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In Spain, Ukrainian civilians prepare for battle at a training centre near Madrid

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Located one hour from Madrid, the Toledo Training Command centre is one of the largest military training centres in Europe. Hundreds of Ukrainian civilians who have volunteered to head to the front are training there as part of the EU Military Assistance Mission in support of Ukraine (EUMAM), set up in October 2022. Spain is one of the EU’s key training providers, having already trained 4,000 Ukrainian soldiers. FRANCE 24’s Rémi Cadoret, Armelle Exposito and Bertrand Aguirre report.

As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, the Ukrainian army is seeking 500,000 more soldiers to make up for losses on the battlefield and relieve exhausted troops. But this request faces political opposition in Kyiv: a controversial mobilisation bill has been blocked in parliament for several weeks.

However, Ukrainian civilians continue to volunteer to serve their country. Most have no military experience. To train them, Kyiv can count on the EU Military Assistance Mission in support of Ukraine (EUMAM), a training programme set up by the bloc in October 2022. Some 35,000 soldiers have already been trained in one of the 24 countries participating in the mission.

We visited a participating training centre in Spain. The Toledo military academy welcomes a contingent of 200 future Ukrainian soldiers every five weeks. These men and women come from all walks of life: some are farmers, others factory workers, others executives. Although sometimes disoriented by their new environment, they are keen to learn techniques that will enable them to survive on the front line.

Shooting, mine clearance and urban combat: Five weeks’ training to learn it all

Spanish instructors have just five weeks to teach the basics of shooting, urban combat and mine clearance. They face several problems: the soldiers’s age – 40 on average – and the language barrier. To communicate with the recruits, who don’t speak Spanish, the instructors are supported at all times by translators.

The Ukrainian volunteers are motivated, and it only takes a few days for team spirit to develop. “Five weeks isn’t much, but it’s all we have,” explains Lieutenant Angel, who supervises them. “The days are long because they have to assimilate a lot of techniques. And the first week is dedicated to getting back into shape, as most of them are not in good physical condition.”

At the ceremony marking the end of their training, each soldier receives a cross blessed at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima and an image of Saint Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of Kyiv. A talisman they hope will protect them at the front.

For security reasons, the faces of the soldiers in this report have been blurred.

Read more analysis on the war in Ukraine © France Médias Monde graphic studio

This story originally appeared on France24

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