Polish officials observe training of Ukrainians on new tanks

SWIETOSZOW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s president and defense minister met Monday with Polish and foreign instructors intensively training Ukrainian troops to operate the German-made Leopard 2 tanks that some European countries and Canada have offered Kyiv to help fight the Russian invasion.

President Andrzej Duda and minister Mariusz Blaszczak also watched Leopard 2 training at a military base and test range in Swietoszow, in southwestern Poland. The training is part of the European Union’s military assistance to Ukraine, but Canadian instructors also have a role, as do Norwegians.

Taking part are Ukrainian tank crews from units fighting in the east of the country. The intensive training lasts up to 10 hours a day, including weekends, the Polish military said. Instruction is also being held in Germany.

Duda voiced hope the tanks would help Ukrainian forces “in a much more efficient way to defeat the enemy.”

He said the Ukrainian trainees have come straight from the front line. “You can see in their faces that these people have gone through terrible things, but they are determined to defend their homeland.”

A Polish instructor, Senior Staff Warrant Officer Krzysztof Sieradzki, said the Ukrainians are so motivated to learn everything fast that the instructors “have to hold them back and transfer knowledge to them in small batches.”

The trainees’ commander, Major Vadym Khodak, said they all have combat experience.

“They didn’t come from the street, they’ve been fighting on our tanks for a long time, so I think learning how to operate these tanks will be a lot easier,” said Khodak, who’s from Dnipro in eastern Ukraine.

Khodak said the modern tanks would be a great help.

“If we learn how to use them, we will put them to test in combat conditions and it will give a great effect,” he said.

Stationed in Swietoszow are Poland’s 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade and a U.S. armored cavalry combat group.

Warsaw is among the most active supporters of neighboring Ukraine, and has pushed European nations to provide the Leopard 1 and 2 tanks. Germany has pledged at least 178 Leopard 1 tanks and 14 Leopard 2s. Poland has pledged 14 Leopard 2s. Other contributing countries include Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, while Britain has pledged Challenger tanks and the U.S. its M1 Abrams main battle tanks.

Duda especially thanked Germany for allowing the German-made tanks to be made available to Kyiv and for its own contribution.

Poland has also provided or pledged more than 300 of its Soviet-era T-72 tanks and modernized PT-91 tanks.

Ukrainian officials say they expect Russian forces to make a new drive in eastern and southern Ukraine, as the Kremlin strives to secure territory it illegally annexed in late September and where it claims its rule is welcomed.

Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said last week that the first battalion of 31 Leopard 1 tanks in Ukraine should be ready in April. The first Ukrainian soldiers to be trained on the tanks departed for Germany last week.

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