A look back on Ukrainian Army ten years ago, when it faced Russian aggression in Crimea and Donbas.

On paper, the Ukrainian Army had a sizable force which the command could deploy to protect the state border. The army consisted of two tank brigades, seven mechanized brigades, one mountain infantry brigade, six artillery brigades and regiments, four airmobile and airborne brigades, two special purpose regiments and one coastal defense brigade (marines). On paper.

In reality, Ukrainian forces faced many issues. The deployment of military units was inherited from the Soviet Union and oriented towards NATO member states. Most Ukrainian units were located in the western and northern territories, while Luhansk and Donetsk Oblast had no Ukrainian unit stationed there. The military tactics and organization also depended on Soviet doctrine. Furthermore, the Ukrainian Army was, for several years, systematically destabilized and weakened.

Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint

In February 2014, Ukrainian top military and political officials fled to Russia, and the state faced almost complete paralysis.

On March 11, 2014, the acting Minister of Defense reported that only 6 000 of 41 000 military personnel of Ukrainian Ground Forces are capable of fighting. Only six brigades were staffed by contractors and at least partially combat capable – 25th Airborne, 30th Mechanized, 79th Airmobile, 80th Airmobile, 93rd Mechanized and 95 Airmobile Brigade. The 3rd and 8th Special Purpose Regiment maintained a significant force due to its constant combat readiness status and would play a crucial role during the first days of Russian aggression.

It is also important to note that, at this point, the Ukrainian National Guard wasn’t formed yet. The Ministry of Internal Affairs had Internal Troops instead, and they were largely regarded as a corrupt entity loyal to the previous pro-Russian government, which fled to Russia in February 2014.

Deployment map

Visualization of Ukrainian units deployment prior to combat alert on March 8, 2014. Map is provided by Jerome’s Spatial Grounds.

As you can see on the map, Ukrainian Army had the following units available:

Western and Northern Territory

  • 1st Tank Brigade, 8th Regiment of Special Purpose, 15th Rocket Artillery Regiment, 24th Mechanized Brigade, 26th Artillery Brigade, 27th Rocket Artillery Regiment, 30th Mechanized Brigade, 51st Mechanized Brigade, 72nd Mechanized Brigade, 80th Airmobile Brigade, 95th Airmobile Brigade, 128th Mountain Infantry Brigade

Southern Territory

  • 3rd Regiment of Special Purpose, 17th Tank Brigade, 28th Mechanized Brigade, 79th Airmobile Brigade, 107th Rocket Artillery Regiment

Crimea

  • 36th Coastal Defense Brigade with 1st and 501st Separate Marine Battalions

Eastern Territory

  • 25th Airborne Brigade, 55th Artillery Brigade, 92nd Mechanized Brigade, 93rd Mechanized Brigade

In addition to that, Ukraine also had 54th and 74th Reconnaissance battalions, and 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade, 11th Army Aviation Brigade and 16th Army Aviation Brigade. They were in a bad shape, but still combat capable to some degree.

Ukrainian soldiers in Kramatorsk, April 2014

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