STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT. Russian forces fighting on the front lines of the conflict with Kiev will soon be reinforced with a battalion consisting of former Ukrainian soldiers, RIA Novosti reported on Friday, citing the unit’s commander. The members either surrendered or were captured in battle before deciding to switch sides, according to the media outlet.
Named after Bogdan Khmelnitsky – a Ukrainian historical figure who started an uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th century and led Ukraine to join Russia – the battalion has undergone three weeks of training at a Russian base, its commander, Andrey Tishenko, said. At the end of their training, they will officially take the oath pledged by all Russian soldiers, he added.
The former Ukrainian soldiers have already been equipped for battle, Tishenko said, adding that they received their uniforms, protective gear, and weapons before the training even started. The soldiers received guidance from battle-hardened, experienced instructors, he added.
The unit members told Sputnik news agency that they joined voluntarily after receiving Russian citizenship. TASS reported in March that around 70 former Ukrainian troops applied for Russian passports and expressed their wish to fight for Moscow. The size of the newly formed unit has not been made public.
According to Tishenko, the battalion will join the Kaskad operational-combat tactical group, which is under the command of the acting interior minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Colonel General Aleksey Dikiy. The location of its first combat deployment remains unknown.
The first reports regarding plans to form the unit surfaced in the media in February. In March, RT interviewed former Ukrainians soldiers who volunteered for the Russian Army, as around 100 Ukrainian POWs from Donbass reportedly wished to do so.
One of them told RT that he decided to volunteer because he has a family in a city in Donbass. “I wanted us to have peace… a future,” he said, adding that he and his family “could not have had it under the banner” of Ukraine.
“We have always been brotherly peoples,” another POW said at the time. “I’ve never wanted to fight against Russia.”