Soldiers from Ukraine's National Guard have marched on the presidential administration in Kyiv demanding demobilisation, in the first sign of open unrest in Ukraine's armed forces since the failure of the so-called "anti-terrorist operation" in the Donbass region of East Ukraine.
Around 350 soldiers serving in Ukraine's National Guard - which comprises of a mixture of professional and conscripted internal troops and which played a key role in Kyiv's unsuccessful battle against Russian-backed rebels in East Ukraine - broke out from their base near Kyiv without weapons, and marched into the capital to the presidential administration, chanting slogans against president Petro Poroshenko, according to the zn.ua website. The soldiers demanded payment and clothing and equipment for the winter, and that they be treated "like people, not like cattle”, and resisted attempts by officers to persuade them to return to barracks, according to zn.ua
In a statement, the National Guard command acknowledged that "recruits in the armed forces who have completed their service are demanding their demobilisation in a certain area of Kyiv”.
According to reporters at the scene beside the presidential administration, the recruits complained that they had completed their period of service, but the government had failed to demobilise them, perhaps fearing no new recruits could be found to replace them. Some of the troops wanted to return home, while others were ready to remain in the National Guard on a paid contractual basis, as provided for by law, according to media reports.
National Guard commander Stepan Poltorak - whom President Petro Poroshenko named Ukraine's new defence minister on October 13 - personally addressed the protestors in front of the presidential administration. "You know that you are paid salaries on the 15th and on the 15th you will receive them," he told the protesting soldiers. "I call on you not to respond to provocations from people who want to tear Ukraine apart," he said, as quoted by Interfax, without specifying whom he meant. "They are simply exploiting your misery, your wish to go home, in order to tear apart our state. I call on you to return to your base," he said.
Deputy head of the presidential administration Gennady Zubko promised the protestors that he would meet with them later on the same day at their base, just as soon as Poroshenko returned from a diplomatic visit to Italy. "You will not be sent to the zone of the 'anti-terrorist operation'," Zubko also promised them, as quoted by Interfax. "There is a strict position of the president that recruits will not be sent to the zone of the anti-terrorist operation."
He also assured the soldiers that they would not suffer any disciplinary measures for their protests, if they returned to their base. "Today this is not a rebellion, this is a meeting, and the opportunity [for us] to receive additional information, so that it does not grow into anything more serious," Zubko said. "Today this is a conversation, but later it will be a question of breach of oath of service," he warned. Later in the evening, some of the protestors left for their barracks on buses provided for this purpose.
A similar but smaller protest took place in Kharkiv on October 13, where recruits in the National Guard protested against their postponed demobilisation.
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