After the first month, the territorial defense has enrolled about 10,000-15,000 troops, moving towards the final goal of 130,000. At the same time, while the government cannot provide weapons and other equipment for all volunteers instantly, many Ukrainians are participating in short-term military training with their own purchased rifles. [/editorial]
The first local defense units emerged in Ukraine in 2015. However, these were neither part of the armed forces nor had any central headquarters.
What is being undertaken is the creation of a unified system with the ultimate goal to allow legal participation for all Ukrainians without the obligation of full-term military employment. It is being built up as an integral part of the armed forces of Ukraine with a central command.
According to the law, the total number of territorial defense troops should be 130,000. It is distributed as one battalion of 600 for each of the 150 Ukrainian districts united into 25 brigades — one brigade for each oblast and one more for Kyiv city. Brigades are reinforced by special equipment and soldiers responsible for it.
There are three groups of people enrolled in territorial defense.
- Permanent staff. In total, the territorial defense is managed by 10,000 permanent full-time staff. These are battalion commanders, instructors and soldiers responsible for the protection and maintenance of weapons and equipment as well as mobilization — about 50 people for each battalion. These people are working on territorial defense full-time.
- Reserve soldiers. The remaining 120,000 are reserve soldiers that can be mobilized within 2-3 hours. Reserve soldiers sign contracts with the territorial defense with a minimum time period of three years and are counted as armed force reservists. They are fully equipped by the state. However, these are volunteers who do not receive a salary for their participation in territorial defense and only dedicate several weeks a year for training.
- Additional voluntary formations. Such formations can be created in small local communities, equipped with their own weapons bought by themselves. On 27 January 2022, Ukraine’s parliament passed an amendment allowing voluntary formations of territorial defense to use combat rifles along with previously allowed hunting rifles. At the same time, the cabinet decree regulating registration and management of these formations is yet to be adopted.
What Ukraine has now
After the first month of territorial defense, as Minister of Defense Oleksiy Reznikov reports, all Ukrainian oblasts bordering Russia have a permanent staff of territorial defense completed at a level of 70%. In all oblasts, the enrollment of permanent staff should be completed by the end of February, reaching 10,000, while currently there are about 5,000 people already employed in territorial defense.
In parallel, the enrollment campaign for reserve soldiers in the territorial defense has already started. In Kyiv, for example, 600 volunteers are already ready to fight while each day about 40 new people are calling to start the submission process and training.
In Lviv and Kharkiv, there are about 1,000 territorial defense reservists ready to fight.
The situation is similar in other Ukrainian cities. For example, according to Ihor Prykhodko, the officer of territorial defense in the Kherson Oblast, already more than 50% of the regular staff of territorial defense are in service. These people are currently preparing all facilities, weapons, and other equipment to allow enrollment of soldiers as volunteers.
Prykhodko notes there is a very high demand, as people are calling every day to be enrolled.
While the government doesn’t provide a specific number of the currently enrolled reserve soldiers in the territorial defense, it can be estimated at about 5,000, judging from individual reports of local commanders and local councils. Together with permanent staff, this makes for a total of 10,000 who are ready to fight right now and support the regular army.
Local authorities help to arrange premises and training for territorial defense
“Now the priority task is the proper arrangement of locations. De facto, it is the task of simultaneous deployment of more than 150 military bases. They should be provided with communication equipment, special facilities, weapons and ammunition storage facilities, and so on. Weapons must be as close as possible to the fighters, and we will create conditions for this,” Minister of Defense Oleksiy Reznikov highlights.
Indeed, while it is not hard to call for people and enroll them, the proper organization and provision of necessary equipment is much harder to complete in the short term. Currently, local councils are helping the government in this matter, providing and arranging locations for territorial defense units.
