ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine—Three special-forces platoons from the Azov Regiment, a Ukrainian volunteer militia, fanned out in the woods outside this southern city to practice shooting and ambush tactics they plan to use against invading Russian forces.
After their regiment’s hard-fought but losing battle against Moscow’s forces in the port city of Mariupol, the men training here said they are determined to retake the lost ground and expel the Russians from Ukraine. They are also working hard to shake their reputation as a far-right movement.
“Don’t believe Russian propaganda,” said Vyacheslav Rodionov, 29 years old, a flutist with the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra who now leads a unit of about 20 Azov fighters. “They will bullshit Azov as much as they can, call us Nazis—the real Nazis are the Russian army.”
Andrew Milburn, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who founded the Mozart Group, which is helping to train the Azov fighters at their request, says that moving inexperienced people to the battlefield swiftly is a challenge. “Given just 120 bullets, how do you get a guy who has never fired a weapon to a point where he is consistently hitting the target?” he said.
They are so inexperienced that one of them shot himself in the foot during a training session last month, according to Mozart Group trainers.
“It takes more time than we have,” said Mr. Milburn. “But they’re definitely motivated.”
It isn’t just training that is an issue; the fighters lack equipment. Dmytro Kukharchuk, the commander of the 2nd Battalion Special Forces of Kyiv, said most of the volunteers have been forced to buy their own weapons, helmets, flak jackets and boots.