Ukraine demotes commander who gave interview about poorly trained troops


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

The commander, a lieutenant colonel by the call sign of Kupol, served with the 46th Air Assault Brigade. He declined to provide further details or allow another interview.

He said he decided to speak out despite the risks in the hope that the United States would provide better training for Ukrainian soldiers, including some who have gone into battle without knowing how to throw a grenade or use their weapons to handle. Some left their positions while under Russian fire, he said in the interview.

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

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

Kupol’s sentence has sparked outrage among some in Ukraine, who said his comments reflected a necessary truth that Ukrainian leaders do not want to hear.

Ukraine is short of skilled troops and ammunition as losses mount and pessimism mounts

Kupol expressed concern as the Russian and Ukrainian forces are engaged in a raging artillery war with neither side seemingly strong enough to make serious territorial gains. Russian leaders insist their war goals, including the conquest of four southeastern Ukrainian regions, will be achieved. Ukraine is preparing for what many analysts believe will be a spring counter-offensive that will require significant manpower and ammunition to drive Russian forces out of the area they control.

Kupol and other military personnel have warned that the task will become extremely difficult with so many of Ukraine’s most experienced combatants wounded or killed. Ukraine is keeping its casualties secret, but US and European officials estimate some 120,000 dead and injured. Russia is said to have lost about 200,000, but has a much larger population.

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

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

Traumatic stress, an invisible wound, hobbles Ukrainian soldiers

Yuri Butusov, a prominent Ukrainian war reporter, said Kupol’s troops will be the ones who will suffer from his departure. Butusov expressed the hope that Kupol would be reinstated and that the military leadership would be ready to hear hard truths.

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

About 100 of the 500 troops in Kupol’s battalion have been killed in the past year and 400 others were wounded, he said. The massive losses left him responsible for new, inexperienced troops who were expected to be deployed immediately despite a clear lack of training.

In the interview, Kupol had acknowledged that his comments could lead to disciplinary action. “As a patriot of my country, I am concerned about my country. That’s all,’ he said.

“Do you know what the problem is with our commanders?” he added. “They have a small circle that doesn’t bring them bad news. They filter out the bad news.”

Khurshudyan reported from New York. Serhiy Morgunov in Kiev contributed to this report.

A year of the Russian war in Ukraine

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