LVIV, Ukraine, April 21 (UPI) -- U.S. paratroopers arrived in Ukraine to begin high-level training of three Ukrainian National Guard units.
Three hundred members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat team, a quick-response unit based in Italy, participated in ceremonies Monday at the Yaroviv army base near Lviv, Ukraine, beginning the operation named "Fearless Guardian – 2015," to better train three Ukrainian units reinforcing defenses in the eastern part the country, where a year-long conflict against Russian-backed rebels is in progress.
The training is a significant upgrade in U.S. involvement in Ukraine; previous instruction has come from the California National Guard.
"We will be conducting classes on war-fighting functions, as well as training to sustain and increase the professionalism and proficiency of military staffs," said U.S. Maj. Jose Mendez in a statement.
"This is certainly an uptick in the training," said Pentagon spokesman Col. Rick Warren, adding the instruction will include counterinsurgency, casualty evacuation, chemical and biological response and other proficiencies.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, addressing troops in the rain Monday, said most of the 900 Ukrainian troops undergoing the three-month training program have fought in eastern Ukraine.
Russian leaders were critical of the operation. Dmitry Paskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Friday, "The participation of instructors and specialists from a third country on the territory Ukraine . . . is far from aiding in the resolution of the conflict. To the contrary, it helps to destabilize the situation."
Russian and U.S. troops are now within 800 miles of each other in Ukraine. About 75 British troops are currently advising the Ukrainian army, and Canada announced last week 200 troops would be sent to the Yaroriv base in the summer.