'Until final victory': The civilian soldiers risking it all to defeat Russia

An Ukrainian soldier takes part in a military exercise at a military training camp in an undisclosed location in England
An Ukrainian soldier takes part in a military exercise at a military training camp in an undisclosed location in England Copyright Kin Cheung/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Laura Llach
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Dmytro used to work in a bank in Irpin. Now he's training in Spain to defend his homeland against Russian invaders.

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Four months after Russia invaded Ukraine, Dmytro –- whose name has been changed for security reasons -– received a letter from the Ukrainian military enlistment office.

He was shocked. 

For the last 13 years he had been working in a bank in Irpin and this was his first contact with the army.

When he saw the official letter, Dmytro was afraid he would have to go to war. He had recently gone through knee surgery and felt he first needed to recover from that. After reviewing his case, the military decided not to enlist him.

In the eight months he was rehabbing his knee, Dmytro had plenty of time to think, working to get his body and mind in a stronger place. 

"The war had already changed my life completely. The day after the invasion, I looked at the map to see the Russian army's advance and saw that huge military convoys were heading towards my city," Dmytro tells Euronews.

"We escaped through Bucha and the next day the city was captured by the Russians. We lost our flat in Irpin because it was located where intense fighting took place," he adds.

The city was destroyed and is only now being slowly rebuilt and de-mined. 

"My wife and children had to flee abroad. They are now far away from home," he says.

In early February, after going through medical exams, he volunteered at the military recruiters. "I felt ready to fight", Dmytro says. But first he needed to be trained.

His destination was Poland, the first stop for all future Ukrainian soldiers being trained in Europe. The country holds the military base which moves Ukrainian personnel to each of the other nations offering different specialist training. 

In total, 24 countries have joined the Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM Ukraine), which began last November. Some of them send soldiers to instruct the training modules while others offer training within their national borders.

By mid April, approximately 11,400 Ukrainian soldiers will have been trained and 162 modules will have been completed, according to Peter Stano, the European Union's Spokesperson for External Affairs.

The plan is to double efforts and train 30,000 soldiers by 2023.

Ejercito Espanol
FILE: The Spanish Army's America Regiment are specialists in cold weather and mountain warfareEjercito Espanol

Training civilians to fight

After Poland, Dmytro headed to Spain to start the next phase of his training.

It was just a month ago when the former banker reached Toledo, in Castilla-La Mancha, where one of the five training units in the Southern European country is located. He joined the "basic unit", a five-week course for civilians who have never had army experience.

The module in Toledo specialises in cold weather combat, one of the training needs requested by Ukraine.

Dmytro said that, without a doubt, the biggest challenge he had to face in his first weeks of training was the level of physical activity.

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"I used to have a very sedentary life and didn't do much sport, so I knew that was going to be a challenge. I thought my knees would hurt the most, but now I've realised that after such training absolutely everything hurts," he laughs.

There are 470 future soldiers training with Dmytro. Half of them are civilians with no previous experience and the other half are Ukrainian soldiers learning specific techniques.

They are all supervised by Colonel Iranzo, the head of the training unit and army lieutenant colonel of the Spanish Army's America Regiment, which specialises in cold weather and mountain combat.

Although experience has taught them how to train efficiently, he still remembers the first module last November working with 70 soldiers who had just arrived from Ukraine.

"The main handicap at the beginning was the language. We didn't have translators, so we were mimicking each other all the time. The unit was designed to have one instructor for every four Ukrainians to overcome the language barrier," Iranzo explains.

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"Over time, interpreters have been recruited and staff training has become much easier," he adds.

Kin Cheung/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
A Ukrainian soldier takes part in a military exercise at a military training camp in an undisclosed location in England, Friday, March 24, 2023.Kin Cheung/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Returning to Ukraine

According to Colonel Iranzo, Ukrainains arriving at Toledo can be split into two groups: single energetic youngsters between 18 and 25 years old who are eager to learn; and families of educated young parents in their 30s with small children.

"It's a huge change for them. They leave their country, their families, they go to Poland and then they are sent to their new destination. It's a long journey, more than 24 hours. When they arrive they are sad, but after a few days they regain their motivation," says Iranzo.

During these five weeks they learn to shoot, fight in open areas, protect themselves from artillery attacks and, especially, combat in populated areas. It's crucial for them to know how to move in a city that has turned into a war zone.

"The most complicated part is this last one, because all the previous knowledge learned has to be applied and the time we have doesn't allow for much consolidation of techniques," the colonel tells Euronews.

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After 35 days of training Ukranian soldiers go back to their country and join the army. When asked if he feels prepared Dmytro says he does: "I still have a lot to learn, but mentally I'm ready".

He often sings a song with his Ukrainian colleagues: "We will return to our country and stay until the final victory".

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