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Army recruitment centres across Ukraine compete for the best candidates

Published on Jun 27, 2024

Ukrainian article of the week published in the 34th edition of the "What about Ukraine" newsletter on June 13th, 2024. The article was written by Kateryna Amelina, for LB.ua on June 18th, 2024 and was translated for n-ost by Tetiana Evloeva. Photo credit: Olha Deineka/Suspline Lviv. Read the original article here

Over the past half a year, the topic of military recruitment has been fiercely debated, as the Ukrainian brigades developed from posting job offers on social media and the platform Lobby X to opening recruitment centres in cities in the rear of the frontline. Some even launched a chain of centres — such as the Third Assault Brigade, which will soon have branches in five cities. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence increased the number of its recruiting locations to 25.

The ministry said that potential recruits became increasingly interested several weeks before 18 May, when the updated rules for drafting and enlistment came into effect.

LB.ua interviewed several recruiters to learn the requests they must fulfil, and whether assignment letters, which brigades issue to recruits to confirm their agreed-upon position, are really effective.

Why should a brigade open a recruitment centre?

The recruiting team affiliated with the King Danylo 24th Assault Brigade was launched in February, and eventually, they could open a regional office in Lviv on 10 April.

“We need this centre to be able to see the applicants in person, and perhaps be seen by them,” explains Vasyl Dzesa, a recruiting officer for the brigade. “It’s not some separate channel, but a supplementary factor in the applicant’s decision-making. We do our best so that our visitors are comfortable, and give off civilian office vibes rather than those of a basement in Donbas.”

‘Being seen’ also involves showing off military equipment: at the office, the applicant can get acquainted with the equipment that the brigade issues to its personnel.

“There are people who don’t understand the basics and are under the impression that procuring personal equipment, like body armour and the rest, is their responsibility [which is not the case],” explains the centre’s representative.

Yuliia Yevdokymova, a public relations officer at the Special Operations Forces Recruitment Centre of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (which opened in Kyiv on 18 May) agrees that the misconception of having to bring your own equipment is still quite common among civilians.

“Such people are often worried that their training is about to begin, and they still lack the UAH 100,000 [~EUR 2,300] [for equipment],” shares Yuliia. “When asked why, they cite their need to buy a uniform and a pair of footwear, along with body armour and a helmet. So we have to explain that their basic needs will be covered. Of course, we can’t ban someone who wants a pair of expensive combat boots from buying them, however, the ones we provide are good. Besides, as we are the Special Operations Forces, we will provide you with some additional equipment. What you need to start your training is a sweatshirt, a pair of sweatpants, a pair of sneakers, several T-shirts, your underwear and personal care products, the rest is already taken care of.”

Photo credit: Maks Trebukhov At the opening of the first Special Operations Forces Recruiting Center in Kyiv

Another widespread myth is that a recruit will find themselves in the trenches on the day following the recruitment.

“99.9 percent of those [spreading these rumours] were never involved with the Army, nor did they have a military friend or family member, and that’s a narrative widely promoted by the Russians,” explains Yuliia. “Because that never happens. First, they undergo obligatory basic military training, then they have special training, get introduced to their unit and undergo another round of training together, for teambuilding purposes. There’s no way an untrained person can be allowed to participate in military operations, there’s a specific ban for doing so.”

Regarding processing one’s information at the military conscription offices, she adds, “nobody’s information is processed until the person says that they are ready for military service. That’s when they get an assignment letter, and take that document to their military conscription office.”

There’s another myth which has spread, stating that recruits have no training opportunities abroad.

“However, that (being trained abroad, — LB.ua) is quite a common occurrence. There’s a variety of training courses and programmes offered by our partners, and those training opportunities are interesting. We also send our instructors to accompany the recruits, to facilitate their training by bridging the language barrier,” explains the Special Operations Force representative.

