More than half of the Ukrainian casualties in the battle against Russian-backed separatists are killed by friendly fire and lack of training, a British army veteran who volunteered with the Ukrainian forces has revealed. The soldier, known only as “Saffron”, confirmed that the Ukrainian forces were in complete disarray, lacking basic equipment and having no concept of military strategy.
Last week Ukrainian forces suffered defeat at Debaltseve. But Saffron, a 40 year old naturalised Briton of Ukrainian descent, told the Sunday Times that the defeat was inevitable thanks to incompetent leadership and lack of training.
“Six out of 10 casualties among the Ukrainian volunteers occur because of blue-on-blue shooting [the army term for friendly fire] and the inability to handle weapons. It was clear Debaltseve would turn into a disaster for Ukraine, but the military command and their political bosses just watched it happen in slow motion,” he said.
A father of two who lives in London, Saffron is a veteran of the British Army, having served in both Afghanistan and the Middle East. Last May he quit his regiment in order to travel to Ukraine to join in the fight against separatist forces who are trained, equipped and commanded by Russian agents.
He was first assigned to the National Guard, a group of volunteers with little or no experience of the military; later he was reassigned to volunteer battalions in the east, where front line battles, including that for Debaltseve, are being fought.
Although full of praise for Ukrainian special forces and paratroopers, he slammed the commanders as inept. He also criticized some of the volunteer forces for a macho culture in which they were unwilling to learn, particularly those who had been involved in the uprising in Kiev’s Maidan Square.
“The command is so bad that it endangers the lives of soldiers,” he said. “They confuse tactics with strategy; they launch attacks without warning each other and for no apparent strategic reason.
“There are nearly 30 voluntary battalions and a number of regular units, but every group is fighting their own war. They don’t have central command, they don’t co-ordinate and they don’t even share radio frequencies between themselves, which makes it impossible to communicate.”
“The Maidan activists were the worst: a lot of them seem to be jobless, aimless people who joined the force but are unwilling to learn discipline. I would try to teach them something, and they would say, ‘Who are you to lecture me? I threw Molotov cocktails during the Maidan.’ ”
Despite their unwillingness, he described how he had taught them how to use their Ukrainian and Soviet-made weapons, including anti-tank missiles, and how to use Motorola digital radios which enable scrambled communication. Yet despite his attempts the soldiers would resort to using mobile phones for convenience, even though phones can be easily tracked and bugged by using basic surveillance systems supplied to the separatists by the Russians.
“Not only do they use phones, but they also keep tweeting and posting their pictures on Facebook,” said Saffron, who returned from Ukraine last month. “Everything I saw was contrary to everything I was taught in the British Army.”