“The Ministry of Defense will provide weapons, clothing, means of communication and individual armor protection for territorial defense. There are issues with the premises and connection to communications, transport. There is a need to involve the resources of local governments. The Ministry of Defense has already sent relevant letters identifying the needs of the Territorial Defense in the regions… We are determined to build partnerships with local authorities and self-government bodies, because the very idea of territorial defense is the coordination of the army and the community,” said Reznikov.
As he reported, 90% of locations were already selected in cooperation with local councils, although not all of them are currently repaired and ready for use. Only half of the battalions are already deployed in their facilities. Minister also said that the preparation of facilities and locations for territorial defense requires additional UAH 2.8 billion ($100 million) and this is the number one task .
The territorial defense is jointly funded by the state and local councils. The more local councils support territorial defense, the more comprehensive training local troops can conduct.
For example, the Lviv city council organized a one-time training and shooting for employees of local strategic enterprises, while the local territorial defense is finishing preparations to start regular training.
The head of the Association of Ukrainian Cities (AUC) and Kyiv Mayor, Vitaly Klitschko, initiated a meeting of the AUC board on the organization of territorial defense. The meeting, which took place on 28 January in Kyiv, discussed the coordination of actions and joint work of local and central authorities on the organization of territorial defense.
The main function of territorial defense is to meet the enemy “at every corner” and react rapidly before the regular army arrives
Importantly, the law on the National Resistance has determined the status of territorial defense as an integral part of the armed forces of Ukraine. It should not be some dispersed local guerillas but a unified system that has the advantage of rapid mobilization, managed by the President and Military Chief of Staff through the commander of territorial defense.
On 1 January 2022, the president appointed Yuriy Halushkin, a combat officer and participant in the defense of Donetsk airport (2014-2015) as the commander of territorial defense.
Halushkin says that rapid deployment is the main advantage of territorial defense. It can be mobilized within 2-3 hours and already operate in their location before the regular army arrives:
“If the main forces are still at the mobilization stage, or have not yet arrived in the area of the operation… then we will conduct combat tasks. We will not watch as enemy columns cross the border and move through our territory.”
The Law on National Resistance has simplified the legal procedure to mobilize and deploy territorial defense units, removing the previous requirement to introduce martial law:
“According to the Law on the National Resistance, the forces of territorial defense may be deployed with the entry into force of the Consolidated Territorial Defense Plan of Ukraine. This plan can be implemented without the introduction of martial law, only by presidential decree. The mechanism has been significantly simplified – the Commander-in-Chief has made a submission, the National Security and Defense Council has held a meeting, made a decision, and we have fully deployed the Territorial Defense Forces, even before the war… This may stop the enemy’s intentions for open aggression,” the commander of the Forces of Territorial Defense Yuriy Halushkin explains.
In order that this system properly function in its entirety, the other urgent task (in addition to facilities and armament arrangement) is to develop a system of management and communication between the units of territorial defense, Halishkin explains:
“Headquarters is a place from which people who understand what is going to happen will control the process through various means of communication. Commanders may be in an underground structure, somewhere in the woods outside the city, or elsewhere, but they have equipment that will provide satellite communications when a cell phone is lost. So, the next main task is to organize a sustainable management system. The communication system is a very important component.”
First full-scale drills of territorial defense “to work out cooperation” scheduled for February
Reznikov also announced large-scale training of territorial defense for February. Earlier only separate territorial defense battalions of up to several hundred had their isolated drills. This time, Reznikov says, all units of regions will be trained at once “to work out cooperation.”
“We will gather all regions one by one… and teach heads of oblast and district administrations as well as the mayors of the cities where battalions and brigades will be deployed, how to properly interact with the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the Minister added.
The minister adds that successful deployment of territorial defense may prevent the war:
“To a large extent, territorial defense is a way to prevent aggression. The enemy will know that he has no advantage of a sudden invasion. That in case of crossing the border, the earth will literally burn underfoot. He will not be able to cross any bridge, he will be met at every crossroads. And during this time the main forces of the Ukrainian army will be deployed. So the enemy will think a hundred times before starting anything,” Reznikov concludes.