Photo credit: General staff Ukrainian recruits on military training in the UK

Officers of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade believe that having a recruitment centre is better than a hotline:

“A lot of issues are better solved face-to-face, having the person’s paperwork in front of you,” explains Rusyn, head of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade’s Recruitment Centre in Kyiv. “Because even if someone has their record card handy, most people are unaware of how to properly read the information listed there. Besides, having a live interview is way better to see if that person is a good match for our unit, and whether we are a good match for that person.”

What happens when someone approaches an army recruiter?

Initially, the brigade’s officials collect the candidate’s data, such as their age and their educational background. If that person has a specific occupation in mind, that interview can end in drafting a resume and sending it via internal channels, to the unit that needs a specific professional. This is when all necessary clarifications occur.

After a series of interviews, the unit sends their decision regarding every candidate. Should that decision be positive, the recruit will be given an assignment letter that they have to take to their military conscription office, which, in turn, launches the procedure of hiring that specialist into the military.

“Sometimes we introduce the person in question to the unit even before the decision is made,” explains Yuliia, from the Special Operations Forces Recruitment Centre. “Thus, the candidate gains a contact in their prospective unit. That’s important to both parties, as the units need specific specialists to fill in certain roles, and the recruit is reassured by having someone they know in the unit they can connect with.”

Yuliia shares that their team also supports the recruits during their medical exams, whenever necessary.

“Basically, we offer the recruits our support from our initial interview with them to their being assigned to their unit. However, should they need any legal advice, we help them with that as well,” she adds.

Photo credit: Maks Trebukhov At the opening of the first Special Operations Forces Recruiting Center in Kyiv

The recruiting team for the 24th Assault Brigade keeps in touch with the recruit up to six months after they take up their position in the Brigade.

“We have to make sure that neither the brigade nor the person in question is facing any unpleasant surprises,” explains Vasyl, a spokesperson for the Centre. “We receive feedback from the military officer, and also from their superior, to understand how the person is doing and whether they are a good match; we try to understand whether our evaluation was correct and whether our recruitment procedure needs any improvement.”

If that post entails combat action, the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade supplies the recruit with both the assignment letter and a convocation letter for additional training, specifically when it’s the person’s first time in military service.

“For about four weeks, those lads and ladies undertake a training course in Kyiv, before they go to the training centre,” clarifies Rusyn. “That’s where they exercise, build a team, get acquainted with life in the military — and in their free time, they do their paperwork with their military conscription office, and take their medical exams.”

In the recruitment centres affiliated with the Ministry of Defence, after the initial interview, they draw up a recruit’s profile taking into consideration their wishes, and look for a suitable placement in a military base for that person. This is when the recruit is connected with a base representative, they can talk, and if both are happy with the placement, the base issues a recommendation letter that the recruit has to take to their military conscription office. With this letter, they get conscripted, take their medical exams, undergo basic military training at a training centre and are assigned to a specific position on their military base.

“The recruit is contacted by the recruiting officer weekly until they are placed in a military base. Should there be any problems, all the recruit has to do is inform the officer and the problems will be solved,” assures a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence.

Photo credit: Brigade’s official profile Recruitment Centre for the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade in Lviv, July 2023

Drone pilots, robotic specialists among most sought-after positions

According to the Recruitment Centre staff, general questions about military service make up a small fraction of requests. About 90 percent of the time people contact the Centre regarding a specific opening, or to offer their services as an expert in a specific field.

“Those people are mainly interested in the practical side of things, such as how they can secure a position in our unit,” explains Vasyl, from the 24th Assault Brigade’s Recruitment Centre. “That happens when the decision is made, and the person in question is looking for specific prospects. We have applications such as ‘I have a driver’s licence in this and that category, do you have a position for me?’, which narrows down the search. Or they say: ‘I work in IT, do you have any openings for me?’ By the way, the latter is a very popular request, and overall, those people do understand that their prospective field of work will be linked with piloting drones, electronic warfare support, or electronic intelligence.”

In the Special Operations Forces, those individuals are advised to look into communications-related positions.

“Communication in the early days of the full-scale invasion and communication now are two entirely different things,” explains a spokesperson for the Centre. “We put up some new systems, and there was a significant influx of civilian specialists into the military, so we need more professionals in the field.”

