Cyprus is working together with Irish and American military experts to help train two groups of Ukrainian servicemen in clearing countless unmarked minefields in their homeland, the island nation’s defense minister said on Friday.
Responding to an Associated Press query, Minister Michalis Georgallas said a first group of 24 Ukrainians are currently undergoing training at Cypriot military installations, with another group expected to arrive next month.
The training took place under the auspices of a European Union Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM Ukraine), launched last October to respond to Ukraine’s requests for support, he said.
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As the situation on the ground in Ukraine now stands, a team of 5,000 mine clearance specialists would need at least 30 years to clear all mines from unmarked minefields on the front lines, Georgallas said.
He said Cypriot officers are also taking part in training Ukrainian personnel in Germany.
Cyprus has a lot of experience in mine clearance, as thousands of deadly munitions still remain. The mines are a vestige of defenses set up after the 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a coup intended to unite Cyprus with Greece.
The United Nations has for years assisted in mine clearance efforts, particularly within a buffer zone it controls that separates a breakaway Turkish Cypriot North and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot South.
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Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kiev was delaying its long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia’s occupying forces because it lacked enough Western weapons to succeed without suffering heavy casualties.
A Ukrainian counteroffensive against the Russian invasion of more than 14 months was expected since warmer weather improved battlefield conditions. But Zelenskyy told European broadcasters in an interview broadcast on Thursday that a counter-offensive now would result in high casualties and that would be “unacceptable”.
The Ukrainian president said more time is needed because “not everything has arrived yet” in terms of equipment.
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Ukraine’s troops are receiving Western training as well as advanced weapons as they prepare for an attack.
Cyprus has said it will not transfer its Soviet-era tanks, armored vehicles and anti-aircraft missile batteries to Ukraine because it continues to face 35,000 Turkish troops stationed in the north.