US paratroops stay on mission training Ukraine’s guardsmen
By MATT MILLHAM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 22, 2015
YAVORIV, Ukraine — American paratroops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade began training Ukrainian forces Tuesday, ignoring angry talk from Russia blaming the U.S. for stoking tensions in its neighborhood.
“For them, they want their country, they want it whole,” Staff Sgt. William Shipley said of the Ukrainian national guardsmen he was helping teach. “We’re here to help as a partner, whatever little bit we can do.”
The Ukrainian government asked the U.S. to help prepare its forces for battle against Russian-backed separatists who have been fighting for almost a year to break off parts of the country’s east.
The training mission comes after repeated accusations by Ukraine and NATO that Russia is aiding the rebels. Moscow has denied the charges, despite much evidence that Russian troops and Russian materiel have crossed the border. At the same time, Russia has described the U.S. effort to train Ukrainian forces “counterproductive” to ending the yearlong conflict.
For their part, the paratroops appeared mostly deaf to the back-and-forth and were eager to impart what they know to the Ukrainian troops.
“I don’t really know where they’re going” after they’re trained, Staff Sgt. Edward Crane, an infantryman from Cleveland, said as he walked a group of Ukrainian troops down a forest path lined with dummy improvised explosive devices. “I’ve spent a long time trying to avoid these things, so if I can teach them what I’ve seen and different ways to avoid it … that’s good.”
The Fearless Guardian training exercise is expected to run through at least the end of the summer, U.S. officials said. The first class of trainees includes 900 Ukrainian national guardsmen, many of whom have already seen the front lines of the fighting in the east.
At least some of the Ukrainians had advice and lessons to add to what the Americans were teaching on the first day of training — different positions to fire grenade launchers and other ways to break down their Soviet-design weapons.
In brief breaks, the soldiers chatted about work, why they joined the military and what it’s like back home.
Spc. Leonardo Ramirez, an infantryman from Anthony, Texas, said he was looking to make friends and find common ground with the Ukrainians. That was easy for soldiers, he said.
“Everybody has a family or joins for the same reasons, serve their country and all that.”
Alex Rahinsky, a Ukrainian soldier who was sitting on a log talking with Ramirez, said he was excited to learn what the Americans bring because of what is viewed here as their vast experience in combat.
In nearly a year in the military, Rahinsky hasn’t seen a firefight, he said, but he already knows he’s headed to the front after his two months of training here. He said he’s happy to go.
“It’s my country. I don’t want to be in another country. I want to be in Ukraine. I love Ukraine,” Rahinsky said. “And what happened in east Ukraine is wrong. And I think that Ukraine is like one. If someone cut off a piece of Ukraine, it will not be Ukraine.”