Recent policy changes have allowed for greater flexibility for those Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members serving in Ukraine under Operation UNIFIER, Canada mission to support and train Ukrainian Armed Forces members.
Earlier this year, the government of Canada announced that it was extending operations in Ukraine to 2019. With this announcement came a series of policy changes that have allowed for Joint Task Force-Ukraine to operate with more freedom, according to LCol. Mark Lubiniecki, Commanding Officer, Joint Task Force-Ukraine (JTF-U).
These changes now allow CAF members to operate across the entire country. Previously, Canadian soldiers were restricted to conduct training operations in only the western part of Ukraine.
“Having the ability to meet the request, meet the need, to deliver training through the country is certainly empowering,” said LCol. Lubiniecki in an interview Wednesday.
The only restriction remains is that soldiers still must refrain from operating in conflict zones, and more specifically, near the Ukraine-Russia border.
“I will not put Canadian soldiers in any area that would be close to the conflict zone, simply based on that’s not our mandate here,” stated the JTF-U Commander.
Restrictions have also been lifted on the number of soldiers that are deployed within special small training teams.
The overall number of CAF troops in Ukraine remains close to 200.
The CAF has trained more than 4,450 Ukrainian soldiers since it first deployed to the region in 2015. As more and more soldiers are trained, Lubiniecki believes that Canadian soldiers will move towards a mentoring role.
“I think, as we look toward the future of Op Unifier, we’re going to see more and more Canadians in mentorship roles, not being the frontline instructors or the face of training delivery. We’ll see Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers, that have been trained as leaders trained as instructors, empowered to stand in front of the class and stand in front of soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, delivering that training with Canadians in the background,” commented Lubiniecki.
The Ukrainians are embarking on establishing their own centres of excellence. Just recently, the Ukrainian Armed Forces established a groundbreaking medical academy. Three CAF members are embedded within the academy full-time to develop it from the ground up.
Similarly, CAF members are embedded in other academies like leadership academies and military policing and border services academies.
“I’m extremely proud of the work my soldiers are doing across all sectors of training. They’re passionate about what they're delivering. They’re extremely motivated and very enthusiastic to have this opportunity to work so closely with the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” stated Lubiniecki.
Since Lubiniecki took command of JTF-U in March of this year, the CAF has continued to share valuable life-saving lessons from medical training to the recognition of explosive devices.
“I think anytime you can prevent loss of life or promote casualty care, it’s extremely important as a soldier,” noted Lubiniecki.
However, the commander does note that sharing lessons and experiences is something that goes both ways, something he felt was reiterated at a recent parade for soldiers graduating from the military police academy.
“At one point in the ceremony, I think about 25 young children came onto the parade square in full traditional Ukrainian dress. They had a performance, danced traditional Ukrainian dance, and at the end, the emcee of the event said: ‘We bring these children out to remind all of us what we’re fighting for in the east and that’s the future of this country and the children of our country.’
“I've never seen anything like that before, the patriotism and the pride that these soldiers have is truly inspiring. We’re learning a lot from them as well,” said Lubiniecki.