Special Operations Forces (Ukraine)

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Special Operations Forces
Сили спеціальних операцій, ССО ЗСУ
Syly Spetsialnykh Operatsiy, SSO ZSU
Emblem of the Special Operations Forces
Founded5 January 2016; 8 years ago (2016-01-05)[1][2]
TypeSpecial forces
RoleSpecial operations
Direct action
Special reconnaissance
Intelligence gathering
Psychological warfare
Size1,000[3]–2,000[4][5] (2022)
Part ofArmed Forces of Ukraine
Garrison/HQKyiv, Ukraine
Motto(s)Ukrainian: Іду на ви!, romanizedIdu na vy!
(I Come At You!)
Color of beret  Steel Grey
March"Song of the Brave"
Anniversaries29 July[6]
Col. Serhii Lupanchuk
Shoulder sleeve insignia
Cap badge

The Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (Ukrainian: Сили спеціальних операцій Збройних сил України,, romanizedSyly spetsialnykh operatsii Zbroinykh syl Ukrainy, abbreviated ССО, SSO) are the special forces of Ukraine and one of the seven branches of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, with headquarters in Kyiv.

The SSO has the roles including various special forces-related duties such as direct action, special reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, sabotage and psychological warfare. They are not the only special forces units in Ukraine. The SSO was created in 2016, after various reforms of the Ukrainian Armed Forces due to failures in the war in Donbas. The Ukrainian special forces groups were trained on the model of NATO reaction forces.[7][8] Reorganizing by concentrating the special forces command into a single unified branch.[9] Previously, military Spetsnaz were under the command of the Chief Directorate of Intelligence (HUR), Ukraine's military intelligence service.


The branch was formed based on military units of the Ukrainian Chief Directorate of Intelligence (HUR), the military intelligence service, which were originally formed of the Soviet GRU Spetsnaz, based in Ukraine (then Ukrainian SSR). They were special forces units under the command of the Soviet military intelligence service GRU; the Ukrainians adopted a similar model, placing their top special forces unit under the HUR.

In 2014, Special Forces Command numbered over 4,000 Spetsnaz operatives, all of whom are professional soldiers.[10][11][12][13]

War in Donbas[edit]

Troops of the 8th Spetsnaz Regiment in Donbas, March 2015

At the beginning of the Crimea Crisis and the war in Donbas, Ukraine's parliament stated that their forces only had 6,000 combat-ready infantrymen, compared with approximately 20,000 troops stationed at Russian bases in Crimea alone. At the time, Ukraine also had a sizable number of units deployed across the world as part of missions such as Operation Atalanta, ISAF, Kosovo Force, and over 200 troops attached to a UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo.[14]

This meant that Ukraine's most experienced and well trained troops were deployed and unavailable at the start of the conflict. The Ukrainian government immediately began a process of mobilization and the creation of reserve forces such as the National Guard of Ukraine; however, it would be several months until these units would be trained. Therefore, Ukraine's depleted Spetsnaz forces, without the aid of a larger conventional force or an effective local police force, were called to defend the state. According to Ukraine's Minister of Defense Stepan Poltorak, Spetsnaz forces operated largely alone during the first period of the war in Ukraine's Donbas region as they were the only units fit for duty at the time.[15][16]

A group of heavily armed men appeared in Donetsk on 3 March 2014. These were mistakenly identified at first as Russian Spetsnaz operatives invading Ukraine by some, or American Blackwater mercenaries by others. However, it was revealed that it was actually members of Ukraine's Alpha Group escorting Andrey Shishatskiy [uk], the ex-governor of Donetsk, after he was attacked by a group of pro-Russian separatists or Russian Spetsnaz. Several months later Mariupol was declared the administrative center of Donetsk Oblast due to unrest, and most administrative functions were transferred there.[17]

Despite having lost many members, Ukrainian Spetsnaz was called to service in April 2014 once Russian insurgents began to advance into Ukraine. One of the first large-scale missions was to retake the Kramatorsk airfield as a pivot point to put pressure on Donetsk, which had largely been taken over by insurgents. On 15 April, Spetsnaz unit Omega stormed the airfield retaking it and capturing an undisclosed number of pro-Russian insurgents in the process.[18] Kramatorsk airfield was the scene of prolonged fighting even after its recapture. On 25 April insurgents launched a failed attempt to retake the airfield destroying a Mil Mi-8 helicopter and an An-2 transport. The airfield was surrounded by insurgents for several months until the liberation of Kramatorsk from insurgents in July 2014.

On April 25, 2014, Ukraine's Spetsnaz units were some of the first units to encounter insurgents in Sloviansk, which was to become a rebel stronghold. Ukrainian Spetsnaz units began to systematically destroy rebel checkpoints around the city in April so that regular forces could break through into the city; however, it would be several more months until the main components of the Ground Forces of Ukraine were able to break through into the city.[19]

8th Spetsnaz Regiment soldiers during an exercise
SSO operators with AKS74us

On 26 May 2014 Russian insurgents launched an attack taking Donetsk Airport, the nation's second-busiest airport at the time. For the first time in the conflict, Ukrainian forces responded almost immediately by launching airstrikes from Su-25 aircraft and launching Mi-24 gunships to suppress the attackers. Spetsnaz forces as well as airborne troops were airlifted to the scene to battle the insurgents for the airport, starting the First Battle of Donetsk Airport. With the help of air support government forces drove out insurgents by the next day and took control of the airport. This was the first successful operation in the war in Donbas, as prior to this insurgent forces were accustomed to quick victories and government forces typically took several days to respond to attacks.

