On March 10, thousands of civilians and soldiers marched together through the central streets of the capital, chanting “Glory to Ukraine” and “Glory to the heroes” in a tribute to Dmytro Kotsyubaylo, the youngest commander ever to be decorated as a Hero of Ukraine and the fighter of first volunteer to be decorated while still alive.
Known by the nickname Da Vinci, he was killed fighting against Russian forces near Bahmut, in the Donbass, five days ago.
Images of senior leaders, including Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief General Valeriy Zaluzhniy, military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov kneeling as they paid their last respects to the 27-year-old soldier, have gone viral. rapidly deep into the public consciousness. So were the tears of his partner, Alina Mykhaylova, who is a paramedic in his unit, Da Vinci’s Wolves and a member of the Kyiv city council.
At the age of 18, Kotsyubaylo played an important role in the Euromaidan protests, which pushed Ukraine’s geopolitical orientation towards the West – which forced Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, to step down and flee to Russia.
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His death marked a transformative moment in Ukraine’s resistance against Russian occupation and underscored a grim reality: Some of its most dedicated soldiers are dying, creating a dire need for others to fill their places.
As the Russian offensive continues in the east, inflicting mounting losses on the military, many Ukrainians hope that a counter-offensive that senior officials say is coming soon will be decisive in the eventual departure of Russian forces from the country.
Some are joining the Offensive Guard, a network of assault brigades being formed at the Interior Ministry as Ukraine prepares to retake Russian-occupied territory in the east and south.
The Ministry has launched a major recruitment campaign. In streets, squares and other spots around Kiev, figures of well-equipped, skilled and determined soldiers look on from billboards bearing slogans such as “It’s time to take back what’s yours” and “Unite.” . According to the Minister of the Interior, Ihor Klymenko, more than 28,000 people have volunteered to serve in this formation.
High priority project
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The idea of the Offensive Guard was first discussed more than six months ago by the Interior Ministry and the office of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Deputy Interior Minister Kateryna Pavlichenko told Radio Free Europe.
According to her, the goal of the project is to create assault brigades that combine the experience of seasoned soldiers with the determination of young volunteers.
Interior Ministry units, particularly the National Guard, have been fighting alongside the regular armed forces, which are under the Ministry of Defense, since the February 2022 invasion – and in some cases since the outbreak of war in Donbas in 2014. .
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“The experience of de-occupying Kharkiv and Kherson regions showed that our troops are needed at every stage of hostilities and after them,” Pavlichenko said, referring to the counteroffensive in which Ukrainian forces retook large swathes of territory in the east on back and south, last year. She said that a significant number of the new members of the brigades were employees of the agencies of the Ministry of Interior who want to become part of the fight.
This guard will consist of tens of thousands of troops, she said, and the first of them will be ready to go into battle in early April.
The Offensive Guard consists of six brigades within the National Guard, including the Azov Brigade – formerly the Azov Regiment – as well as one brigade each from the National Police and Border Guards. Anyone can apply to become a member, online or in person at an office.
At a training ground outside Kiev this month, newcomers to the Bureviy Brigade — Ukrainian for “storm,” though some members say it’s an acronym for the Brigade for the Elimination of Russian Soldiers — were being put through a comprehensive training program based on NATO standards. -s, first at the individual level, then at the group level and finally at the unit level, Kostyantyn Vakhramyeev, commander of one of the brigade’s battalions, told Radio Free Europe.
Now replenished with new soldiers, the unit was involved in decisive fighting in the Kiev and Chernihiv regions early in the invasion, when Russian forces briefly halted in the capital. Some of its members are currently defending Bahmut.
After mastering marksmanship, combat medicine and the use of various types of equipment, recruits practice offensive operations close to the battlefield. Some of the brigade commanders and members participated or are currently participating in training programs in Poland, Germany or Britain.
The Bureviy brigade has artillery, armored personnel carriers and several tanks at its disposal. But Vakhramyeev, who has been fighting since 2014, said that while new personnel would soon be “ready for work”, the unit would need “more heavy equipment, shells and air support” to carry out major attacks.
Despite such challenges, two men who joined a month ago — Dmytro Horditsa, a 41-year-old painter, and Denys Irzhytskiy, a 21-year-old medical student — say they believe the Ukrainian counteroffensive will be a success.
“Enough of being an observer,” Horditsa said during a break from training. He says he joined the Offensive Guard because he believes that’s where “the best of those who are still in the reserves” come.
Horditsa, who created hundreds of religious artworks in various styles throughout his artistic career, had zero military experience just a month ago. Earlier he was not recruited due to vision problems. Now these restrictions have been lifted, he says.
He says he is glad his commanders are giving him time to train before going into combat, as “it doesn’t always happen that way”. Many of his friends are already fighting and some have been killed, he says.
Irzhytskiy says he joined because he “doesn’t want to live an empty life when the Russians are killing innocent people” and wants to be able to say he “participated in the victory after the war is over”.
For several months, he was a first aid instructor in another unit, but he accepted an offer to transfer to the Bureviy Brigade, because he believes that this will enable him to “take part in a real war”. In a week, he will go to Britain for training, after which he hopes to be stationed in eastern Ukraine.
“Even if I save just one person, it will be a victory,” he said.
Reconstruction of the army
The recruitment campaign for the Offensive Guard promises that its members will take part in the liberation of territories occupied by Russia, but the role its brigades will play during counteroffensives is unclear.
Military expert Mykhaylo Zhirokhov told Radio Free Europe that the formation is likely to play a supporting role, while the regular armed forces will carry out the main actions of the counteroffensive. About 50,000 Ukrainian soldiers are preparing for it at home and abroad, he said.
According to Zhirokhov, Russia’s offensive in the east – where Russian troops have tried unsuccessfully to capture Bahmut for more than seven months – has shown that “Moscow wants to impose the logic of World War II warfare, where whoever has more soldiers win”.
The Offensive Guard is largely a “media campaign” because most of its brigades “have not been re-created, but simply renamed,” he said.
They are also being strengthened with new volunteers and new resources from the Interior Ministry – a necessary process, as the ranks of those already fighting have been depleted 13 months after the invasion.
“But in the end, we cannot compete with Russia in numbers and without a technological advantage, our (assault) troops find themselves in the position of Wagner’s soldiers around Bahmut,” he said, referring to fighters from a Russian mercenary group. which has suffered massive losses.
Mykola Byelyeskov, an analyst at Ukraine’s National Institute for Strategic Studies, told Radio Free Europe that the creation of the Offensive Guard fits a historical pattern seen in many past wars, when an army must be rebuilt after a year of fighting. Its creation, he adds, sends a good signal to Ukraine’s international supporters that “there is still a segment of society that wants to join the fight.”
At the moment, Ukraine is forced to put its manpower under constant pressure to hold its positions, and the recruitment campaign of the Ministry of the Interior may compensate for some of the losses, but the success of the counteroffensive is based on the ability of the Ukrainian military to penetrated into the tactical depths of the Russian forces, he says.
According to Byelyeskov, Ukraine’s push into the battlefield in the coming months is more likely to come in the form of sustained pressure on Russian targets, similar to advances in the Kherson region last fall, than a lightning counterattack like liberating occupied parts. of the Kharkiv region in 2022./REL