Support our mission
 
Ukrainian soldiers form up before the ceremony that marks the beginning of the joint U.S. and Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Ukrainian soldiers form up before the ceremony that marks the beginning of the joint U.S. and Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Ukrainian soldiers form up before the ceremony that marks the beginning of the joint U.S. and Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Ukrainian soldiers form up before the ceremony that marks the beginning of the joint U.S. and Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Ukrainian soldiers march to their positions before the ceremony marking the beginning of the joint U.S-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Ukrainian soldiers march to their positions before the ceremony marking the beginning of the joint U.S-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Ukrainian soldiers wait for the opening ceremony for the joint U.S.- Ukrainian exercise dubbed Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Ukrainian soldiers wait for the opening ceremony for the joint U.S.- Ukrainian exercise dubbed Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko shakes hands with Ukrainian soldiers after the ceremony marking the start of the joint U.S- Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko shakes hands with Ukrainian soldiers after the ceremony marking the start of the joint U.S- Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
A Ukrainian soldier receives a medal from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during the ceremony marking the start of the joint U.S.- Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
A Ukrainian soldier receives a medal from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during the ceremony marking the start of the joint U.S.- Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
A Ukrainian soldier marches back to his formation after receiving a medal from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during the ceremony that marked the beginning of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
A Ukrainian soldier marches back to his formation after receiving a medal from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during the ceremony that marked the beginning of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
U.S. soldiers stand in formation as the rain pours during the ceremony opening  the start of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise dubbed Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
U.S. soldiers stand in formation as the rain pours during the ceremony opening the start of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise dubbed Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, left, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, ready for a news conference after the ceremony marking the start of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, left, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, ready for a news conference after the ceremony marking the start of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Ukrainian soldiers stand in formation as the rain pours down during the ceremony marking the start of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Ukrainian soldiers stand in formation as the rain pours down during the ceremony marking the start of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko looks up at the sky as the rain begins to fall during the ceremony marking the beginning of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko looks up at the sky as the rain begins to fall during the ceremony marking the beginning of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Ukrainian soldiers wearing combat gear donated by the U.S. stand in formation before the ceremony marking the start of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Ukrainian soldiers wearing combat gear donated by the U.S. stand in formation before the ceremony marking the start of the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
A joint Ukrainian-U.S. flag detail marches to position before the ceremony that marked the beginning of the U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
A joint Ukrainian-U.S. flag detail marches to position before the ceremony that marked the beginning of the U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Members of the Ukrainian military band stand in formation moments before the ceremony kicking off the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Members of the Ukrainian military band stand in formation moments before the ceremony kicking off the joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, speaks with soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade moments before the ceremony marking the start of the U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, speaks with soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade moments before the ceremony marking the start of the U.S.-Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)
Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, speaks with soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade moments before the ceremony kicking off the the joint U.S. and Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015.
Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, speaks with soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade moments before the ceremony kicking off the the joint U.S. and Ukrainian exercise Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

YAVORIV, Ukraine — U.S. and Ukrainian troops rang in the start of a new training mission here Monday, an effort to beef up the capabilities of Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed militants in the country’s east.

The Fearless Guardian exercises are expected to run at least through the end of summer and turn out thousands of newly trained personnel to take on separatists trying to splinter off from the former Soviet republic.

The first batch of about 900 trainees have already fought on the front lines of the year-old conflict, said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who addressed the U.S. and Ukrainian troops in a mid-day downpour.

But the country’s armed forces, he said, need to be rebuilt.

Two companies from the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade will lead the first round of training, which will start off with basic marksmanship and grow in complexity over the next 10 weeks to include operations at a company and platoon level.

The U.S. has so far declined to provide “lethal aid,” such as weapons, to Ukraine. The training plan aims instead to improve Ukrainian forces’ use of their own weapons, such as Kalashnikov rifles, said U.S. officials. A small number of Ukrainian troops taking part in a ceremony marking the start of the training wore U.S.-supplied body armor and helmets similar to those worn by American forces early in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Capt. Nicholas Salimbene, the 31-year-old commander of Company B, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, said he hesitates to say the program is similar to basic training “because these guys are coming right from the east. They have real-life combat experience.”

His company was also the first to deploy to Lithuania last year as part of the U.S.-led Atlantic Resolve mission to reassure Baltic and Polish allies after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine near the start of the conflict.

Salimbene said the situation here is different because Lithuania has an established Army, “whereas these guys, the national guard, is relatively new to Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s national guard forces have been converted from volunteer militias that sprang up less than a year ago to fight Russian-backed separatists into units under the command and control of Ukraine’s armed forces.

Moscow has described the effort to train Ukrainian forces — in which Britain and Canada are also participating — as “counterproductive,” saying it will not help resolve the “fratricidal” conflict in Ukraine.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of sending its troops to help and arm the separatists — a claim Moscow denies.

Poroshenko said it was a Ukrainian government decision to have the guardsmen receive the U.S.-led training first, but hopes that regular army units will be able to get the training as well.

The deployment is a homecoming of sorts for a handful of 173rd paratroops, who were born in or have close ties to Ukraine.

Sgt. Anton Kovalchuk, who will work as an interpreter, was born and raised in a city about an hour east of the training center, which sits near the Polish border.

Since leaving Ukraine at the age of 15 in 1999, Kovalchuk said it’s strange to be back as an American soldier, but also interesting. “I don’t know how much things changed.”

The training kickoff drew more than 180 reporters, mostly representing Ukrainian media outlets, who swarmed the Americans for photos and video.

“It’s very overwhelming,” said Staff Sgt. Ashley McLeod, who will manage training schedules and ammunition for the two months her unit runs the training.

“It really does bring it into focus because I didn’t really understand how big of a deal this was, how important it was until this,” McLeod, of Anchorage, Alaska, said. “And I see it now. I see how excited a lot of people are and eager to learn.”

millham.matthew@stripes.com Twitter: @mattmillham

Migrated

stars and stripes videos


around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up