Ukraine demoted a commander who gave an interview about poorly trained troops


KYIV, Ukraine – A Ukrainian battalion commander who gave an interview to The Washington Post describing how poorly trained troops undermined Ukraine’s position on the battlefield resigned this week after his superiors demoted him over his remarks, he said.

The commander, lieutenant colonel, who goes by the call sign Kupol, served in the 46th Air Assault Brigade. He declined to provide additional information or to grant another interview.

He said he decided to speak out despite the risks, hoping the United States would guarantee better training for Ukrainian soldiers, including some who have gone into battle without knowing how to throw a grenade or handle their weapons. Some abandoned their positions when they were under Russian fire, he said in an interview.

Ukrainian military and government officials did not immediately respond Thursday night to The Post’s request for comment on Kupol’s status.

But Airborne Assault Forces spokesman Valentyn Shevchenko confirmed to the Ukrainska Pravda news website that Kupol had been removed from battalion command and transferred to a training center. Shevchenko said that Kupol did not receive the required permission from his commander to speak to the press and that he had exaggerated his unit’s losses and the poor training level of the replacement troops.

Kupol’s punishment has sparked outrage among some Ukrainians, who say his comments reflect a necessary truth that Ukraine’s leaders don’t want to hear.

Ukraine lacks skilled troops and military equipment amid growing losses, pessimism

Kupol expressed concern that Russian and Ukrainian forces are locked in a grinding artillery war, with neither side appearing strong enough to make serious territorial gains. Russian leaders are insisting that their war aims, including seizing four regions of southeastern Ukraine, will be achieved. Ukraine is preparing for what many analysts expect will be a spring counteroffensive that will require significant manpower and munitions to push Russian forces out of controlled territory.

Kupol and other soldiers have warned that the task will be very difficult because so many of Ukraine’s most experienced fighters are now wounded or dead. Ukraine keeps its casualties a secret, but US and European officials have estimated up to 120,000 dead and wounded. Russia is believed to have lost around 200,000 people, but its population is much higher.

“These are exactly the kind of people we need at the front,” Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, wrote on his Telegram channel from Kupol. – He emphasized in the interview that soldiers should be trained even better. Of course, the better prepared a warrior is, the better he fights. What’s wrong with this? I believe this story should be made public.”

Another lawmaker, Volodymyr Ariev, wrote on Facebook: “This government only wants to hear what they want.”

Traumatic stress, an invisible wound, destabilizes Ukrainian soldiers

Yury Butusov, a famous Ukrainian war journalist, said that Kupol’s troops suffered from his departure. Butusov hoped that Kupol would be returned and that the military leadership would be willing to hear hard truths.

“We must defeat Russia both on the front and in our minds – and instead of keeping our mouths shut, we must start thinking and acting to improve ourselves every day,” Butusov wrote on Facebook.

Of the 500 soldiers in Kupol’s battalion, about 100 were killed in the past year and 400 others were wounded, he said. Mass casualties put him in charge of new, inexperienced troops who were expected to deploy immediately despite an obvious lack of training.

Kupol had admitted in the interview that his remarks could lead to disciplinary action. “As a patriot of my country, I am worried about my country. That’s all,” he said.

“Do you know what our commander’s problem is?” he added. “They have a narrow circle that doesn’t tell them bad news. They filter out the bad news.”

Khurshudyan reports from New York. Serhi Morgunov in Kyiv contributed to this report.

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