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Greater Victoria-based diver helped build Ukraine’s military capacity

Training provided in 2017 could come into play in the event of a Russian invasion
Canada has rotated 200 soldiers to Ukraine to provide military training under Operation UNIFIER since 2017 and recently expanded the operation to 260. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg)

Training given by a Colwood-based military diver five years ago in Operation UNIFIER – the Canadian Armed Forces’ mission to elevate the preparedness of Ukraine’s military – may play a role in the current conflict facing the European nation.

Operation UNIFIER began in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine and saw 200 Canadian military members sent to provide training.

That support has expanded in the last month to 260 soldiers and the provision of surveillance, personal protection and load-bearing equipment, as Russia gathers tens of thousands of troops on its borders with Ukraine.

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Petty Officer Ryan Burrell was part of the fifth Operation UNIFIER rotation to Ukraine in 2017. Over six months, he and a handful of colleagues led clearance diving training for the country’s armed forces.

Stationed in a western Ukrainian city, he taught explosives recognition and disposal. Canada’s clearance divers are responsible for underwater handling of explosives, the maintenance of military diving equipment and battle damage repair of ship’s propellers or other light equipment, Burrell said.

“We were there in a security-force capacity-building aspect,” he said, noting that the goal was to elevate the Ukrainian force’s skills in explosives handling to the NATO standard.

In Burrell’s experience, Ukrainians appreciated western allyship. “For all of the interactions I had with the military and civilians over there, they love Canadians,” he said.

Burrell, now a 20-year veteran, graduated as a clearance diver in 2009 after training at CFB Esquimalt and has since been stationed in the region. The position has seen him involved in the recovery of lost Canadian artifacts (such as the cannon from British explorer Sir John Franklin’s HMS Erebus, lost in 1845’s failed expedition through the Northwest Passage), as well as training new CAF divers.

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– With files from the Canadian Press.