LVIV, UKRAINE - As sporadic fighting continues between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. Army has begun training soldiers from Ukraine's Ministry of Defense.
The Pentagon early last week began training five battalions of active-duty troops and one for special operations, the AFP news service reported. At least one battalion is drilling in a compound near this picturesque city in the country’s far west.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, it features enchanting architecture, quaint cobblestone streets and charming cafes.
Travelers call it "a hidden gem" and "the new Prague."
"If Kyiv is considered the heart of Ukraine, then Lviv is the soul of Ukraine," Mayor Andrii Ivanovych Sadovyi said, extolling his community. "There are examples of technologies transplanting a heart, but there is no technology that can transplant a soul."
Here in Lviv – 1,100 kilometers from Crimea and 1,200 kilometers from the southeastern Donbas region – there’s no sign of Russians backing separatists. But soldiers preparing to protect Ukraine’s people and lands are surprisingly close.
An hour’s drive away, at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, U.S. troops are teaching Ukrainian forces how to master the basics to become better soldier and a better fighting unit.
Sergei, a trainee who asked to be identified only by his first name to prevent retaliation against his relatives in Russia, said he’s learning “how to help injured people, the correct way of shooting, running and everything else. This training is very useful.”
The Ukrainian soldier said he plans to head east when he completes his training.
Locals welcome U.S. training
Back in Lviv, a number of locals said they were grateful that U.S. troops have come to help.
"I think that it’s a truly nice thing to do, because for the last 10 years our army was not that battle-worthy. They were not experienced enough to withstand such an enemy" as the separatists, said Solomia Gera. She added, "We need people that can teach us in the right way."
"If we have nice trainers like Americans, it’s even better, because all the modern warfare our U.S. colleagues have is very needed," said Andrey Shevcev, another resident.
Since 2014, the United States has delivered at least $260 million in nonlethal military aid to Ukraine, supplying equipment such as Humvees, body armor and night-vision goggles.
The Washington Post reported Monday that some of the gear is falling apart or obsolete. Using serial numbers, it identified U.S.-supplied Humvees dating from the late 1980s for a Ukrainian special forces unit operating near the separatist stronghold of Donetsk.
A Pentagon spokesman told The Post that the United States supplies equipment and training "to help Ukraine better monitor and secure its border, operate more safely and effectively, and preserve and enforce its territorial integrity."
Lviv resident Nikolay Vladimirovich welcomed the U.S. training.
"If we don’t have any support from the outside, specifically from the U.S., then the war will be lasting longer and longer," he told VOA.
Since fighting broke out early last year between supporters of Ukraine’s pro-Western government and Russian-backed insurgents, more than 8,000 people have been killed.