Ukrainian soldiers get fast-track training on German tanks

For 12 hours a day and six days a week, a few hundred Ukrainian soldiers are cramming in an intensive course on operating tanks in Germany, knowing full well they have no time to waste.

Ukraine soldiers tanks
A German instructor at the site where Ukrainian soldiers are being trained to use Leopard tanks near Munster. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

“Our comrades are waiting for us,” said one of the soldiers, Vitali, who gave only his first name and covered his face with a scarf to ensure his anonymity.

“They are expecting us to return to Ukraine as quickly as possible and help to defeat the enemy,” he told AFP.

Vitali counts among student soldiers who are learning the basics of maintenance and operation for German-made Leopard 2 tanks, as well as Marder infantry fighting vehicles.

READ ALSO: Germany to send ‘half battalion’ of tanks to Ukraine

The equipment had been recently pledged to Kyiv by Western allies, but before they arrive in Ukraine, the soldiers have to be taught how to use them.

The Ukrainians, some of them straight from the front, will learn to be tank commanders, drivers and gunners in the space of just a few weeks in the middle of the forest near the small town of Munster.

The violence of war could not seem further away from the military school, where Leopard 2 tanks were parked in hangars behind big white doors. Some were being hosed down by soldiers in military fatigues.

But their hometown is always on the minds of the trainee Ukrainian soldiers, described as “very motivated” by their trainer lieutenant-colonel Markus D.

Most of the Ukrainians being trained have limited knowledge of tanks. Only “around 20 percent” of the pupils have any significant experience with the vehicles, said Peter, the German lieutenant in charge of the training programme.

READ ALSO: How the war in Ukraine has changed Germany

Those who have sat behind the controls of a tank before have operated Soviet-made machines that barely resemble the high-spec Leopards and Marders.

“It’s the difference between driving a Mercedes and a Zhiguli”, said Ukrainian soldier Anatoli, drawing a comparison between the German luxury car brand and a Soviet sedan.

The Ukrainians will race through their training in just five weeks. “Normally, it would take twice as long,” said German officer Peter.

The courses being given by German staff are all translated directly into Ukrainian, making the teaching process more painstaking.

Much of the work is practical training, but a little theory is thrown in too.

German Leopard tanks Ukraine

German soldiers conduct training on Leopard tanks in Germany. Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

The hands-on work takes place largely in tank simulators, housed in containers. But the students also have the chance to try out their skills on the vehicles themselves.

Despite the accelerated plan, the German team say they are confident that the Ukrainians will hit their goals.

“It’s difficult but we don’t have a choice,” said Anatoli, 33, who is being trained on the Marder.

After months of hesitation, Berlin agreed in January to send 14 of its modern Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine to help repel Russian forces.

But pride remains the overwhelming emotion among the German soldiers. “We know that what we are teaching our Ukrainian colleagues will be put into practice on the front and we will be able to say that we contributed,” said Stefan, the German trainer of Marder vehicles.

For the Ukrainians, there is no doubt the heavy tanks will help.

“It will have a positive impact”, said Anatoli. “The morale will definitely be even better,” he added.

READ ALSO: ‘ZEITENWENDE’: How war in Ukraine has sparked a historic shift in Germany

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Ukraine asks Germany for air-to-surface missiles: defence ministry

Ukraine has asked Berlin to provide it with Taurus air-to-surface missiles that have a range of in excess of 500 kilometres, Germany's defence ministry told AFP on Saturday.

Ukraine asks Germany for air-to-surface missiles: defence ministry

“We have a received a request from the Ukrainian side in recent days,” a ministry spokesman said, without providing further details.

The request comes as Ukraine prepares to launch a counteroffensive in an effort to wrestle back territory seized by Russia since Moscow invaded its neighbour in February 2022, sparking the biggest conflict on European soil since World War II.

The missiles, produced by a Germany-Swedish joint venture Taurus Systems, would allow Ukraine to strike well inside Russia with their range of more than 500 kilometres (310 miles).

READ ALSO: Germany say US must decide on jets for Ukraine

The United States and other Western countries providing arms to Ukraine have up to now been cautious on giving Kyiv weapons that could reach inside nuclear-armed Russia, potentially widening the conflict.

Previously seen as reticent on supplying weapons, Germany has become the second-biggest contributor of military assistance to Ukraine after the United States.

READ ALSO: Germany unveils 2.7 bn euro weapons package for Ukraine

It is currently preparing its biggest-yet military aid package, including anti-missile systems, 30 additional Leopard 1 tanks, more than 100 armoured combat vehicles and more than 200 surveillance drones.

But it has so far been cautious on the issue of fighter jets and air-to-surface missiles.