We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France

Showing leadership in the Ukraine

No, I don’t have any insights to share on the geo-politics, but I was incredibly impressed when I read CDR Salamander’s post on Ukrainian Colonel Yuli Mamchor. The Colonel commands Ukraine’s 204th Tactical Aviation Brigade assigned to the Belbek air base.

During World War II, the Russians built the airbase at Belbek while fighting the Germans. The 62nd Fighter Aviation Regiment was based in Belbek and it’s pilots not only fought from there, but also went on to guard the Yalta Conference in 1945 (according to a good article in Time). While the brigade is stationed there, no more than a handful of it’s MiG-29 fighter jets and L-39 training jets are operational.

The Russians had surrounded Mamchor’s command at their barracks, insisting that they surrender their weapons. They set a deadline. That passed and they set another deadline, “surrender by 4:00 pm on Tuesday or the Russians would cut off the power and the gas lines to the base.” Mamchor called their bluff.

Colonel Mamchor saluting the Ukrainian flag

At their morning assembly, the Colonel told his men they would march to the base, unarmed and resume their duties. Knowing that some men had already deserted and that this might be a suicide mission, he called for volunteers. The response was apparently near unanimous, but he chose to leave about half of his command at the barracks and march the rest over to the base.

They took the Soviet-era flag of the 62nd Fighter Aviation Regiment. “Any soldier born in the Soviet Union would have heard the stories of its legendary pilots”, noted TIME. Then, they marched, unarmed on the base. The handful of guards appear to have been stunned at such a crowd. Two of them took aim at the column, but fired warning shots in the air while shouting for them to stop. COL Mamchor only halted his demi-brigade within a few yards of the guards – the guard detachment’s NCO or junior officer restrained his men and conferred with the Colonel.

Colonel Mamchor went in to negotiate with the Russian commander, while his men relaxed as they waited, someone pulling out a soccer ball for a little scrimmaging. The Russians set up machine guns and were joined by local pro-Russian militiamen, but no incident occurred. Mamchor was able to secure the right for 10 of his men to resume their posts guarding the base, armed with their Kalashnikovs. The Russians hadn’t left, but Mamchor secured a victory.

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