As many as 900 Ukrainian troops will take part in training exercises with U.S. paratroopers in April, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said after talks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Monday. In the joint exercise, volunteer Ukrainian troops will receive basic battlefield training to better help them combat Russian-backed rebels in the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.
"290 U.S. paratroopers will arrive on April 20 at the Yavoriv military zone" in the western Ukrainian region of Lviv, near the Polish border, Avakov wrote on his Facebook page. 300 soldiers from the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy, will help train the troops in three waves, each lasting eight weeks, and then conduct joint war games after training is completed.
The mission, which is designed to teach soldiers in the battalions first aid, battlefield tactics and how to defend against being hit by mortar fire and missiles, was originally delayed in March because of fears that it would undermine an already shaky ceasefire and the Minsk II agreement that led to it.
While fighting across eastern Ukraine has not stopped completely, it has slowed down considerably from the days leading up to the signing of the agreement on Feb. 12. The ceasefire did not, however, prevent the pro-Russian rebels from capturing the strategic town of Debaltseve on Feb. 18, three days after the ceasefire had supposedly taken effect.
The volunteer battalions are made of civilians from all over Ukraine. Last year, 37 battalions were added to the newly formed National Guard to help better integrate them with the army. A further 13 battalions were added afterward.
The training mission comes as U.S. troops, warplanes and ships position themselves across NATO-member nations in the Baltics and Eastern Europe as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, in which U.S. and NATO troops take part in training exercises in several countries neighboring Russia.
NATO and the West have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of supplying the pro-Russian separatists with weapons and troops, which Putin denies.
Over the last year, the conflict has led to the deaths of more than 6,000 people, with 15,000 injured and more than 1 million displaced.