The 46-year-old mother Australia is training to fight Putin’s invaders
Southern England: In a field in the south of England, Ukrainian army recruit Olena, a 46-year-old mother with no military experience from Kyiv, is being put through the paces by Australian armed forces.
Having signed up for the army last May, she is now learning how to test bodies for booby traps, remove landmines from a field and safely evacuate from artillery fire.
Olena, a Ukrainian receiving infantry training in Britain, fights back tears as she explains why she joined up.Credit:Getty Images
It is part of an intensive five-week course that would typically take six months to teach, time that Ukrainians don’t have.
Olena, who will not give her real name to protect her identity and the safety of her family, including her teenage daughter, will return to Ukraine trained up with a military kit and ready to help with the war effort.
“It was my desire, my wish,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes as she struggled to overcome her emotions to speak. “I can’t stay at home and do nothing when our children die.”
She is one of just a handful of women among the 10,000 Ukrainian civilians who have come to Britain to be trained for frontline combat. They are learning the skills first-hand from 70 Australian soldiers who have joined nine other countries in offering to help train.
Members of the Australian Army and Ukrainian soldiers train together in England.Credit:Getty Images
“Physically I am stronger than half the men,” she said, speaking through a translator.
“I’m not afraid to go back home. There is no other way for us; we have to be in our motherland and while I’m here at the training course there is everything calm and peaceful but my heart is still in Ukraine and I want to go back there.”
The novice recruits are also trained to survive in the elements and basic weaponry. Only a small percentage have any previous military experience.
Ivan, a 31-year-old from the north-eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy, is another of the recruits, who said he had never had any desire to join the army.
Ivan and Olena chat during a break from their intense training regime.Credit:Getty Images
“To tell you the truth, I had a really sweet life. I had my own private business and I started a new relationship with my beloved girlfriend and now she’s in Germany,” he said.
“I have never ever dreamt about a military career but I have to do my best to help my country to win this war.”
A 24-year-old army officer from Townsville, Queensland, who could not be named for security reasons, said he was proud to be passing on his military knowledge.
“Everyone coming over here was highly motivated to do the best that we could, preparing them to go back to defend their country and their freedom,” he said.
“Before we came here, we thought the language barrier was going to be quite difficult and the terrain was going to be quite challenging.
“However, what we found was the standard of translators here has just been absolutely fantastic so that’s been quite easy.”
He said that he had also been learning much from the Ukrainians.
“It’s incredibly humbling and I think every soldier that leaves here will take something from here,” he said. “I’m exceptionally proud to be here.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Wednesday (local time) watched a training drill involving the Australians, coalition and Ukrainians.
“It is very poignant to be here,” Marles told reporters.
With much of the frontline in Ukraine descending into First World War-style trench warfare, albeit with advanced techniques, Marles said he would never have imagined Australians would be training civilians for that sort of combat.
“When you speak to the Australians who are doing this training, I’m not sure they would have either,” he said.
“What’s really clear is the sense of moment that they have about what they’re doing, about the seriousness of this and the difference that they’re making, and it’s impossible not to feel a real sense of pride about that.”
Wallace joked that he was pleased to see Australia join the training effort as New Zealand, which joined the effort last year, was at risk of overtaking the Australians.
“I’m delighted Australia is here; we’re professional armies, we respect each other’s capabilities and there are now 10 nations doing it,” he said.
“That’s what we would expect of our friends; we help each other.
“And we’re here on this plain today to help empower these brave men and women who are going to go off to war in three or four weeks’ time and sadly, not all of them are going to come home.”
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