Ukraine Situation Report: Norwegians Laud Kyiv’s Tank Crews

Ukrainian tank crews have been quick to learn how to operate the eight Leopard 2 tanks donated by Oslo, Norwegian military officials say.

“The Ukrainians have proven to be quite good when it comes to learning new Western [tanks]. It is easier to use, because it is designed with operation in mind,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Palle Ydstebø of the Norwegian Defense Academy. “This may partly be due to something as banal as the comfort and space in the carriages being much better than in the old Soviet equipment.”

Ukrainian troops have been quick studies on Norway's donated Leopard 2 tanks.
Ukrainian tankers train on the Leopard 2 in Poland. (Norwegian Armed Forces photo) Norwegian Armed Forces

But it also has to do with the experience of the Ukrainians.

“Here we are talking about very experienced people who have been in tanks before, and who have also already been in combat with tanks,” Ydstebø said.

The eight Leopard 2s donated by Norway arrived in Ukraine shortly before Easter, according to the Norwegian Defense Ministry (MoD). They joined a growing armada of different Leopard 2 variants donated by Germany, Poland and Portugal. They were part of the first tranche of 150 Leopard 2 tanks promised to Ukraine by NATO member nations and allies like Sweden.

Norwegian troops trained the Ukrainians on how to operate the tanks in Poland, according to the Norwegian MoD. That included learning how to build ditches and other obstacles so they can learn how to cross them.

Ukrainian soldiers train to build tank obstacles in one of the Norwegian engineer armored vehicles. 
(Norwegian Armed Forces photo)

“We are a small group of instructors here, which consists of people from all the Land Forces Hæren of the Norwegian Armed Forces,” said one of the Norwegian instructors, who was identified only as Thomas. “Tank instructors have 10 years of experience working with tanks. We have Bergepanzer armored recovery vehicle instructors who can both repair and operate them. We employ instructors and technicians in engineering armored vehicles with many years of experience. So I can say that we have the best of the best to provide this training.”

“Everyone who undergoes training brings with them some combat experience,” Thomas added.

Before we get into today’s latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

On the battlefield, Ukraine says despite the manpower Russia is expending, it cannot take full control of Bakhmut.

“The enemy has concentrated its main efforts there, and we are forced to make the same great efforts to defend these borders,” Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Hanna Malyar said Thursday during a briefing at the Military Media Center.

“Despite the difficult situation, Ukrainian soldiers fight desperately and do not give the enemy the opportunity to advance and achieve the goals of the war of aggression,” Malyar said.

“Despite the fact that the enemy has concentrated its most professional units in Bakhmut – these are ‘Wagners’, and assault troops, and special forces – the Russians cannot achieve their goal there, i.e. take full control of Bakhmut,” said Malyar.

“Today, the Russians are suffering huge losses there, and despite these losses, they do not stop and still want to achieve this goal – to take control of this city,” she added.

The man accused of a massive leak of classified documents, including those pertaining to Ukraine’s war efforts, was arrested Thursday.

The man, whom The New York Times first identified as Jack Teixeira, is a member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard and is tied to an online group where the leaked documents first appeared, the newspaper reported.

Though he was not named in its story posted Wednesday evening, The Washington Post laid out in great detail how Teixeira captivated a small group of gamers on a Discord channel with the documents before they spilled out onto other platforms.

“United by their mutual love of guns, military gear and God, the group of roughly two dozen — mostly men and boys — formed an invitation-only clubhouse in 2020 on Discord, an online platform popular with gamers,” The Washington Post reported. “But they paid little attention last year when the man some call “OG” posted a message laden with strange acronyms and jargon. The words were unfamiliar, and few people read the long note, one of the members explained. But he revered OG, the elder leader of their tiny tribe, who claimed to know secrets that the government withheld from ordinary people.”

In the wake of this leak, the Pentagon is tightening up who has access to classified documents.

“So we continue to review a variety of factors, as it relates to safeguarding classified materials,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, told reporters Thursday afternoon. “This includes examining and updating distribution lists, assessing how and where intelligence products are shared and a variety of other steps.” 

“I want to emphasize that this was a deliberate criminal act to violate those guidelines and rules, in the same way that if you locked your front door and somebody came into your house and took something, you followed your procedures and you locked your door, but somebody went in your house and took something and put it out on the street, that’s what we’re talking about here,” Ryder said.

Asked why it took so long for the DOD and the intelligence communities to locate these documents despite them being distributed for more than a month, Ryder said that “it’s important to remember that the DOD’s intelligence activities are primarily focused internationally. So, to the extent that the department collects any information related to U.S. persons, for example, or gaming chatrooms, it would have to be conducted in accordance with the law and policy and in a manner that protects privacy and civil liberties.”

At the end of the month, a new Army National Guard unit will take command of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine (JMTG-U), Ryder announced during the press conference.

The Arkansas Army National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team will replace the New York Army National Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and assume command of the JMTG-U, Ryder said. JMTG-U has the mission of training, equipping and providing doctrinal assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

“The 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team took charge of the JMTGU during a transfer authority ceremony in August of 2022, becoming the first and only unit in the JMTGU’s eight-year history to assume the unit mission for a second time,” he said. “And we look forward to the arrival of the 39th and the continuation of the important work to provide Ukraine what it needs in terms of training to defend itself.”

U.S. Army soldiers assigned to Task Force Orion, 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, New York Army National Guard, receive instructions on how to operate M1224 MaxxPro mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Nov. 6, 2022. (U.S. National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Sivayavirojna)

Next week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley, will host an in-person meeting on April 21, at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base, Ryder said. 

This will be the 11th meeting of the UDCG since Austin established it one year ago. 

Austin and Milley “will join ministers of defense and senior military officials from nearly 50 nations around the world to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and to continue our close coordination on providing the Ukrainian people with the means necessary to protect themselves against Russia’s unprovoked and illegal aggression,” Ryder said. “And as we’ve highlighted before, the contact group has been instrumental in identifying, synchronizing and ensuring delivery of the military capabilities that Ukrainians need to defend their homeland.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley are headed to Germany next week for the 11th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

More MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters may be on the way to Ukraine, joining those already donated by Poland and Slovakia. You can read more about those in our coverage here.

Bloomberg reported Thursday that Germany approved a Polish request for permission to re-export five MiG 29 fighter jets from former East German military stocks to Ukraine.

“Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said in a statement that Berlin received the Polish request on Thursday and Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ruling coalition agreed to quickly give the green light as part of Berlin’s continued efforts to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invading forces,” Bloomberg reported.

“This shows that Germany can be relied upon,” Pistorius added.

You can read our in-depth look at the bizarre history of some of the Fulcrums heading to Ukraine here.

Ever since it arrived on the battlefield last year, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS has been a devastating weapon for Ukraine. The video below shows how it took out a Russian R-330Zh Zhitel electronic warfare system in Donetsk Oblast after it was located by Ukraine’s special operations forces (SSO).

The Russians have reportedly stolen everything from grain to toilets and refrigerators during their occupation of Ukrainian land. Now Ukrainian officials say the Russians are stealing timber too.

“Acres of forests have been cut down for commercial gain or to fortify defensive positions without paying compensation, according to Ukrainian government agencies and forestry experts,” The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. “Satellite images show swaths of former woodland left barren since the invasion.”

In November, we told you that the U.K. was donating three WS-61 Sea King helicopters to Ukraine, and that they made their first appearance in January.

The BBC recently flew with Ukrainian crews operating the helicopters – used to rescue downed pilots behind enemy lines among other missions.

A year ago today, Ukraine sunk the Russian Navy’s Project 1164 Slava class cruiser Moskva with a pair of domestically-developed Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles. In commemoration of that event, Ukraine’s official United24 media outlet produced a video about the vessel and the attack that sunk it, which you can see here, though we cannot vouch for all the information it contains.

And finally, Luke Skywalker is with Ukraine. Or at least Mark Hamill is, the actor who played the iconic Star Wars character. Hamill, who has been raising money to buy drones for Ukraine, recently spoke to Ukrainian troops.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more to report about Ukraine.

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Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.