By Carlos Cano
Freelancers has managed to get in contact with a veteran British Army soldier, ex-YPG fighter, and former fighter/instructor in the controversial Azov Battalion. He is currently serving in the Ukrainian Marines, and is among a group of foreigners who have recently attained the status of the first foreigners to attain airborne qualifications in the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
How much time did you spent in the British military, and did you have combat experience prior to joining the YPG?
I served for 9 years in the British Army. Served in Bosnia in 93/94 and for 3 years of operational duties in Northern Ireland doing counter-terrorism operations.
What equipment did you use in Syria, what equipment do you use in Ukraine and why? What’s the main differences between a proper combat loadout in Syria and Ukraine?
Syria is a completely different war from Ukraine. Syria was a conflict, a world united against the Islamic State and Islamic extremism. I am against extremism of any kind. The Kurds were persecuted and tortured and nobody did anything to stop the Islamic State from expanding. America and some European countries came to help the Kurds at a later stage and provided air superiority. This aided in defeating ISIS, but many Kurds lost their lives over the conflict’s duration. I could go into this at great detail but I’m skimming. In Syria the Kurds had air support, which means ISIS had virtually no heavy artillery or planes of any kind. City warfare in Syria was common, street by street, and in close quarters. The only similar items used were Russian made Kalashnikovs, mines and grenades. ISIS were strangely better equipped at times. Ukraine on the other hand is old school trench warfare. Similar to World War 1, but with some of the latest technology. Lots of artillery, drones, rockets and small arms. The worst kind of warfare.
What are the biggest differences between fighting in Ukraine and Syria?
Trench warfare, no deserts, the temperature is cooler. Ukraine is far more dangerous because of mines and artillery. Culture and pay is better in Ukraine, and I have a fiancee and a life here. There’s no infrastructure in Syria. Its completely decimated. People are good in both countries despite the conflicts. Ukraine is in Europe, which is closer to home.
What are the differences in military capability and culture in your experience between Azov and the UAF?
Azov is a very capable special forces unit. Totally self sufficient. They are a very small regiment and come under the command of the National Guard. They are smaller than the UAF but both Azov and the UAF, especially the Marines, have equally the same determination and drive to reach objectives. I was with an Azov scout sniper unit, so it was a totally different job to what I’m doing now. Azov has better equipment, uniforms, and generally the soldier is of a higher quality.
How would you describe the capabilities of Azov (e.g. holding lines or having specialized fighters such as snipers, EOD techs, etc.)?
Firstly I will not talk about the operational capability of the regiment in that sense. Only what I’ve previously mentioned. Just to add, Azov are a very capable unit. Motivated, trained well with good discipline. A very different unit now than in 2014/15.
What prompted you to leave Azov and join the UAF?
Only reason I left Azov was because I was non-official instructor. My residency was finishing this January and the Marines offered me a home. Now I have a temporary 3-year residency and I live in Mariupol.
Why did you choose the branch of the Ukrainian Military that you did?
They were highly rated and airborne. I also had friends there.
What does it mean to you to be a part of one of the Ukrainian Marines Airborne units?
Airborne units are quick reacting and move across the country at higher speeds. The use of paratroopers in the conventional term is almost obsolete. Dropping behind enemy lines would be rare nowadays but it does give Ukraine adaptability. Also, airborne troops are generally of a higher standard in every regard and trained more widely. It’s good to be a part of the Ukraine Marines and give something back to the country I’m planning to live in.
Have you seen or encountered any Russian military personnel during fighting?
I couldn’t positively identify Russians, but the standard of artillery is varied across the front line. Very good in some places to very poor in others. The separatists are more professional in some areas and the quality of drone operations would signify a higher quality of soldier than the average separatist fighter.
What is your opinion of NATO military aid to Ukraine (too much, too little, etc)?
Can’t really comment on that. Not seen much at all.
Have you encountered anything similar to the M-16 “sniper button” with Azov or the UAF?
Ok. The M-16 doesn’t have a sniper button. I came across this rumor in Syria. Someone played a massive joke on the YPG by saying it’s a sniper button but really it’s a forward assist.