News / Europe

Ukraine's New Force Seeks to Harness 'Maidan' Spirit

A man stands in front of a counter's window at a district army recruiting office in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 2, 2014.
A man stands in front of a counter's window at a district army recruiting office in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 2, 2014.
Reuters
The scores of recruits who turned out this week at an assault course training base an hour's drive from Kyiv were a motley crew ranging from older veterans with security backgrounds to young people fresh from college with no combat skills at all.
 
Amid simulated artillery blasts and the stutter of machine-gun fire, men in jeans and jumpers, others in combat fatigues, dive to the ground, leap to their feet, sprint and crouch in firing positions.
 
Welcome to the first days of training for Ukraine's National Guard, a paramilitary force in the making aimed at cleaning up the image of the country's discredited security forces and beefing up defenses against a Russian military threat.
 
“I am training as a machine-gunner,” said 25-year-old Mikhail Nazar, who has left his three-year-old daughter with his ex-wife in the west of the country and was kitted out in hard-hat and plain brown military tunic.
 
“I've never had training before, but I fired twice today.”
 
Looking at the hasty preparations underway at the Novi Petrivtsi base - one recruit said proudly that six months' assault training was being packed into just a few weeks - it is fair to assume this force might not be a match for the Russian army, come the day.
 
In fact, the force, which will number about 33,000 when it is at full strength, will build on existing interior ministry troops whose reputation was tarnished in the country's bloody revolt.
 
More than 100 people were killed on the streets of the capital, many by police snipers, before the flight of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich and his close allies on February 21, after which Russian forces seized control of Ukraine's Crimea.
 
The 'Berkut' riot police are the bogeymen of Ukraine's bloody revolt and have been disbanded. But interior ministry forces were also seen to have been compliant in the violence and have been tarred with the same brush in public opinion.
 
Local police in many areas are also demoralized because they have been identified with the bribe-taking and shiftlessness of the fugitive Yanukovich's regime.
 
The new National Guard, which will include the core of existing interior ministry troops, will assume responsibility for maintaining public order and guarding strategic facilities such as nuclear power stations.
 
In the event of a Russian incursion across the border - Kyiv says there are 60,000 Russian servicemen stationed in a curve running down Ukraine's eastern and southern borders to Crimea - it would be down not to the National Guard but to Ukraine's 180,000-strong armed forces to repel an attack.

Maidan recruits
 
But the formation of the National Guard has a significance beyond its paramilitary function.
 
Security chiefs are trying to harness the fighting spirit of the 'Maidan' - the name for both Independence Square and the anti-Yanukovich revolt - and are actively drumming up recruits among those who braved police bullets.
 
In a population deeply cynical of politicians, Ukraine's leaders will hope the association with the Maidan also confers respectability on the new force.
 
At the entrance to the windswept training range near the village of Novi Petrivtsi a board shows a recruit repeating the oath to protect Ukraine's “territorial integrity”.
 
The acreage beyond is dotted with full-size mock-ups of a plane, a helicopter and other facilities in which recruits practice assault tactics, freeing hostages and the like.
 
Many of those who turned out to duck, dive and crawl on the sodden ground of the range this week amid the deafening sounds of battle earned their spurs on the Maidan.
 
They included several 'sotniks', commanders of urban battalions that entered into Maidan mythology with the three-month defense of Independence Square from government forces.
 
One such was Zhan - “simply Zhan” he said when asked for his surname - a 43-year-old former bodyguard who wore a pistol on his thigh and goggles perched on his forehead that gave him the look of a pioneering aviator.
 
“We will do all we can to protect Ukraine,” he said.
 
But is the force a match for the Russians?
 
“The important thing is not quantity but quality. The main thing is fighting spirit. The main thing is patriotism. We respect our country. We have bigger hearts.”
 
Andriy Parubiy, a ramrod-straight figure who led Maidan self-defense forces and became Ukraine's effective head of security as secretary of the National Defense and Security Council, said: “We are trying, as quickly as possible, to upgrade our armed forces so that we can work effectively.”

Internal role
 
The new force will graft new recruits onto the core of interior ministry troops still in service after four months of turmoil, and it will have a role in enforcing law and order during rallies, marches, demonstrations and “other mass events”, according to its statutes.
 
This is significant because security chiefs fear the Kremlin will use clashes between pro-Russian demonstrators and rival pro-Western Ukrainians to justify sending in troops.
 
Leaving aside the Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula, there have been clashes in the east of Ukraine between those who lean towards Moscow, and those who look west. One person was killed on March 12 in Donetsk, and two were killed in clashes in Kharkiv the following night.
 
It will be difficult to create a force that has the confidence of all Ukrainians.
 
Though Parubiy and other security chiefs are eager to transfer the energy and revolutionary spirit of the Maidan to the new force, it has inevitably drawn suspicion from many in the mainly Russian-speaking east.
 
Many of these people, influenced by Russian broadcasts that tell them masked “fascists” prowl the streets of Kyiv, deplore the violent uprising that toppled Yanukovich.
 
Some are particularly uneasy that members of Right Sector, fringe ultra-radicals from the Maidan who were the first to engage riot police with petrol bombs and bricks, will be drafted into the new force.
 
“We don't want this National Guard,” said Natalia Belotservokskaya, 51, a leader of the Russian Bloc political party in the eastern industrial hub of Donetsk.
 
“These people are terrorists. They should be in court, not given guns,” she said.
 
Among a hundred or so people at a protest vigil beneath a statue of Lenin in Donetsk's main square, where demonstrators fly Russian flags, several said the National Guard was an illegal formation set up by a government that had usurped power by force.
 
They particularly resented the taxpayer-funded state salaries being offered to recruits. “Now we have Right Sector becoming the National Guard,” said one pensioner, Lyubov. “And, if you please, they will pay them with our money.”
 
On the other hand, Ukraine's security chiefs feel creation of the National Guard, drawing young people away from the Maidan into a disciplined force, will help end an impression of lawlessness on the streets of Kyiv where barricades still stand almost a month after Yanukovich's downfall.
 
Experts see a logic to the Guard's creation, given the extent to which many in the security forces were identified with Yanukovich's crackdown and even with pro-Russia interests.
 
“It's a way of bringing loyal forces into the institutions that exist today. It also brings in new ideas. This is an opportunity,” said James Greene, a senior fellow for the London-based Institute for Statecraft.
 
Greene cautioned that it had to be part of an integrated structure coordinated with the army and should not revert to being an independent internal force. “It looks like a parallel force operating under a different direction not necessarily coordinated with the army,” he said.
 
“You have to make sure that it does not become politicized, that you are not putting new wine into old wine-skins,” he said.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Tour Will Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

US secretary of state to visit 5 countries in the Middle East, South Asia in bid to strengthen economic and security ties, ease concerns over deal with Tehran More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs