A massive buildup of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine has led to every Ukrainian facing a question of how to resist aggression in the event of a full-blown invasion. Therefore, the issue of territorial defense is of interest to ordinary Ukrainians mostly from a practical standpoint. Brigadier General Yuriy Halushkin, 50, the recently appointed TDF Commander, spoke with Ukrinform on a number of pressing issues, including the staffing of the Force, its armaments, responsibilities of its elements on the ground, action to be taken should Russia go forward with a military incursion, as well as what needs to be done to join.
THE TDF CORE HAS ALREADY BEEN FORMED ACROSS REGIONS
- On January 1, the Law on the fundamentals of National Resistance came into force. How do you assess the progress in the issue of shaping up the country's territorial defense?
- The mentioned law was published on June 17 last year, but came into force on January 1, 2022. So the formation of the Territorial Defense Force de facto kicked off January 1 and the presidential decree on my appointment was published on the President’s Office website o at 00:01, I believe. From that moment on, we practically started to form territorial defense forces.
Of course, lots of preliminary measures had been taken ahead of that: staffing issues have been worked out, including as to the regional, brigade, and battalion-level commands, as well as on the location of units. Work is underway to ensure that these premises be properly handed over to us, which is a complicated issue as they are under different subordination – to Ministry of Education, health agencies, or local authorities. Now, for the past 15 days, we’ve been engaged in actually implementing this whole process. Officials are now being appointed, units are being staffed, their management system is being worked out, and equipment is being delivered.
However, we have rather short deadlines. Given the challenges and threats facing Ukraine, we focused primarily on the border sections with Russia and Belarus. We have 13 such regions. In general, the TDF consists of 25 territorial defense brigades. There’s a brigade for each region. Each region is designated as a territorial defense zone, as defined by law.
- So you’re saying that the core of the TDF in these regions has already been formed, is that correct?
- The core has been formed, yes. Officials have been appointed and temporary locations for our bases have been designated. Depending on the number of districts in a given region, the required number of battalions has been formed in each brigade. There can be from four to 10 of those. For example, the Kyiv Brigade consists of 10 battalions. In some regions, there’s six, in some there’s eight. These battalions have also been formed, and now the recruitment process is under way. In the border regions, battalions and brigades are staffed by about 70%, while in the rest of the regions, they’ll have been staffed by up to 70% by the end of next month.
- Are there any issues regarding their staffing, or is it purely a technical process? Perhaps it would be worth strengthening these efforts to expedite their formation?
- There are many components in the issue. The first aspect is the short period of TDF formation. We are forced to pursue this work as quickly as possible because, unfortunately, we don’t know what Putin's up to. We see the buildup of forces on the border, we see that he didn’t abandon his intentions.
I’d like to note though, and this is very important, that the territorial defense system had existed before as part of the Land Forces, although it wasn’t as large as it is now. That is, we aren’t creating it from scratch, we’re just significantly increasing its capabilities. After all, having such brigades and battalions in all regions, we can quickly replenish the TDF with reservists and become fully combat-ready.
Now, by the end of next month, we will have staffed all battalions and brigades by 70%, which is the minimum percentage required to successfully operate. The next issue is to ensure that weapons, ammo, and other equipment are properly stored at every battalion. The Russians are circulating fake stories claiming that the Territorial Defense Force is purely "infantry for the poor." Well, it's clear why they’re doing that. That’s because they understand how much the TDF deployment affects their combat potential and Russian soldiers’ morale.
Of course, there are some issues because have no permanent bases with proper barracks and arms depots with alarms, and so on. But once again I’d like to note that the creation of an effective management system, on which we are currently working, the fact that battalion and brigade has its own territorial defense reserve, formed among local residents, the fact that the latter have been provided with body armor, helmets, and weapons – all this allows us to get more combat-ready units.
So it’s not that important today whether any restoration works were done in barracks. This will come later, but for now, our main task is to be ready for resistance, at the shortest possible notice.
- The most sensitive issue now is whether there are enough arms and whether they can be quickly distributed among soldiers in case the enemy suddenly crosses in. How is the issue of rapid arms supplies to the TDF being resolved?
