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Over-60s from “Steppe Wolves” unit voluntarily aid Ukraine’s frontline troops

Despite not being official military, the elderly volunteer unit “Steppe Wolves” comprising mostly 60+-year-olds aids the Ukrainian troops by operating makeshift rocket launchers, using repaired munitions and enemy weapons.
Soldiers from the Steppe Wolves unit, primarily comprised of individuals over sixty years old and younger men considered unfit for combat. Photo: Facebook/Ротно-тактична група «Степові вовки»
Over-60s from “Steppe Wolves” unit voluntarily aid Ukraine’s frontline troops

With Ukraine facing a shortage of soldiers, an elderly volunteer mobile artillery unit called the Steppe Wolves company-tactical group unofficially assists the army in combating Russia’s invasion, Reuters reports.

The unit comprises dozens of Ukrainian men, mostly over 60 years old, considered too old for military service under current mobilization rules. The unit also includes some younger members deemed unfit for combat.

The volunteer unit Steppe Wolves was formed at the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Its founders were “ATO participants,” veterans who initially fought against the Russian invasion in 2014 and subsequent years. The unit is not officially incorporated into the Ukrainian military and is not funded by the Army.

However, its commander, 68-year-old Oleksandr Taran nicknamed “Grandpa,” follows directives from official military leaders and independently funds his unit’s operations to destroy Russian targets in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Taran, a former fighter of the volunteer “Donbas” battalion, participated in the 2014 Battle of Ilovaisk, where he was wounded and subsequently demobilized.

68-year-old Oleksandr Taran (call sign Grandpa), commander of the Steppen Wolves unit. Screenshot: Youtube/Reuters

The unit is funded by donations and its members’ pensions and is equipped with self-repaired faulty ammunition and enemy-captured weapons, both supplied by front-line troops.

From infantry to mobile artillery

Since the beginning of the all-out war, the Steppe Wolves have evolved from infantry to mobile artillery firing mini-Grad rocket launchers, using the same unguided rockets that are used in the BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers.

According to RFE/RL, the unit initially received ADS-17 automatic grenade launchers and captured Russian mortars, then fighters floated an idea to assemble a “mini-Grad” on a pickup truck, also using captured Russian equipment.

Now, the elderly volunteers patrol behind the front with truck-mounted rocket launchers and hit Russian targets, designated by front-line commanders, and also share the targets they have spotted with other units. 

With no official military supplies, the Steppen Wolves repair and then use faulty munitions that they receive from frontline units.

The unit’s spotter told RFE/RL that among the unit’s successes were strikes on two Russian TOS-1A thermobaric rocket launchers, a tank, infantry, drone operators, and communication and video surveillance equipment.

Mobilization age

The sixty-plus-year-olds cannot be officially drafted under Ukrainian legislation, with the age range for conscription currently set between 18 and 60 years old and men aged 25 and above specifically eligible for mobilization. 

My age might prevent me from being recruited, but it doesn’t stop me from fighting,” he said earlier in an interview with RFE/RL.

Facing a manpower shortage as Russian troops gradually advance in the east, Ukraine, under Zelenskyy’s recent directives, has lowered the mobilization age from 27 to 25 and introduced stricter penalties for draft evasion to bolster its military efforts.

Last December, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that the country’s military leadership has proposed mobilizing an additional 450,000 to 500,000 conscripts for Ukraine’s Defense Forces. Later, however, he said he saw no point in mobilizing this many.

In March, Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said that the need to mobilize 500,000 troops was significantly reduced following an audit, but the military still requires additional troops for sufficient rotations and manpower. However, he didn’t specify the reduced number.

The new mobilization law, however, has been criticized for still allowing many ways to evade mobilization, which prevents fair conscription. Moreover, many military and civil society figures believe that the long-awaited law fails frontline soldiers by excluding crucial provisions for troop rotation and demobilization.

Steppe Wolves Commander Oleksandr Taran told Reuters he believes that coercion cannot replace genuine enthusiasm in recruits. A truly motivated individual is essential for persistently fulfilling tasks and defeating the enemy, according to him.

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