Before the war in Ukraine, Igor, 27, from Odesa, used to make handmade leather products, while Oleksiy, 34, from Mykolaiv, owned a car service station. Today, they are among almost 2,000 Ukraine military recruits undergoing five weeks of basic training in the U.K. under an initiative called Operation Interflex. The course, by the U.K. and nine other partner countries, began on June 27, 2022, and trains recruits from Ukraine’s military.
The other nations involved in the initiative are Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, and the Netherlands. Training is on at four locations in the U.K.— Yorkshire, Kent, Wiltshire, and Northumberland.
Operation Interflex is a part of the U.K.’s commitment of £2.3 billion for the provision of military aid and support to Ukraine. On August 11, 2022, the U.K. and other key allies agreed at the Copenhagen Conference to expand long-term military support for Ukraine in its defence against Russia.
Operation Interflex aims to teach weapon handling, range activity, marksmanship, fieldcraft basics, field tactics, battle casualty drills, counter explosives, the laws of armed conflict, first aid, and cyber security awareness. “Our focus is on teaching the abilities to shoot, move, communicate, medicate, and the ability to defend their homeland,” said Major Jürgen Miranda, who is heading the Canadian-U.K. training wing.
‘Learning to defend’
After the war began, Mr. Oleksiy said he worked for a while as a volunteer, repairing cars and helping with spare parts. “Now I am learning to defend Ukraine on a training ground in Britain. We are trained by professional military personnel from Canada, who teach us everything we will need in the future to protect Ukraine,” he said.
Mr. Igor, who has an 86-year-old grandmother at home, was recruited a month ago. “I always wanted to join the Army but due to a physical injury in my leg I couldn’t,” he said. He finally got his turn after several requests, with his injury now treated.
“Our training is based on request from the Ukrainians to maximise the number of people that come for basic training,” Maj. Trucker Middleton, commanding officer of the U.K. training team, said. “In the past, we have trained just over 10,000 recruits and that number is expected to increase along with other training that goes on across Europe to support our Ukrainian allies.” The training is being ramped up and by year-end, around 20,000 recruits are expected to be trained.
Further, Maj. Middleton noted that they are training people with very little military experience, so irrespective of their age, they are considered recruits. “What we are providing them is basic infantry-based military training to give them the key skills and experiences to operate once they go back to Ukraine,” he added.
Each trainee is also given equipment for use once they return. Around 1,95,000 items have been donated to date, U.K. officials said. These include personal protective equipment, including helmets; body armour; eye, ear, and pelvic protectors; individual first-aid kits; field uniforms and boots; cold and wet weather clothing; bergens; day sacks; and webbing and additional equipment required for field conditions including ponchos, sleeping bags, and entrenching tools, officials explained.
This training is in addition to the high-end military platforms and systems given to Ukraine and the training imparted to operate them, according to U.K. military officials.
After the United States, the U.K. too has supplied a large inventory of high-tech military equipment. This includes a squadron of 14 Challenger 2 tanks, AS90 and 28 M109 155mm self-propelled guns, hundreds of armoured and protected vehicles, more than 10,000 anti-tank missiles (including NLAW, Javelin, Brimstone, and other anti-tank weapons) and multiple launch rocket systems.
(The writer was in the U.K. on an invitation from the British Ministry of Defence)