- I absolutely understand your question, and it is quite logical. We will do it as quickly as possible. But weapons and ammunition are things you need to know how to store. That is, we can't just bring to a battalion a truck-full of automatic rifles, unload and pile them up, and not be able to protect them. Weapons and ammunition must be stored in a secure place. This requires special rooms that are properly equipped, including with alarms. We will have these soon. Meanwhile, there’s a narrative being spread that we should just give citizens these weapons. But to store weapons at home, certain conditions must also be met.
- Sure, so, before handing out weapons, the issue must be regulated.
- Look, I wouldn’t want anyone to operate these concepts unprofessionally. Before handing out weapons and ammo, the first step is to ensure that they are stored in battalions. That is, relatively speaking, a reservist from some nearby village comes to his battalion, receives his weapon and ammunition. But before that, we’d already trained him so he’s aware of his tasks, his unit, and his commander. And with that commander, or in his absence, he knows what site he has to defend or what other action he has to undertake. This significantly shortens the period of getting prepared for combat action.
- Perhaps you have some plans to turn to the Ministry of Information Policy to help you run a nationwide information campaign that would convey all these issues to the people?
- This is something the defense ministry has to deal with, so they are actively involved in this, providing information support for the relevant topic. The Commander of the Territorial Defense Forces is supposed to command the troops.
- Late last year, the Minister of Defense and the Commander-in-Chief issued a statement warning local authorities against seizing the initiative to set up TD headquarters. Perhaps you will explain what’s the area of responsibility of local authorities, and where do the military men step in, so that no competition arises?
- This won’t happen. The Minister of Defense of Ukraine made an absolutely correct remark. First, what is the Territorial Defense Headquarters? A few days ago, the Regulation was issued, which defines how its work is organized. The Chief of Staff of the Territorial Defense Zone is a military serviceman who reports to the Commander of the Territorial Defense Force. The law clearly stipulates that the Commander-in-Chief shall manage Territorial Defense through the TDF Commander. The headquarters of the territorial defense in any zone or district shall be managed by a brigade commander. And the zone of territorial defense is managed by the head of the regional state administration and the regional state administration, respectively, through the headquarters.
TDF HQ IS FORMED IMMEDIATELY
- If you have any information on this, could you say if these headquarters have already been formed across country or is the process still ongoing?
- The headquarters in the zones and districts of terrorist defense are permanent bodies. In a special period, they take up additional functions. And once martial law is introduced, a consolidated plan of territorial defense shall be implemented.
The HQ will include certain people, certain members representing all types of defense forces, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and local governments. In our legislation, all tasks and powers have been laid down. Therefore, there must be no competition here as military commanders manage the military component, while civilian leaders are in the lead of the civilian component, period.
- I would just like to understand at what stage is our society in the context of its readiness to resist the aggressor?
- We started off our conversation with the fact that the country's territorial defense didn’t emerge January 1. It was deployed even earlier, and it all worked: there are territorial defense plans, while all law enforcement agencies have their tasks in terms of ensuring Ukraine's territorial defense. It's just that now it's moved to a new level, that's all – a new management system.
OUR DEMAND FOR FIREARMS AND AMMO IS 100% COVERED
- And what is the situation of the provision of TDF with weapons?
- Well, we are 100% equipped with small arms and ammunition. Our task is to make sure that we can start using these weapons and ammunition as quickly as possible.
- If possible, let's go back to 13 border areas. You said they are in the spotlight now?
- They are in the spotlight of not only the Commander-in-Chief, but the whole country, because everyone knows where Russian troops have been amassed – in Belarus, in the Russian regions bordering our territory, and also in Crimea.
- It seems that the Ukrainian society is careless about the threat of invasion.
- The situation is tense and, in my opinion, people feel it. Negotiations are currently under way at all levels with our partners – Britain, the United States, and the European Union – all are actively communicating, including with the Russian Federation…
PLANS FOR AT LEAST FIVE BRIGADE-LEVEL TDF EXERCISES
- Have any joint exercises of the TDF and other Army units been scheduled?
- Joint exercises involving members of the Territorial Defense Forces have been scheduled. We will have at least five brigade-level drills involving mobilization of reservists who are part of these brigades. However, this is not enough. Among other things, we hold a lot of field training and leadership training events. In particular, we train communications operatives, mortar crews, anti-tankers, anti-aircraft gunners, as well as separately hold separate courses for leaders, including even brigade commanders. By the way, according to the decision of the Minister of Defense, we will hold meetings with the heads of regional state administrations and district state administrations.
