A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 6, 2024

Why Ukraine's 3rd Assault Brigade Is Attracting So Many Volunteers

Ukraine's 3rd Assault Brigade was recreated out of Azov Brigade members who survived the siege of Mariupol. What that experience taught its leaders - and is now attracting volunteers - is personalized pre-selection processes to match recruits with military assignments that draw on their skills or interests. 

That is followed by rigorous training which also allows recruits to opt out if they decide this is not for them. They are then assigned to units with the knowledge that the brigade will track and support them no matter what happens. That attention to individual needs and desires is consistent with contemporary mores and is reinforced by the brigade's reputation for competence. Ukraine's government increasingly looks on the 3rd as a model is can replicate throughout the military. JL

Elina Beketova reports in The Center For European Policy Analysis:

The 3rd is a famous unit, both because of its elite status and fighting spirit (its predecessor, the Azov, was among the units that held Mariupol for weeks against a far larger Russian force). The brigade has seen action in numerous battles, including the intense fighting in Bakhmut and - most recently - to cover the retreat from Avdiivka. The brigade’s standout feature, is its rigorous training regime. Recruits undergo a physical exam and frontline infantry seven-day course to establish military aptitude and best-suited role. The brigade offers a unique support system for its members through continuing social services for those in need. "We are now the largest brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

“Young fighters who have little experience join. Our task, if he is weak, is to make the weakest the strongest,” Yurii Kovtun, a sergeant in the Ukrainian 3rd Separate Assault brigade, told Radio ROKS. “We will not send him somewhere to die.”

Kovtun joined the brigade in February 2023, a year after Russia’s full-scale invasion. Before signing up, he was a chef. He jokes that he has improved his knife skills through military training and combat zones.

The brigade’s standout feature, he says, is its rigorous training regime. After selection, newcomers undergo a physical exam and a frontline infantrymen’s test week — a seven-day course to establish military aptitude and best-suited role.

“People can try it to see if they are mentally and physically ready [for the war] and ready to undergo training,” Kovtun said. “If they don’t have military service or training, they can even be sent abroad to get some. And only then will they get into a combat unit, where they will be trained more.”

The 3rd is a famous unit. It is a special target for the Russians, both because of its elite status and fighting spirit (its predecessor, the Azov, was among the units that held Mariupol for weeks against a far larger Russian force), but also because of its past ties to the extreme right.

Founder and leader Andriy Biletskyi is a far-right activist and former member of parliament who has acknowledged his far-right ultraconservative stance, but denied association with Nazism or white supremacy, dismissing such accusations as Russian propaganda. He told one publication: “Today, Ukrainians have only one option of political orientation: for or against Ukraine.”

Much about the 3rd has changed, but its fearsome fighting reputation, media-savvy approach to war, and its huge popularity among young Ukrainians seeking to defend their country have, if anything, become stronger.

The brigade has seen action in numerous battles, including the intensive fighting in Bakhmut and — most recently — to cover the retreat from Avdiivka.

Its oldest members are veterans of the Azov regiment and the broader Azov nationalist movement that grew up in response to Russia’s incursions and annexations in 2014. It became a Territorial Defense Forces volunteer unit after the full-scale invasion, and in January 2023 ultimately became part of the Ground Forces and expanded into a brigade.

Dmytro “Sokil,” another brigade member, worked building roads and airfields before joining up. He first fought in Voznesensk in March 2022, protecting a strategically important city that lies at a key intersection between Mykolaiv and Odesa. Back then, his unit was detailed to prevent further Russian advance towards Odesa and the nearby Pivdennoukrainsk Nuclear Power Plant.

Recognizing the need for training after his first battle, he joined the brigade and says his experience in Avdiivka was transformative, highlighting the brigade’s adaptability and resilience.

“Avdiivka was challenging when we were outnumbered. The enemy had an advantage in artillery, and it was difficult because they used several dozen KABs [huge, guided bombs] a day,” he said. “But alongside defensive actions, we also managed to launch some offensive maneuvers.”

