Ukraine Races to Forge New Army Ahead of Offensive

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In a valley far from the front lines last week, several men practiced dropping a half-full bottle of water from a small aerial drone, as though it were a grenade. Others fired rifles at targets 100 yards away. A third group set off for a trek through the surrounding hills, which burst with white and yellow flowers.

Almost none of them had military experience before last year. The Ukrainian military is racing to turn civilians into elite soldiers for the cutting edge of a critical summer offensive.

Kyiv has been holding some 20 brigades back from the fighting and training them to break through Russian lines and hold any ground taken. The hope in Kyiv is that when its offensive begins, Russian forces will be depleted from their assault on Bakhmut, while tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops will be fresh and well-equipped with Western battle tanks and other materiel.

“We got orders that we have to be ready to go at any moment,” said the commander of the Artan battalion, a special-forces unit of Ukraine’s military intelligence, known as GUR, which is being saved for the offensive.

For some members of the battalion, it will be their first operation.

While U.S. Navy SEALs receive more than two years of training before deployment, Ukrainian special forces don’t have that kind of time. The challenge for the commander, who goes by the call sign Titan, is to get his men ready, even if they have never seen combat.

Over the past year, Artan has slowly grown to 350 men from just 70 last summer. Only 20% of them had military experience before the full-scale invasion began. One was an actor, another a lawyer.

One soldier, a security guard before the war, fought with his local territorial defense and then in another Ukrainian brigade before joining Artan three months ago. He said he didn’t want to spend the war firing out of muddy trenches, and the special forces offered him the best chance to make a difference: “good training, good preparation, good supplies.”