Drone pilots and robotic systems specialists are two of the most sought-after positions. However, there are other popular options.

“We have plenty of drivers now, as well as a variety of small but quite specific openings,” notes Vasyl. “Chemists, for instance, apply for positions in the Forces of radiation, chemical and biological protection defence troops. You need to understand that the Brigade is a huge system that needs servicing.”

The most sought-after positions in the 3rd Assault Brigade are a stormtrooper and a health worker.

Photo credit: the 3rd Assault Brigade’s Facebook profile Fire training and tactical training with soldiers of the 2nd company of the anti-tank battalion of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, replying to the question about the operation of their recruitment centres, informed us that there was no opening that didn’t receive at least one application.

“Our citizens are interested in both combat roles and those linked with logistics and support,” explains the spokesperson. “Gunners, drivers, health care professionals, cooks, repairmen, logisticians, operators of various types of weapons and military equipment, signallers, electronic warfare support specialists, drone pilots — those are the openings in the highest demand.”

Women also approach the recruitment centres, albeit less often. 

“The young women who approach us have a clear understanding of what they are after,” explains Yuliia, the spokesperson for the Special Operations Forces Recruitment Centre. “Most of the time, they seek positions such as health care professionals, mental health professionals and accountants. Some seek the position of a group operator, which is basically a gunner, but with certain specifics. We also have female drone pilots who completed their training and have several dozen hours of flight experience. Basically, it’s the same as with men. I believe our work will gradually improve the overall reception, as people continue to realise they won't be killed as soon as they are conscripted.”

There are also plenty of transfer requests from people already in the military. For instance, the 3rd Assault Brigade receives over 400 applications per month. Still, this has to be negotiated with that individual’s immediate commander, as it’s up to them to decide whether they are willing to let go of their subordinate. Only when such permission is granted can the transfer procedure be initiated.

Yuliia notes that that process is long and complicated, as the application has to be approved by at least three levels of authority.

“However, we have good interpersonal communication between the units, and transfers can be facilitated if some specific specialist is needed more elsewhere,” notes Yuliia. “The units interact not just on the frontlines, but also when it comes to staffing and other matters because ultimately, our goal is the same.”

Every LB.ua interviewee agreed that after 18 May, when the updated rules for drafting and military enlistment came into effect, the public interest in military recruitment peaked.

Photo credit: Ministry of Defence of Ukraine A Recruitment Centre for the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Zaporizhzhia

“As early as two weeks before the law came into effect, there was a noticeable increase in people’s interest,” explains Vasyl, a spokesperson for the 24th Assault Brigade’s Recruitment Centre. “Before, we mainly worked with specialised professionals, but then we had a surge of applications for trade jobs, like drivers, diesel specialists and engine mechanics. It feels like the number of applicants doubled, if not tripled.”

A spokesperson for the 3rd Assault Brigade notes that the number of applications from male applicants increased by 30 to 40 percent, which includes both those who are yet to receive their draft notice and those who were delivered one.

“If the person comes before they receive a draft notice,” notes Rusyn, “we can get them in touch with this or that military conscription office. If they have already been issued their draft notice, things get a bit more complicated.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence notes there has been an increase of requests in the regions, albeit unevenly, but they believe that expanding the network of Recruitment Centres across the country has something to do with that influx as well.

Overall, according to the Ministry of Defence, the statistics over the past three months are as follows: 7,784 individual contacts have been made, 2,382 persons at various stages of recruitment (including 357 women), and 212 individuals already posted in the military.

The spokesperson for the Special Operations Forces noted that they were systematically recruiting soldiers even before the first recruitment centre was open, however, now their work is scaled up due to the influx of those willing to join the Special Operations Forces.

For instance, 15 percent of the previous months’ applicants are already undergoing their basic military training, while the rest of the applications are still in progress (which includes stages like baseline interview, interview with the unit commander, and paperwork).

In the 24th Brigade, several dozen soldiers have already completed their training and joined the Brigade, with another several hundred still in training.

