As the commander of the third battalion in the 80th separate airborne assault brigade, Valerii Kurko was one of the defenders of the Donetsk airport during the Russian-Ukrainian war on Donbas. On 10 January, he was appointed head of the territorial defence of the Lviv region.
Please tell us why territorial defence is no less important than the Armed Forces?
«In the context of the possibility of Russia’s military invasion, the issue of territorial defence has become extremely important. The foundations of the legislative framework of territorial defence were laid in 2017. From 1 January 2022, our units emerged as a new type of force, an integral part of the Armed Forces.
We need to understand this concept because people often confuse it with volunteer formations and the guerrilla movement. Territorial Defense Forces are a separate type of force, the same as special operations forces, support forces, medical forces, and more.
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Territorial Defense Forces are responsible for the protection of Ukraine’s state borders and are formed and operate within the new territorial division of Ukraine. Lviv region is part of the Western region. In our area, there are seven newly formed districts and seven battalions plus one brigade.
Lviv has a special feature, as it’s a city with a population of more than 900,000 people. In case of aggravation and announcement of full or partial mobilisation – another brigade will be deployed from the mobilisation group of my brigade.»
What are the features of the formation and staffing of territorial defence forces?
We are currently staffing the organisational core in both the brigade and the battalions. In peacetime, the brigade consists of 90 to 120 people who sign a contract in the Armed Forces, up to 50 people in each of the battalions. During the war, the rest of the personnel will be replenished with those who can already sign a contract for service in the reserve. The number of personnel during the war is about 500 people, but there may be fewer or more. It all depends on the staffing organizational structure.
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If you want to sign a contract for service in the reserve, then during the announcement of full or partial mobilization, each fighter will know exactly in which unit he serves, who is the commander, where to get weapons, clothing and clothing equipment, helmet and bulletproof vest.
The personnel of the group, as a rule, will perform duties within their territorial communities. However, it’s possible that the soldiers of the territorial defence will be involved in more threatening areas by order of the President or the Commander-in-Chief.
What are the tasks of the territorial defence forces today?
Now, the most important task is to staff units in the Lviv region in peacetime. It is also important to equip places for storing weapons so that weapons are in units, not in warehouses, to organize the work of control points, as well as to equip regime-secret bodies.
Nothing is done instantly. However, we are moving in the right direction and are working hard to address these challenges.
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How does territorial defence react to a possible Russian invasion?
We train personnel and help units to become able to perform tasks. The most important thing is the life of a serviceman, and that is why we focus on primary education. General military training is basic for every serviceman. We will also focus on tactical and fire training, as well as tactical medicine.
The experience of 2014-2015 shows that it is also very important to understand mine safety and mine action. This is what we encountered most often in the first phases of the war. The preservation of the life and health of each individual soldier depends on the training of the personnel. The tactical actions of the unit will depend on the situation that will develop at one time or another.
Territorial defence forces have now begun to deploy. Both training programs and options for possible actions and use of units are currently being developed, but this will take time. As our commander-in-chief says, we do not have a button called «Victory», which is enough to press.
Military training for communal services was conducted in Lviv
How quickly can the territorial defence forces be deployed?
It is impossible to answer the question of how much time we need: day, week or month. It all depends on the sufficient number of Ukrainian citizens who will staff our wartime units in the reserve.
My task as a commander is to prepare the personnel in advance in order to assemble the unit in the shortest possible time and assess its readiness for use. Speaking of the minimum time, it should be understood that for the tasks, trained and educated people are required. I have one narrative – no one will be able to do the job better than myself and my unit.
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How can cities prepare for a possible offensive?
Territorial defence forces are very closely linked to local governments. I am the brigade commander of the Lviv region. The head of the territorial defence zone is the head of the Lviv Regional State Administration. As the brigade commander, I will be the chief of staff of the zone and his first deputy. In districts, territorial defence is organized by heads of district state administrations. The commanders of my battalions will head the headquarters of the defence districts.
Of course, one of the tasks of our units is to protect critical infrastructure and strategic facilities. However, they will be determined by the head of the regional state administration, I will be a military component of the process.
How can territorial defence units now help Kharkiv residents?
Kharkiv is far enough from Lviv to talk about urgent help here and now. We have different tasks, although theoretically, we might be even directed to Kharkiv.
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However, it should be understood that the Armed Forces are powerful in Ukraine. We have, in particular, military formations located in that area, it wasn’t abandoned. It is a different region, but everything is calculated and provided there.
What should be learned in case of an open war?
From my own experience, I want to say that it is extremely important to understand the basics of mine safety, to be skilled at using different types of weapons and the basics of tactical medicine. I can say unequivocally that a very high percentage of military deaths are due to blood loss. The more competently and quickly a soldier or his comrades will provide first aid, the more chances he will have to save the life of another soldier.
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Will the soldiers be able to communicate if cell phones stop working?
The military will not be left without communication. We are able to deploy control points and organize a reliable connection that will not depend on the mobile towers of our operators. In general, mobile communication for the military is not the main means of communication, which is even more true during hostilities.
How can you enrol in the units and are citizens actively doing it now?
So far, only the centre is working – through the former military registration and enlistment offices: in seven districts of the city and the regional one. They direct people to me, I will know about them and hire them in the reserve.
It is necessary to carry out explanatory work, strongly inform the population and invite them to join the ranks of territorial defence: defend your home – and you’ll defend Ukraine.
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It will be recalled that the law on national resistance came into force on 1 January. It provides for the formation of battalions of territorial defence. This includes, in particular, the involvement of civilians in military affairs, as well as the training of people for coordinated behaviour during threats. In order to find out what the new law on national resistance from 1 January changed, how Lviv is preparing for a possible threat and what are the possibilities of the city and region in organizing defence, Lviv Now organised a public discussion on «Is Lviv and the region ready?» to organise defence in case of attack or emergency situations». You can watch the discussion here (in Ukrainian):
Roman Tyshchenko-Lamansky, translated by Vitalii Holich
You can read a Ukrainian language version of this story here.
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Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.