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The veterans from Mozart Group claim their mission is to strengthen the Ukrainian army, instead of directly holding guns on the battlefield.

“Ready!” shouted a former Marine. “There is danger!” he continued, and soon after, gunfire rang out in an abandoned quarry on a hillside in Ukraine, just a few kilometers from the battlefield. The dust rolled up mixed with the sweat of the soldiers in the 30 degrees Celsius heat.

In the heart of the Donbass, a group of eight experienced Western veterans is conducting a 10-day intensive training course for 40 Ukrainian recruits recently withdrawn from the front.

As fighting in eastern Ukraine continued to intensify, soldiers in Donbass suffered heavy casualties from Russian shelling. Ukraine’s professional military force, who have been fighting on the eastern frontline since 2014, is severely depleted.

After Russia launched a special military operation in Ukraine on February 24, many new recruits were deployed to the front lines, including those who had not received basic training or training.

The recruits in the training of Western veterans carry a wide range of equipment, from weapons, camouflage clothing to armor of different types and qualities. They are in the age group of 20-50, with a very diverse physique, strength and physique.

Andy Milburn, founder of Mozart Group, a private security company that trains Ukrainian soldiers, says only one in 10 soldiers who attended their training had enlisted before the conflict broke out. broadcast. The rest have almost no formal training.

Milburn, a retired marine colonel with 31 years of experience in the US military, has assembled professional volunteers to train the Kiev militia to fight as they defend the capital in the early stages of the conflict. painting. Currently headquartered in Donbass, Mozart Group includes 20-30 volunteers from the US, UK, Ireland and some other Western countries.

Bringing together veteran officers, the Mozart Group also provides humanitarian aid to frontline towns, while helping to remove vulnerable people from high-risk areas.

Ukrainian soldiers receive five to 10 days of intensive training in weaponry, movement and battlefield tactics, which usually takes about six months to train. Up to now, thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have been forged through the “forging furnace” of the Mozart Group.

“I haven’t fought on the front lines yet, but my checkpoint has been hit by shells,” a 42-year-old soldier codenamed Bison said during training.

Bison, a mechanical engineer from the city of Dnipro, bought a shotgun after the conflict broke out, to practice shooting and he is active as a member of an ambulance platoon.

“I did a week-long first aid course after being in a serious bicycle accident during the Covid-19 lockdown. I told them this and they let me be a medic,” Bison said with a smile. smiling face.

According to Dathan, a 23-year former medic in the Irish army who joined the Mozart Group in May, Bison has more experience than most other Ukrainian medics.

“Ask military medics about their qualifications and they’ll tell you, ‘I got this medical bag and now I’m a medic,’” Dathan said.

“Only one in 40 of these guys ever used a weapon prior to training,” Milburn said as he made his way through a bush to the training ground.

The Ukrainian army is trained close to the front lines because their commanders cannot risk leaving their troops away from the battlefield for too long, in case the Russian army suddenly attacks.

Ideally, Milburn said his team would train 100-120 soldiers at a time, but Ukrainian commanders can’t let that many leave their positions on the battlefield.

“The process is quite backwards. Normally, you don’t send soldiers out to fight first and then go back to training,” Dathan admits.

But this is “the right thing to do”, according to Alex, a British veteran who trained in Ukraine. “They are 36, 37-year-old men and just four months ago they were still taxi drivers or farmers. None of them wanted to join the army,” he said.

But their weaknesses due to lack of experience were compensated by their enthusiasm and determination. “They are optimistic, good listeners, attentive and most of all they have a great sense of humour,” Milburn said of the practitioners.

“They don’t complain, take everything in and give 100%,” says Dathan.

The trainers said they joined the Mozart Group to “replicate the fighting power” of the Ukrainian army, emphasizing that training hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers is more meaningful than having them directly hold guns on the battlefield, face-to-face. with many risks.

In speaking with Ukrainian soldiers and commanders, Alex and Milburn agreed that Western weapons systems and military equipment are not being used properly, due to the lack of skills and training of the Ukrainian military. .

“They can’t deploy those weapons yet,” Alex said. During his seven-and-a-half years of service in the British Army, he received extensive training and expertise in the use of Javelin and NLAW missiles, two high-tech American and British anti-tank missile models.

Alex said that if Ukrainian soldiers are not properly trained, Javelin missile complexes can be misused or become ineffective on the battlefield, causing waste.

At the end of a gunnery lesson, soldiers gathered with their trainers to discuss and answer questions.

“Where should the bullet shields be ideally placed in our armor?” one soldier asked and the trainer gave the answer, while the others listened attentively.

“I became calmer when I trained,” Bison said when asked if he was nervous about going to the frontline.

Nestor, 26, from Dnipro, one of the few who has fought in the Donbass since 2014, returned to the shooting range with Rob, a former US Marine, for some more reloading skills during the workshop. conclusion ends.

“These experts are amazing. They always explain in detail, no matter what your level,” says Nestor.

While providing weapons and training, the US, UK, EU and other Western allies do not deploy troops to Ukraine for fear of the conflict escalating into war between Russia and NATO. However, Milburn wished he could communicate more with the US government.

He explained that the US government was concerned that if they financed the Mozart Group, the group could become a private military contractor directly involved in the war in Ukraine.

“If any of the Mozart Group volunteers go to war, they will be removed from the group,” Milburn said. “It’s a very clear rule.”

Vu Hoang (Theo Guardian)
Nestor (centre), 26-year-old Ukrainian soldier from Dnipro. Photo: Guardian.
A shooting practice during the Mozart Group’s rookie training course in Donbass, eastern Ukraine. Image: Guardian.
August 6, 2022

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