Photo credit: Photo credit: the 3rd Assault Brigade’s Facebook profile 3rd Separate Assault Brigade during their nationwide recruitment tour

The 3rd Assault Brigade shares its statistics regarding recruiting volunteers over the past two years, almost from the very early days of the full-scale invasion. Since then, over 3,000 individuals have joined the unit.

Are assignment letters effective?

Opinions on the effectiveness of assignment letters differ to the extreme. Some say that they were effective when the recruitment campaign was launched, and then came a reaction from the system. Each military conscription office had its plan [for how many people it should conscript to the brigades] that they had to fulfil, so instead of assigning the recruit to the unit that issued the assignment letter, they sent individuals elsewhere to fulfil those plans. Others, on the contrary, state that after the initial chaos, the process became more transparent.

“Actually, both groups are right,” notes Vasyl, from the 24th Assault Brigade’s Recruitment Centre. “In the early days, there was no such influx, so some tried to experiment with those assignment letters. Today, as more and more people apply, the system needs specific rules and procedures to operate. So we see certain measures being taken, like guidelines, to facilitate this process.

With guidelines comes the weak spot. These can be updated almost monthly. For instance, several days after I began working on this piece, it came to light that the recruitment rules were changed, which allowed recruits to be assigned to the units they wanted to join.

Photo credit: 3rd Assault Brigade’s Facebook profile A fighter of the 3rd Assault Brigade

As LB.ua learned from our own sources, the algorithm for the contract servicemen remains the same, in the following order: assignment letter, military conscription office, medical exams, training centre. Conscripts that were drafted are first sent to a special unit, and then to basic military training or specialised training with their future unit. After the training is over, the individual who has an assignment letter will be sent to the brigade of their choice. This letter offers a kind of ‘reservation’ for that person before they are sent to a training centre. Such a reservation is meant to prevent assigning that person to a different unit. Those involved in the recruiting process view those changes with optimism.

“On the other hand, there’s high demand for people, as every Brigade is recruiting, and they are in competition,” notes Vasyl. “For instance, representatives of some Brigade entitled to pick servicepeople come to a training centre and try to take individuals who were booked for our unit. At this point, we have to get involved and negotiate, to keep that person. That’s why, regardless of the guidelines, any brigade that’s recruiting has to have an officer assigned to work with the new conscripts, keeping them in the communication loop, assisting them, and keeping an eye on them. Because you are never safe from either human fault or human stupidity.”

Photo credit: Oleksandr Bramskyi / Suspilne News Anton Muraveinyk during his interview for Suspilne, 25 March 2024

Recruitment at crossroads between wants of the people and needs of the army

The issue of recruiting was aptly addressed by Anton Muraveinyk, head of the analytical department of the Come Back Alive Foundation.

“Basically, recruiting in our country is a crossroads between the wants of the people and the needs of the army,” explains Anton, speaking live for the Frontova Poplava #150. “This crossroads mainly lies in the combat brigades, as since this February, there’s a non-public priority list for staffing of brigades, and that list is updated every month. However, a recruiter for every brigade has to prove why they get to have the priority. Which means, if you get a recommendation letter for joining a brigade that’s on that list, you are very likely to end up where you agreed to go, especially if you’re signing a contract.”

For the assignment letters to work as intended, the Special Operations Forces recruiting team works directly with several specific military conscription offices.

“Overall, such support and cooperation with the military conscription offices allows us to successfully run a recruitment campaign,” shares the spokesperson for the Special Operations Forces. “There are certain nuances that demand our attention. But in any case, people are pleased to be looked after and asked how they are going and whether they need any assistance.”

The 3rd Assault Brigade also has a number of military conscription offices they routinely work with, where they send their recruits who haven’t received their draft notice yet. At the same time, the spokesperson for the Brigade confirms that the assignment letters are more likely to work as intended if an individual signs a contract.

