Impact of British Military Training on Ukrainian Engineers

The ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia has left Ukraine as the most heavily mined country in the world. These minefields have been slowing down the Ukrainian military’s advances and causing numerous casualties and injuries. To address this issue, specialist bomb disposal teams from the British Army have been training Ukrainian engineers in explosive ordnance disposal. This training has been specifically requested by Ukraine and is aimed at equipping the Ukrainian engineers with the skills and knowledge to clear the Russian minefields.

The training has been taking place at a military base in Poland, and the BBC is the first news organization to visit and report on this training. The majority of the Ukrainian engineers participating in the training are battle-hardened and experienced, with many having volunteered to fight immediately after Russia’s invasion began in 2022. For them, this visit to Poland is the first time they have left Ukraine in almost two years.

The Ukrainian engineers have expressed the urgent need for more sappers – combat engineers specializing in explosive ordnance disposal. They believe that they do not have enough personnel to effectively clear the minefields and require more support from Western countries, including equipment and resources. Even if the war were to end tomorrow, it would still take hundreds of years to clear the extensive minefields that have been laid by Russia. The scale of mine production and deployment by Russia is staggering, with minefields covering an area the size of Florida and being up to 10km deep. Each square meter of these minefields can contain multiple explosives, posing a severe threat to both military personnel and civilians.

The British bomb disposal experts, known as sappers, have been testing the skills of the Ukrainian engineers throughout the training course. They have buried and booby-trapped over 20 dummy devices, including anti-tank mines, anti-personnel mines, bounding mines, and grenades fitted to trip wires. The Russians have employed various tactics in the design and placement of these mines, making clearing them a complex and time-consuming task. Some mines are designed to maim, others are triggered by vibration, and some can turn themselves on and off to avoid detection.

In addition to the challenges posed by the minefields themselves, the Ukrainian engineers also face deliberate targeting by Russian forces. Clearing mines in areas still within range of Russian artillery and small arms fire is a highly risky undertaking. The Ukrainians often work at night to minimize the visibility of their operations. However, they still have to take significant risks due to limited time in the face of advancing military operations.

The British trainers are teaching the Ukrainian engineers the gold standard of mine clearance, which emphasizes patience and methodical approaches. However, as in Afghanistan, these approaches may not always be feasible when immediate threats such as gunfire are present. The evolving threat tactics by Russia have made the clearance process even more challenging. Russian soldiers are now booby-trapping their bodies in liberated territories, placing anti-tank mines on top of each other for larger explosions, and using trip wires hidden in the grass or hung from trees with hooks to snag advancing troops’ uniforms and equipment.

The Ukrainian engineers employ Vallons, metal detector-like devices, to clear a path through the minefields. They work with exceptional speed and accuracy, a testament to their experience and training. However, the task of making the devices safe is not the only challenge they face. The Ukrainians also need to determine the location and purpose of the minefields, as they are often strategically placed to draw in troops for subsequent artillery attacks.

The British training program began in November and has been offering short courses to a limited number of experienced Ukrainian sappers. This, in itself, reflects the significant demand for sappers on the front lines. While the Ukrainian military has made progress in breaking through the first lines of Russian defenses, they continue to encounter additional minefields, dragons’ teeth, and trenches that impede their advancement.

The Ukrainian sappers understand the magnitude of the task ahead and the risks they face. They are committed to the mission of clearing the minefields, even though it may result in further casualties. The British instructors hope that their training will ultimately save Ukrainian lives.

The impact of the British military training on Ukrainian engineers is significant. It provides the Ukrainian military with essential skills and knowledge necessary to effectively clear the extensive minefields laid by Russia. This training enhances the Ukrainian engineers’ capabilities, making them more efficient in identifying and disarming various types of mines. Additionally, the training creates a strong bond between the British and Ukrainian military forces, fostering international cooperation and support in the face of Russian aggression.

However, there are still challenges to be aware of. Despite the training, the scale of minefields in Ukraine remains immense, and it will take significant time and resources to clear them completely. The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia also presents obstacles, with Russian forces deliberately targeting Ukrainian sappers and employing increasingly sophisticated tactics to make mine clearance more difficult. Continued support from the international community, including Western countries, is crucial to ensure that Ukraine has the necessary resources and equipment to tackle this urgent issue.

In conclusion, the British military training is making a positive impact on the Ukrainian engineers’ ability to clear the heavily mined areas in Ukraine. The training equips them with essential skills and knowledge, and the support of the British instructors fosters a sense of camaraderie and international cooperation. However, the scale of the minefields and the evolving tactics employed by Russia remain significant challenges that require ongoing support and resources from the international community.