Colonel Serhiy Halushko, Deputy Head of Information Technology Department of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, on practical aspects of the mobilization campaign
U.W.: At what stage is the mobilization today?
Mobilization is a huge set of nationwide measures involving not only the Ministry of Defense, but public institutions, such as the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, regional and local administrations, etc. Today we are in the fourth stage of partial mobilization, which was launched on March 18, 2014. It started on January 20, 2015, will last for 90 days, and includes two phases. As a result, nearly 50,000 people will be conscribed. The number of conscripts in the fourth stage of mobilization mentioned earlier was slightly higher but it has been adjusted to meet the actual needs of the troops, the capacity of training centers, and our ability to provide the military with everything they need. In this way, the first phase of the current stage is almost complete, by more than 90%. This means that people have been notified, have had medical examinations and completed other selection procedures at the recruitment offices. They are at the training centers and courses for retraining today. At the same time, we proceed to the second phase of mobilization measures, which are more specialized in terms of human resources, and more limited in number. During the first phase people were mobilized primarily to the combined arms units of the ground troops. Now they are also drafted into other service arms, such as Naval Forces, Military Police of the Armed Forces, etc., which have more specific requirements for personnel. In this phase, there will be a significant percentage of those who have already served in the relevant units or have related experience, as well as volunteers. The lists have already been generated, preliminary interviews held, and we can be sure that no one will be drafted in a hurry without preparation to such units. If necessary, the state will be ready to hold the fifth and sixth stages of limited mobilization this year (in case of escalation in Eastern Ukraine or if our country faces other threats of direct military aggression). Since Russia is building up its military muscle on a daily basis, sending trains of military equipments and marching columns to Ukraine to support the terrorists, we just need to have adequate resources to stop the aggressor.
U.W.: What about the moods of the conscripts? We hear opposite views ranging from optimism ("this draft is only for professionals or those willing to go to the front") to decadence ("they draft farmers who do not want to fight"). Are there many volunteers who want to join the army at this point?
As of the beginning of March, the number of volunteers out of all conscripts was 5,700 or over 10%. About 4,500 have already passed medical examination, were found fit for service, and are now in the army. Last year, there were more volunteers, naturally, but this is quite logical, since those who wanted to defend the country and serve in the army right away, literally stormed the recruiting offices from the first day of mobilization and did not wait for the fourth stage. However, in the second year there are still a lot of people who go to the army on their own initiative. Recently, a group of drafted officers in one of the training centers demanded to be sent to combat units immediately, because their training period was increased. Of course, the more they learn, the better soldiers they become, but the guys already want to perform real tasks. Overall, this stage of mobilization is much better than the previous ones. Note that no major recruitment campaign had taken place since after the Chornobyl accident in 1986, and until last spring. So recruitment offices simply had no necessary experienced when they faced the current campaign last year. Plus, the time pressure was huge. And very few people at the local level could understand last year what exactly was going on and how the situation could evolve. The biggest mistake was to draft people from one region or town to the same military unit. In some cases, this had a very negative impact on the moral and psychological state of the units, since the civil life mode was transferred to military service. Now, this practice is discontinued, and conscripts are evenly distributed to all military units based on what kind of people these units need. In this way, conscripts find themselves in combat teams with sound army discipline, where they are dissolved, in a good sense. The impact of civil life is smaller there. It is very important that the system of conscripts training was changed and is still changing, many instructors already have experience of fighting in the Donbas and know for what they have to prepare the soldiers. The training time was increased, which means that people will not be sent to the front after three or four weeks of short and ineffective organizational training. But the most urgent question is junior and mid-level commanders, since combat training and discipline in a company are the responsibility of the company commander, and not Commander General. And finally, much fewer people are now hiding from the draft notice.
U.W.: What about food and material support of the conscripts? Again, some say that everything is fine, while others report that the soldiers nearly starve...
A lot depends on the unit commander or the training center. Speaking of food, which is supplied by commercial subcontractors, commanders always have the right and even the duty to require proper food quality and compliance with the quality and nourishment requirements. Of course, there are some unscrupulous businessmen and unit commanders. This is why different units get different meals for the moment. But let's not forget that the cost of meals for soldiers has not changed since 2008 and is about 17 hryvnyas per day. The total cost, including the cost of preparation, is 35 hryvnyas. Obviously, it is very difficult to ensure high-quality meals at the current prices. We know that the Cabinet of Ministers is planning to revise these figures to adjust them for inflation. As for the material supply, the terms of sending conscripts to military units have been adjusted based on the schedule of new uniform supplies by manufacturers. That is, each conscript is provided with a uniform, either locally made or coming from humanitarian supplies, say, Canadian. We now have a Volunteer Board at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense headed by Yuriy Biryukov, and a dedicated Deputy Minister has been appointed, to ensure that quality standards are complied with. These people are doing their best to minimize the supplies of poor-quality uniforms to the troops. I must state that no recruitment office or commander has the right to demand that conscripts buy uniforms with their own money. We encourage anyone who has such information to inform us, and we will react accordingly.
U.W.: Are those drafted a year ago being demobilized, as per schedule?
Preparations for military discharge go along with the mobilization. At the end of this week, a meeting will be held at the General Staff to finally solve all the organizational issues about the functions of HR departments, finance departments and recruitment offices, what military transport agencies will provide transportation, and so on. The General Staff is now drafting a manual for the ex-servicemen, detailing all the information on the documents and procedures necessary to apply for all payments and benefits provided by the state, and stating what they have to do at the recruitment office, what their rights to resume work are, and so on. This manual will help people in general to exercise their rights: everyone has to know what to demand from a state official. I cannot tell the exact date when everyone will be sent home, because it doesn't exist. On March 18 last year, we only started to send out draft notices, but the peak of mobilization was in the second half of April. The demobilization schedule will depend on the arrival of new conscripts from the training centers. Actually, it is the key factor for demobilization, for who will defend the country, if we just send everyone home at the same time? Besides, a bill was submitted recently to extend the term of job preservation for the conscripts to 18 months after the draft. This makes sense, since a soldier returning home has the right to take a vacation, rather than going back to work immediately. Many people have been wounded and treatment could take months, not days, for them. They have to complete their treatment in military hospitals, and only then retire to the reserve, while the state has to guarantee the preservation of their employment.