This article was sent to SOFREP by an individual who served as a foreign volunteer in the Ukrainian Army for over a year. His views regarding the efficiency of the Russian Army are quite interesting, especially given the latest Putin-mania/Russian love that has spread through the Internet, depicting the Russians as an unstoppable force.

As a former professional soldier in my own country’s NATO army, I found myself embroiled in the conflict in Ukraine by my own choice in late July, 2014. While technically I was a “volunteer,” I viewed myself as a professional soldier serving in a foreign country’s armed forces. Far from trying to make this some kind of dramatic personal narrative, I will attempt to portray a picture of the Russian soldier from my own limited point of view—that of an opponent.

At this point, I’d like to sidetrack a bit so as to make some things more clear to the reader. The Ukrainian “volunteer battalions” should not be seen as militias or irregulars, but rather as a sort of “Rough Riders”-style unit, a unit formed by volunteers, yet armed and supplied by the Army and subjected to the regular command structure, having normal combat duties at the front line. The foreign volunteers themselves, again, should not be seen as the like of all these colorful characters that join the Marxist and Arab irregular militias in the Middle East, but rather like the Swedish volunteers during the Winter War, integrated normally within their unit and most of the time taking up a front-line role either in operations or training. The opposing forces can be divided easily in two parts: the bandits who initiated the rebellion and the Russian regulars who intervened later that same year.

The bandits, no matter what the pro-Western propaganda claims, were not mercenaries or Russian regulars posing as rebels. Many Russian nationals flocked to their banner from the onset of the rebellion out of pure patriotism. Of course there were exceptions, but these were just that—exceptions. That doesn’t mean that Russian military advisors or SOF units didn’t directly aid them in the beginning of the conflict. The military effectiveness of said bandit militias was horrendous.

The Russian regulars who eventually had to intervene when the bandits were on the verge of collapse changed the course of the war. These were conventional military units from the Russian Federation’s standing army. After the brief intervention, the regulars fell back to act mostly as QRFs and a general deterrent to any further big-scale offensives by the Ukrainian Army, leaving the bulk of the fighting again to the bandit militias. The fighting included “famous” battles such as the battle for the Donetsk airport, where the Ukrainians were quick to blame the “elite Russian units” for their own military forces’ failure, as they did for most of the conflict.

Enough with the intro. It was clear from the beginning that there was some sense of professional military leadership behind the bandits. During the assault of Marinka on the outskirts of Donetsk, on the 4th of August, with two infantry battalions and tank support, the meager opposing bandit forces had no chance of actually holding the city. Instead of going jihad on us, they did the sensible thing: placed mines, harassed us, and withdrew. While a sound plan operationally, they failed to be effective on the ground. While my squad approached a building that the enemy had been shooting from, we took cover in a small ditch. Six RPGs and 200 PΚΜ rounds later, we stormed the building. While the enemy was nowhere to be found, they had apparently called mortar fire on our position in the ditch, which only arrived an hour and a half later, when we were already inside the building.

Later that day, we attempted to attack a blockpost (fortified checkpoint) on the road from Marinka to Donetsk. The Ukrainian forces being nothing more than a Soviet relic back then, we advanced in columns of infantry behind a tank and a BMP through the single road of a village, a village that was not secured before, and, of course, with nobody advancing by the flanks at the same time. Obviously the enemy was not waiting for us at his blockpost, but had instead prepared an ambush inside the village. Despite only having 10-15 guys with small arms, they managed to rout an infantry column of 60 men with a T-64 and a BMP (although most of the credit for this success has to be claimed by the Ukrainians’ complete lack of radio communications).

My educated guess is that the ambushers were the same guys who had withdrawn from Marinka earlier in the day, since the only sensible course after securing the city was to destroy the enemy blockpost controlling the road. They were following a logical plan.