- Are there any educational videos you plan to release or perhaps some memos for the population?
- Yes, there is a relevant group, and we are already working on it. We are talking about online training and courses. There are many organizations ready to provide support, including technical.
EVERYONE CAN JOIN TERRITORIAL DEFENSE
- I would like to dwell on more practical advice for our citizens. How can an average person join the TDF?
- All those willing to join the territorial defense force may do so. To this end, they have to
a) Come in and sign a contract for military service;
b) Sign the contract of a TDF reservist.
Both steps can be taken at the regional or district draft stations.
- Relatively speaking, if someone wants to join, they need to grab their passport and tax code and report to the enlistment office?
- If they wish to serve as part of a battalion or brigade, they come to the commander for an interview before reporting to the recruitment center. Next, they have to pass a physical, their papers get done, ant then they put on their uniform and serve their country. Another thing is when people become TDF reservists. It’s those who can be mobilized in the event of open aggression or another contingency. In other words, a TDF reservist lives and works in a district where he serves, and he knows that in the event of a threat, once he is mobilized, he will serve in the battalion located in the area where he lives to protect his home and family.
- Is it possible to streamline physicals, to run them right at the recruitment centers?
- The health of any serviceman or future serviceman is a very important aspect. We need to examine their condition, determine whether they are able to perform tasks so it’s absolutely logical and normal. Passing a physical and drawing up paperwork does take a certain amount of time.
Another point I would like to draw attention to is informing the population properly. People don’t quite understand what it is like to be a reservist with the TDF. How often will he be involved in the meeting, and if so, will his job be retained, will it all be paid for, how often will it all happen? Does he have to come every Saturday for classes? There are many moments here.
IF AGGRESSION IS FULL-BLOWN, WE SHOULD DEFEND OUR COUNTRY, NOT JUST OUR CITY
- By the way, there were discussions that the TDF could be transferred from their home territories to some other areas. Is it true or not, or will they still stay in place?
- When the war with Russia began in 2014, territorial defense battalions were formed at a very short notice. In each region, such a battalion was formed and, according to the decision of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, these battalions were sent to the frontline from different regions. And they fought powerfully, with dignity. Then they were transformed into separate motorized infantry battalions and became part of our combat brigades, battalions that are part of mechanized brigades.
- So how will it go down?
- Now, if the battalions of territorial defense are formed, they are designed to perform tasks defined by law in their zones and areas of territorial defense. If other tasks have to be performed or the situation changes, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine may make the necessary decision.
- And what should be the number of defense forces for a large city or small towns?
- It is determined that in every city with a population of over a million, there must be a territorial defense brigade. That's how it is, we have five such cities – Lviv, Odesa, Dnipro, and Kharkiv, and, of course, the capital of Ukraine. In Kyiv, the brigade has been fully deployed. It’s the brigade and 10 battalions.
- How will they be defending the city in case of aggression? Will it stand on city perimeters, protect critical infrastructure, be engaged on the front line, or used in offensive operations?
- Offensive operations are surely off the table. When it comes to outrifht aggression, it's about defense, not offensive, so that's the first thing. Secondly, as far as I know, the Verkhovna Rada is currently working on amendments to the Law on the Fundamentals of National Resistance to clearly determine whether the TDF shall be used within the combat zone.
The law so far states: "All necessary measures shall be taken to protect…", which means: "timely response and taking the necessary measures to defend the territory and protect the population in a certain area until grouping of troops is deployed there.” So of course, we will be defending our country faithfully.
- And the last thing… Which regions and cities are seeing the best progress in the TDF formation?
- I’d like to call residents of border areas for even more active participation in defense efforts. They are quite active, but the demand in these regions is quite urgent now because the Russian Federation has amassed its troops near these areas. Therefore, we must form the most powerful TDF reserve, we’ve set such a task and, I am convinced, we will be able to implement it. No one must stand aside when it comes to the security of their home, village, city, and their country as a whole.
Iryna Kozhukhar, Kyiv