I finally managed to reach the soldier on an encrypted messaging application. He agrees to talk to me on the condition that he does not reveal his identity or whereabouts.
There’s a little lull at the moment, but it was stirring last night and this afternoonhe said to explain our communication problems.
This veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces made the trip to Ukraine at the start of the Russian invasion. He now leads a group of ex-servicemen from Canada, the United States and Europe who fight alongside the Ukrainian army. Hrulf baptized his brigade in honor of the French ancestors of certain Quebecers who are part of it.
He describes what he has been living for two months as hell on earth.
” When the Russians get into it, they bombard us with everything they have. It’s a wonder I haven’t lost any men so far. »
If some elements of the brigade have Ukrainian origins, all are there to defend the values in which they believe, says Hrulf.
This is not a clean war. We are here to stop a genocide, but also to give Ukrainians a chance to have the freedom they want. The Russians are not on the right side of history.
The veteran explains that all members of the brigade fight voluntarily and are integrated into a battalion of the volunteer branch of the Ukrainian army. They therefore report directly to the Ministry of Defence.
It’s the only way not to impose a contract on my guys, he says. We are not mercenaries. A fighter can stay only one month if he wants.
Hrulf does not hide that there have been bickering among his troops since the beginning of his presence in Ukraine. Former members of the brigade have also questioned his leadership this week in an article by The Press. (New window) They blamed him in particular for having neglected to provide the necessary protective equipment for his men.
The commander admits to having redirected about sixty fighters to other units. But he insists that he never skimped on safety.
All had helmets and ballistic plateshe said.
Russian baptism of fire
At the start of the conflict, Hrulf his men were asked to participate in a briefing by the Ukrainian army. Instead, they found themselves retaking a village then in the hands of the Russians, under a rain of shells.
Despite the surprise for the expatriates, the assault ended in success. TurnedNews.com was unable to independently verify these feats of arms.
” I think the Ukrainians wanted to test us. But I think we succeeded because I didn’t die and I didn’t lose any guys. »
But they were not at the end of their troubles. The next day, the Russians returned, with double the strength.
They took prisoners and all the civilian population who had helped us was deported, says the commander. We are witnessing a forced assimilation.
Hrulf believes that his brigade offers a certain experience that is lacking in some Ukrainian volunteer fighters from other units.
In particular, they are given training in the field at the tactical and strategic levels. But there is still a lot of work to do, he agrees. There are many losses among newcomers.
The veteran observes that the Soviet heritage is still very present among the Ukrainian troops. However, the training that the Ukrainian army has received from NATO troops has paid off. Since 2015, Canada has helped train 33,346 troops as part of Operation Unifier, according to the Department of National Defence. The cost of this program is over $890 million.
Before, you couldn’t go to the bathroom without the general’s permission. The Westerners have done a very good job of decentralizing command to allow teams to take tactical initiatives on the ground. This is also one of the reasons why the Russians have lost generals, who must go to the front line if there is a problem. It’s corrupt and everyone is afraid of making a mistake.
If the commander is grateful to the countries which send armament to support the war effort, on the ground, there is still a cruel shortage of equipment for the volunteer combatants.
We need Picatinny rails for the AK-47s and optics, he laments. It’s very hard to find. The priority is for the Ukrainian army and we take what is left. The Brigade is now trying to finance itself by selling mugs and clothes.
But that’s not what will allow us to buy vehiclesadds Hrulf.
Ready for anything
In the middle of the interview, the commander begins to apostrophize one of his soldiers.
There is a drone? Turn off your light and come in, damn it!he shouts, while an Orlan-10 craft flies over them.
Hrulf then resumes the discussion as if nothing had happened.
He now expects a bigger Russian offensive in the Donbass region.
We have a plan and we are patient. We have instructions to follow. We can’t do what we want.
Whether the Ukrainians have a chance of emerging victorious from this battle, the Quebecer is confident.
Even if it’s blind or naive trust, everyone is extremely motivated. The worry is felt when you get bombarded. The injuries are horrible. But the Ukrainians are ready to do anything to defend their land. If I was a Russian, I would think twice before coming.
As for the Norman Brigade, it is there for a long time, even if the conflict gets bogged down, according to Hrulf.
For my part, as long as we are going to be useful, I will stay. But at some point, after two or three years of war, I will pass the torch.