13:45 Sep. 6, 2016
Whilst the political elite squabble, the Ukrainians use their initiative to ensure that those defending their homeland are equipped with everything necessary
There is a certain irony when British journalists are riding alongside Ukrainian Civil Society volunteers, delivering British military uniforms (purchased in Kyiv) to Ukrainian troops fighting Russian and separatist forces in the Donbas region – it shows not only that the world is truly a smaller place, but also that the situation on the ground in Eastern Ukraine is a dire one.
President Poroshenko, incidentally not a popular figure among regular troops, has inherited armed forces completely ransacked by the previous regime. The Ukrainian armed forces suffer from a high level of incompetency in their highest echelons, perhaps a hangover from their Soviet predecessor. There is a real lack of initiative and discipline, with allegations of endemic corruption. This indiscipline and disorganisation inevitably filters down to the front line, itself exacerbated by a tumultuous situation on the ground, with troops frustrated at their lack of support and leadership, as well as the lack of progress stemming from the Minsk peace summits.
Learn more about Ukraine's volunteers in UT special project Top 25 Volunteers Who Change Ukraine
Under-manned, under-paid and under-equipped; the Ukrainian regular army and the Volunteer Battalions rely on the kindness, bravery and dedication of the country's volunteers; a network of whom sprawls across the whole country. Helped by the ubiquitous nature of social media, the volunteers exist in a world far removed from the bustling cafes and bars of central Kyiv. They use sites such as Facebook to co-ordinate deliveries, fund-raise for vital equipment and share stories of their travels and the soldiers.
I recently rode along with a group of volunteers from Kyiv as they made the arduous 700 kilometre journey to the front lines in the heart of the Donbas region. Their story is simultaneously inspirational and bizarre, in that a country with lofty European aspirations following the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-14 cannot or will not supply its own troops adequately.
There is an obviously deep bond between these soldiers and those who bring them their vital supplies; the beaming smiles from the soldiers on the heavily block-posted roads in Donetsk Oblast were a giveaway as we were waved through without a second look. It is no surprise though, for soldiers who feel ever more disconnected from their government and generals in Kyiv; the visits from volunteers remind the troops that they have not been forgotten, at least by ordinary people.