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.
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

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Report: US to Sail Warships Near Disputed S. China Sea Islands

Move will signal nonrecognition of Chinese territorial claims over area, Financial Times reports, citing senior US official More

Study Describes Ancient Deltas, Lakes on Mars

Research builds on recent NASA announcement that water flows on red planet today More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanoni
John Owens
October 08, 2015 7:32 PM
Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs