May 18, 2019

Operation Unifier benefits both Ukrainians and Canadians


In March, the government of Canada renewed Operation Unifier for three years. This is one more year than previous commitments. Both when it was launched by the Conservative government in 2015 and renewed by the Liberals in 2017, the duration was only for two years.

Operation Unifier remains among the most successful programs under which Canada supports Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression. Not only have the Ukrainian Armed Forced benefitted from the expertise provided by Canadians in such areas as individual weapons training, marksmanship, tactical movement, explosive threat recognition, communication, survival in combat, ethics training, explosive ordnance disposal, military police training, medical training and flight safety, but Canadians are also learning from Ukrainians about their experiences in trench warfare, electronic radio warfare, the use of drones and other new sophisticated weapons which Russia has not tried before but is now utilizing in Ukraine.

Since the start of the mission in September 2015, and as of April 15 of this year, more than 10,800 Security Forces of Ukraine (SFU) candidates have participated in the training provided via 248 course serials spanning all lines of effort.

Canada’s help to Ukraine includes supplying non-lethal military gear. This is an ongoing process and also includes equipment such as communications systems used for field operations, a mobile field hospital, explosive disposal equipment, night-vision goggles and medical kits used for military field operations.

These Individual First Aid Kits (IFAKs) as they are known, have proved to be among the biggest life-saving contributions the Canadians are providing the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) and are actually supplied by the Canada-Ukraine Foundation. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) provide Ukrainian soldiers with these IFAKs, then teach them to train other UAF personnel how to use them. Mentorship, in fact, is one of the cornerstones of Operation Unifier and great strides have been made in that regard, as Ukrainians are increasingly passing their knowledge on to their comrades.

“The Ukrainians are stepping forward in a great number of areas,” Lt. Col. Mark Lubiniecki, then commander of the CAF contingent, told New Pathway-Ukrainian News in an exclusive telephone interview from Starychi, Ukraine, last summer.

“They’ve got the confidence. They’ve spent time in the Anti-Terrorist Operation zone and they’re coming back with confidence in the lessons that they’ve learned and the experience that they have gained, and they’re looking to share that with their peers, their fellow armed force soldiers and we look to share with them as peers as well,” he added.

“So that’s really given us the opportunity to sit back and empower the Ukrainian instructors and their own leaders to take the forefront in training delivery to their own soldiers and allow us to provide some feedback and provide options and really let them take the ownership of their training. They are an extremely professional and well-motivated military,” noted Lt. Col. Lubiniecki.

Operation Unifier harmonizes its efforts with other nations through a Multinational Joint Commission. This commission includes Canada, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Denmark and Sweden. Canada co-chairs the Sub-Committee on Military Policing with Ukraine. Aside from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom also deploy armed forces personnel to train Ukrainian troops. Soldiers from all three countries operate under the jurisdiction of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine (JMTG-U), which is overseen by the U.S. 7th Army Training Command, currently manned by Tennessee National Guard’s 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center, just west of Lviv.

Operation Unifier has been very positively welcomed by both the Ukrainian community in Canada, which has sponsored a number of events to demonstrate its appreciation, and Ukraine itself.

“The renewal of Operation Unifier demonstrates Canada’s unequivocal commitment assisting Ukraine [as it] defends its sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence in the face of continued Russian aggression in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and in the Kerch Strait,” said Ukrainian Canadian Congress National President Alexandra Chyczij in welcoming the announcement by Minister of National Defense Harjit S. Sajjan and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland. 

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada Andriy Shevchenko also welcomed the announcement, but added: “We would like to take it further, both in the range of the training program and in the scope of the operation level.”

“Since 2015, when Op Unifier was launched, we have developed great trust between our men and women in uniforms and an extraordinary two-way learning interaction. It is something not just to be cherished, but also to be upgraded to the next level,” he noted.

The opposition Conservatives have also called for the program to be expanded, calling upon the government to reinstate the use of Radarsat imagery to help Ukraine and to supply defensive lethal equipment that had been previously committed to the Kurdish Peshmerga and is currently sitting in storage.

Both suggestions have considerable merit. Radarsat, in particular, has proved quite valuable in supplying the Ukrainian military with satellite imagery to monitor Russian and militant troop movements.

Regardless, Operation Unifier and the entire JMTG-U is one of the most effective ways that Western democracies can help Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggressions. Ukrainian communities in Canada and the United States must recognize and appreciate the efforts that our countries are doing to help Ukraine. But at the same time, we should urge both our governments to expand and enhance them.