Change of command at Operation UNIFIER

Captain Cynthia Kent, Public Affairs Officer, Joint Task Force – Ukraine

With the swipe of a pen, a new team is now running Operation UNIFIER.

On April 28, in a unique ceremony that ensured all appropriate social distancing precautions were observed, command of Canada’s military mission in Ukraine transferred from Lieutenant-Colonel (LCol) Jeffrey Toope to Lieutenant-Colonel Ryan Stimpson.

Because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the usual pomp and ceremony was replaced by a low-key Transfer of Command Authority certificate signing event, with only a few people present. However, LCol Toope remarked that doesn’t lessen the incredible accomplishments of the outgoing members of Joint Task Force-Ukraine (JTF-U).

“I want to thank all of you for being true military professionals,” said LCol Toope. “Your work will see lasting, long-term change in Ukraine. You should be proud of your accomplishments here.”

In addition to continuing the work of past rotations of personnel on Op UNIFIER, those accomplishments include: graduating the first NATO-compatible Intermediate Leadership Course for non-commissioned officers (NCOs); using mobile training teams to increase mentoring and advising capabilities at various locations in Ukraine; and the first move of larger JTF-U training elements to Combat Training Centre – Shirokiy Lan, outside of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, for brigade-level training.

In recent weeks, personnel were also dealing with the fall-out from COVID-19. LCol Toope said how members dealt with that made him incredibly proud to be their commander. “Serving your country overseas is not easy at the best of times,” he said. “And with the home front now in danger, it certainly does not make being away easier. So thank you for being brave, persevering and getting the job done.”

As the new commander of JTF-U, LCol Stimpson said he and his team are looking forward to continuing the mission of advising and mentoring the Security Forces of Ukraine (SFU) as they move toward NATO compatibility.

“The Security Forces of Ukraine have made great strides in strengthening and growing their force as they move toward NATO interoperability,” said LCol Stimpson. “Although our mentoring and advising is currently paused due to COVID-19, the 60 members in theatre will maintain essential and mission-critical activities in the Joint Operations Area. ROTO 9 looks forward to furthering our relationship with the SFU and returning to business as soon as conditions permit.”

Because of the evolving situation with COVID-19, the number of personnel on Op UNIFIER was reduced from 200 to 60. For those members who
remain in Ukraine, reasonable measures are being taken to mitigate the risk and preserve operational capabilities, so that the task force can return to fulfilling its mission to provide advice and assistance to the training systems of the SFU to support Ukraine in its efforts to maintain sovereignty, security, and stability.

Operation UNIFIER

When Operation UNIFIER’s mission began in September 2015, members of Joint Task Force – Ukraine were working only with the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). In May 2018, the mission expanded beyond the AFU to include the National Guard of Ukraine (NGU), when the Department of National Defence signed a Technical Arrangement with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. Together, the AFU and the NGU are referred to as the Security Forces of Ukraine (SFU). As of March 2020, Op UNIFIER has run 420 serials, and trained 18,096 members of the SFU. This includes 1,212 members of the NGU.