How Territorial Defense Forces Saved Ukraine

How Territorial Defense Forces Saved Ukraine

I have already written on the reasons why Ukraine has been so successful in defense against Russia, but one point I believe deserves to be reiterated. When question is raised why Ukraine has been so successful in defense against the Russian invasion, usual explanations are Ukrainian adaptability, Western weapons and supplies, NATO battle tactics, familiarity with Russian tactics, ability to contest control of the airspace, ability to preserve their own air force, and using cities as bases from which to interdict Russian logistics.

But while all of these explanations are, to an extent, true, all of them require enablers. In other words, none of the listed factors will have mattered if conditions had not been created for them to matter. And what created these conditions are Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.

Territorial defense units were considered key component of national resistance under the original framework of Ukraine’s national resistance law. They were meant to be a well-trained and localized force operating within the territories of their registration. This allowed local citizens to be very effectively organized for defense against the Russian aggression, as they would be familiar with the local territory and motivated to defend it.

There are new efforts to try and convert territorial defense units to regular, deployable army, but that is a bad idea. In fact, it is precisely the territorial nature of the Territorial Defense that made them so effective.

Attempts to distance territorial defense units from their territories had been ongoing through the entire 2022. On 27th January 2022., the Parliament adopted amendments to the National Resistance Law which distanced the territorial defense away from their local territories, budgets and administrations. Essentially, Territorial Defense was being transformed into the regular Army reserve, its budget and procurement would be allocated by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, local governments will no longer approve commanders of Voluntary Formations of Territorial Communities, and volunteers are brought under the laws and regulations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

On 3rd May 2022. this continued as the Parliament amended the National Resistance Law to allow deployment of the voluntarily contracted Territorial Defense forces to the frontlines far beyond their neighborhoods or oblasts. This is in fact something that has already been happening for a long time and the law merely codified reality on the ground.

Significant is the difference between the Territorial Defense units of the Ukrainian Army and Voluntary Formations of Territorial Communities (VFTC), which have different types of Territorial Defense contracts. Both are voluntary, but also significantly different. First contract is signed by reservists or individuals with previous military experience for a period of three years. These individuals are paid and serve as soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The second type of contracts is signed by citizens enlisting into the Voluntary Formations of Territorial Communities. These people are civilians and need training. They are also unpaid and do not fall under the direct command of the armed forces. While their contract is signed for three years, it is unpaid and can be terminated at any time.

Territorial Defense forces in either case are not the regular Armed Forces. Yet in many cases, poorly trained civilians in the voluntarily formed territorial defense units ended up being deployed to the frontlines – in the absence of necessary legislation. And while major advantage of Territorial Defense troops is the experience they bring from the civilian life, they are not always deployed in a way which takes into account their civilian, or even military, specialization. In some cases, this includes civilian specializations which may be more valuable for the resistance and CIMIC than being deployed to the frontline as infantry. For example, IT experts who would be more valuable in cyberwarfare environment are being utilized as line infantry. The Director of the Software Association of Ukraine was killed by artillery fire far from his own home, in an example of massive mismanagement.

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