March 3, 2017 2:16 pm
Updated: March 6, 2017 2:48 pm

Edmonton soldiers leave for 6-month mission to train Ukrainian troops

WATCH ABOVE: It was a busy morning for a group of Edmonton soldiers who are heading for a mission in Europe. It’s not combat, but as Julia Wong reports, Operation Unifier is critical in keeping Ukraine safe.

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About 100 Edmonton soldiers are en route to Ukraine as part of a six-month training mission for local troops.

READ MORE: Future uncertain as Edmonton soldiers head to Ukraine

The soldiers left Friday morning and will make a stop in Manitoba to pick up additional troops before continuing their journey.

The soldiers boarded the plane just after 8 a.m. on Friday.

Julia Wong/Global News

The group is heading to Ukraine as part of Operation UNIFIER, which saw the Canadian government start sending troops there in summer 2015.

“[The operation is] to develop their capabilities across a wide spectrum of operations, ranging from combat, tactics, combat engineering, medicine and logistics,” said Major Alex Nitu, the deputy commanding officer for Operation UNIFIER.

READ MORE: Soldiers from Edmonton’s 3rd Canadian Division deploy to Ukraine 

“It’s very pertinent to what they’re engaged with currently, especially towards their eastern border. [They’re] skills they deemed as necessary to help professionalize their force and to also become self-sufficient in those regards.”

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The mission is not combat but Brigadier-General Simon Hetherington said the skills provided to the local Ukrainian troops will save their lives.

“As these soldiers go through the training, they then go off to the anti-terror operation, really the front of their combat situation to the east in Ukraine,” he said.

“It’s developing a professional force for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. They want us there to help them build them, to become an institution much like the others in NATO and much like ours.”

Hetherington admits there is a long road ahead for the local soldiers.

“A success is measured by the professionalism they gain over time and the successes that they achieve on the battlefield,” he said.

The mission is set to expire on March 31. On March 6, the Liberal government announced it is extending Canada’s military mission in Ukraine for another two years as it attempts to send a signal of continued solidarity with the eastern European country.

READ MORE: Canada extends Ukraine mission to 2019 

“The renewal of Op UNIFIER mandate is currently under review. A decision is expected shortly,” Department of National Defence spokesperson, Ashley Lemire, said in an email.

“In the meantime, troops will deploy as originally planned to continue delivering military training as part of Canada’s efforts to assist the Government of Ukraine.

“The renewal of any operation mandate is a regular process to ensure that our military support is achieving its intended objectives. The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are trained and equipped to adapt quickly, even on short notice, to a mission renewal,” Lemire said.

READ MORE: Canada asked to help train new Ukrainian cops

“The bottom line is we’re prepared to carry on and support. The soldiers we are saying farewell to this morning are going for six months. They’re ready to adapt to whatever changes may come in the mission,” Hetherington said.

The plane bringing this deployment to Ukraine will return with approximately 30 soldiers who have been there since August 2016.

WATCH ABOVE: About 100 Canadian Armed Forces soldiers from Edmonton are headed to Ukraine to take part in Operation Unifier. Brig.-Gen. Simon Hetherington joined Julia Wong live to talk about the mission.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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