind these battalions was that in wartime they would provide security behind the front lines. But in Donbas these battalions are wherever they are needed. One of them, the 24th Battalion (“Ajdar”) is composed entirely of volunteers and may be the only one that is all volunteer. These battalions are usually formed in the Oblasts (subdivisions of a province) with the number depending on the size of the population. The government currently authorizes over 30 territorial defense battalions but it is unclear how many were formed and how may are in action. There appear to be at least 24 of them in action.

-Special purpose battalions are controlled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and are used for patrolling and guard duty in areas recaptured from rebels. The size of these battalions varies from 30 to 400 people, except for the Dnepr-1 battalion (which has around 500 people). So far 31 of these battalions were formed.

-Reserve battalions of the National Guard. There are only four of these, all composed of volunteers, including officers. Reserve battalions played an important role during fights in May and June when some regular units (like 25th Airborne Brigade) switched sides. Reserve battalions were created in order to support the antiterrorist operations behind the front line. In the last few months they received some heavy weapons (including anti-aircraft ZU-23 anti-aircraft autocannon (which are also effective against infantry), but didn’t get armored or artillery vehicles

-"Right Sector" Ukrainian volunteer corps. These are political volunteers and there are only about 500 of them. Right Sector" Ukrainian volunteer corps are the militia of the “Right Sector” which is extreme nationalist organization whose roots date back to the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and are the most ephemeral, unpredictable volunteer formation.  In practice they are not subject to any official organization and don’t have any standard organizational structure. Military commanders have very limited control over them and often have to negotiate cooperation.

The most important thing is that all these volunteer forces had good morale and a desire to fight. This made up for their lack of discipline and training. Individual volunteers who were seriously wounded were often eager to get back to the front as quickly as possible. Motivation and fighting spirit in volunteers was extremely high, many of them were members of the Maidan self-defense or various nationalist groups.

There have been some interesting encounters between these volunteers and highly trained Russian troops.. During one of the incidents highly trained Omega (spetsnaz) commandos who were hiding, along with some local rebels, behind their BTR armored vehicles as they had been trained to do. But then the Ukrainian volunteers simply rushed furiously at the enemy and succeeded in capturing the rebels. The rebels, including some regular Russian soldiers, were confused about what these Ukrainians were doing and before they could open fire they were surrounded and captured, with a few of them wounded. This was one of the first battles involving the 1st Reserve Battalion. In time, members of the volunteer battalions calmed down, gained combat experience and obtained better weapons and equipment. They were mainly armed with Soviet era weapons like the AK-74 assault rifle and SVD sniper rifle. There were also a few foreign weapons. One volunteer battalion had about fifty M-16s. There transport largely consisted of civilian vehicles, including trucks with heavy machine-guns mounted in the back. These had been sufficient against infantry and for patrols but were inadequate if they encountered armored vehicles or troops with anti-tank weapons or artillery.

These volunteer units played major role at the beginning of the conflict when regular units were ineffective due very low morale. The regulars were inspired by the energy and success of the volunteer units and eventually matched the volunteers in morale and effectiveness. --- Przemyslaw Juraszek






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