Photo credit: TSN Fighters of the 3rd Assault Brigade in training

“With voluntary service by contract, it all works as it used to, however, when it comes to draftees, there may be issues due to them being booked via the Command of the Ground Forces,” explains Rusyn. “With the draftees, there’s a numerical selection [based on a number of servicepeople they need], and there’s a name selection. It so happens that a brigade that has suffered critical losses gets a reservation for a quick replenishment, and in such cases, the brigade can come to a training centre and pick as many individuals as necessary. We try to stand up for the individuals booked with us, but sometimes we fail in five to ten percent of the cases. Frankly, it really depends on the person: if one is strongly opposed to joining another brigade, nobody will force them. You need to understand that there is competition within training centres, and different brigades can poach people from one another. So we give the people we booked clear instructions as to what they should do in such a situation.”

Putting skills to use: a reason for growing popularity

The spokesperson for the 24th Assault Brigade explains its growing popularity citing two reasons. The first is that an individual can be certain where they will end up.

“We had a case when both the candidate and their prospective commander were in Lviv, so they were able to meet and greet, and that recruit ended up serving under that commander,” shares Vasyl. “At the training centres, about two weeks before the course is over, it dawns on people that they are soon joining the army and are to take part in combat, so they become more nervous and some conflict may occur. With recruiting, the individual tends to be calmer, even when their future position entails combat.”

The second reason is that the 24th Brigade offers recruits an opportunity to make use of their knowledge and skills, which also decreases the level of the recruit’s stress

Photo credit: armyinform.com.ua In one of the AFU’s maintenance battalions

The spokesperson for the Special Operations Forces believes that predictability allows for a better adaptation to military life.

“We tested civilians on the premises of our Ranger regiments. You talk to them, and their speech is like a normal civilian. After they are sent to basic military training, their speech becomes riddled with military slang, such as ‘I’ve hit the 100 already’ [obtained the military speciality #100, meaning a gunner, — translator’s note]. We send them to specialised training after that, and they become seasoned professionals. Sometimes their commanders share that this or that person isn’t planning to return to their civilian life, and is looking forward to becoming a sergeant, are flexing their leadership skills and planning on undergoing more training,” laughs Yuliia, a spokesperson for the Special Operations Forces. “They take recruits under their wing and explain the specifics of military life to them. It’s hard to imagine that that same person only joined the Army merely four months ago!”

Every interviewee believes that one’s motivation is a major factor:

“I guess that’s more important than any commander,” says Vasyl. “Whenever we have a highly motivated individual, we are willing to give it a shot even if they are not a strong candidate requirements-wise.”

Yuliia adds that it’s crucial that a recruit finds not just a position, but an opportunity to prove themselves — as in any other field of work.

In the meanwhile the 3rd Assault Brigade has its own way of motivating people. Recently, a photo of the Brigades stand at the FANCON festival of modern pop culture went viral on social media. There, they told people about their Brigade and their vacancies and demonstrated unmanned robotic systems. They say that many people approached their stand to try their hand in operating drones, and shooting a machine gun in a simulator. In particular, people asked for their course of action should they be handed a draft notice.

Photo credit: x.com/Yukar1ch1 3rd Assault Brigade’s stand at the FANCON festival

“This is where the Ukrainian youth, gamers at that, are in their element,” says Rusyn. “You can go on complaining that the present-day youth is this and that, but you can also go and work with them. We chose to abstain from criticising, which resulted in most of our recruits being under 30. We are often approached by 17-year-olds who tell us that they can’t wait to turn 18 and make inquiries about whether they can take any tests now, so no time is wasted.”.

Those who have turned 25 are given general advice not to waste time and choose a brigade to their liking.

“We have plenty of stories where men come for their interview and share crazy stories on why they need several more months to wrap things up, and then we have to pick them up from checkpoints in the western regions of Ukraine,” says Rusyn. “For instance, recently, we managed to get someone who had already been taken to a training centre, otherwise, they would have been assigned and sent to a random brigade. We told him not to leave the city limits of Kyiv, and he decided he knew better and went on a vacation with his wife. So every person over 25 years of age has to make that adult decision unless they have a respective family situation [freeing them from military service, — translator’s note].”