The secret of the brigade’s success has four key elements, according to Daniil Koval, head of its Kyiv recruiting center.

The first is that the brigade seeks to remove the fear of the unknown through its media service, showcasing every aspect of military life, from combat missions to everyday routines.

This group is an innovation and contains 12 full-time media staff, including cameramen, press officers, and editors, and now creates content from the front lines on a professional website designed to appeal to the young. Viktor Rozovyy, a member of the brigade and a Ukrainian showman and comedian, films a military diary addressing soldiers’ concerns.


Despite YouTube restrictions, some battle videos get between 4 and 5 million views, and his subscriptions grew to a million in February 2024, a more than fivefold rise from a year earlier.

The second key is training. It’s not only the frontline test week, but also an intensive 30-day training program that makes the difference. A volunteer joining the brigade has a month to decide if they’re ready for the course. If they need more time, they can continue their pre-training until they’re fully prepared, physically and psychologically.

The third secret is that the brigade prioritizes listening to individuals’ preferences to align them with the wide variety of roles within the large brigade. While state territorial centers in Ukraine typically assign service locations and specialisms based on need rather than individual preferences, the 3rd Brigade facilitates mobilization and contracts tailored to individuals.

“We have IT specialists in their civilian lives who shift into roles such as radio-electronic intelligence and security,” Koval told me. “One man initially wanted to become a frontline fighter but, after two weeks, decided to join the artillery. There was another man who served in a rear unit but realized that he might have a knack for artillery and became an artilleryman on the frontline.”

The fourth advantage is that the brigade offers a unique support system for its members through continuing social services for those in need. In case of injury, defenders receive personalized guidance and support throughout their rehabilitation and treatment.

“We have two guys working in Kyiv who lost their left hands — one during the battles in the Kyiv region, and the second during the battles in Zaporizhzhia,” Koval said. “After extensive rehabilitation, they were offered positions as recruiters. They are members of our big family.”

The brigade constantly seeks to adapt to the rapid changes in the realities of war in Ukraine and to align its standards with those in the West.

“Because the team is young, ready for changes, improving themselves as military specialists, no matter what front they are on, the brigade adapts very quickly,” Koval said. “The brigade works and operates according to NATO standards.”

It now has recruiting centers in Kyiv, Lviv, and Dnipro, and Koval is convinced there is still no shortage of people who want to fight.

“Our brigade is constantly expanding, and we are now the largest brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” he said. “There are days when 30 volunteers come to us. People are eager to serve but seek the assurance of protection, recognition, and support from their brothers-in-arms.”

Recruiters also get calls from teenagers. The youngest person who was willing to join the 3rd Brigade was 11 years old, Koval said. 

Are there lessons for recruitment to the rest of the armed forces? The debate on the need for fresh personnel has been disruptive and difficult, and was partially resolved by the government on April 3 when the conscription age was lowered from 27 to 25. But the 50,000 men that may provide is far short of what is needed.

Koval says other units of Ukraine’s Armed Forces might learn from the 3rd. Each brigade could establish its own recruiting center, and each state’s territorial center for recruitment and social support could hold trial weeks run by servicemen with combat experience or injuries.

The experience of the 3rd Brigade also highlights that each element of Ukraine’s armed forces should have its own selection and training. Koval emphasizes the need for a procedure to review those previously exempted from military service, which could increase the number of fighters by tens of thousands.

While Ukraine has much work to do to improve mobilization, it’s also vital for Ukraine’s allies to continue the flow of military aid, he added.

“How long the war lasts depends on the level of support we receive from the West,” he said. “If everything remains as it is, the war will be very long. It can last five years, 10 years, because Ukraine is a big country, we have many people.”

“If, however, Western countries accept a strategy of victory, everything will end quickly.”


orson said...

Delve into the intriguing appeal of Ukraine's 3rd Assault Brigade, as we unravel the reasons behind its remarkable volunteer attraction. your website to explore this fascinating topic further.Thank you for sharing your expertise! Keep up the excellent work! Continue to share. Please feel free to look at my website.
DUI Checkpoints in Fairfax VA

Post a Comment