In May and June 2014, Special Forces units were involved in aiding regular army and National Guard units in the First Battle of Mariupol. By this time, Russian separatists had captured most of Donetsk Oblast as far north as Yampil', although government troops retained control of key points such as Kramatorsk and Donetsk airfields. Insurgents then spread south toward Mariupol, the second-largest city in the Donbas. On April 17, 2014, a large group of several hundred separatists attempted to storm a military base in Mariupol.[20]

The Ukrainian military counterattacked, and an Omega special forces unit was airlifted unto the scene to help local troops drive back the attackers. During the failed assault, 63 separatists were captured and three killed. The Omega special forces group was then tasked with protecting Mariupol for the remainder of the First Battle of Mariupol.[20]

On 9 May, separatists stormed the city police headquarters. Omega and National Guard units attempted to recapture the building, but Ukrainian forces eventually retreated outside the city and cordoned off the city limits with check points. On 13 June, Omega special forces – along with National Guard units, Azov Battalion and Dnipro Battalion – stormed the city. In the ensuing six-hour battle, government troops recaptured all buildings from separatists and hoisted the Ukrainian flag over the city hall.[21]

Ukraine's special forces have also carried out several operations deep into rebel-held territory, operating in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.[22]

Spetsnaz forces have also been responsible for locating and neutralizing terrorist cells operating deep inside of Ukraine, clearing cities that had been recaptured from insurgents, as well as searching for potential saboteurs. In May, the SBU raided and arrested several potential saboteurs in Odesa Oblast.[23]

The Ukrainian Naval Infantry maintains its own small Spetsnaz force in the form of the 73rd marine Spetsnaz detachment. The detachment is named "Seals" after the United States Navy SEALs and is tasked around the same purpose.[24] In August 2014 the commander of the 73rd marine Spetsnaz detachment was killed in an operation near Donetsk, Ukraine. Major Alexei Zinchenko was the first loss for the 73rd marine Spetsnaz detachment as well as the first marine killed in the war in Donbas.[25]

While forces from the Ministry of Interior are often involved in locating spies and saboteurs, the Spetsnaz units of the Ministry of Defense have been more directly involved in the war. Perhaps the most well known are the Spetsnaz units responsible for defending Donetsk International Airport. The Airport was raided on April 18, but maintained operations until May 25, 2014, after which it faced nearly daily attacks. Ukrainian forces have earned the nickname "Cyborgs"[citation needed]. Rebels have on multiple occasions stated that they have captured the airport; however, the flag of Ukraine has been flying over the dispatch tower, suggesting the airport was actually not captured. The airport's garrison has been able to withstand attacks by Russian T-72 tanks, Grad and Uragan rocket artillery, and 2S4 Tyulpan heavy mortars without any air support. By September, Russian Spetsnaz forces began to actively aid the rebels in assaulting the airport; however, they only managed to advance 500 meters closer to the complex by the end of the month.[26]

On 22 November 2014 Spetsnaz groups Cheetah and Titan stormed the Odesa oil refinery. There were no injuries during the operation. A statement from the prosecutor's office of Odesa Oblast stated that Spetsnaz forces were used to secure the refinery's assets. In April, a Ukrainian court ruled that the refinery's assets were to be liquidated; however, it was suspected that management was trying to profit by illegally selling 55 million worth of assets without court approval. Prosecutors attempted to enter the refinery on 17 October 2014 to enforce a court decision to confiscate the refinery's assets but were stopped by security; therefore, the prosecutor's office made the decision to use Spetsnaz forces to secure the premises and carry out the previous court order.[27]

On 10 August 2016, Russia accused the Special Forces of Ukraine of conducting a raid near the Crimea town of Armyansk which killed 2 Russian servicemen; the government of Ukraine denied any involvement. Ukrainian intelligence services reported that there was indeed a border clash, but stated it was a friendly fire incident between the Russian military and the border service of Russia's Federal Security Service.[28][29]

Independent formation[edit]

SSO operators during exercises

On 5 January 2016, the special forces of Ukraine were placed under a single independent military branch, the Special Operations Forces.[1] The catchphrase of Svyatoslav the Brave, "I Come at You!" (Ukrainian: Іду на ви!), was officially adopted as the organization's motto.[30]

In June 2019, the 140th Special Operations Centre was certified as a special ops unit that can be involved in the NATO Response Force, the first from a non-NATO-member state.[8][7]

As of 1 January 2022, the number of the Special Operations Forces had increased by 1,000.[31]

Following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, a Special Forces wing made of foreign fighters was initiated by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's intelligence directorate (GUR). This regiment is separate from the regular international legion but recruits from the force.[32]


Overall, the special forces community of Ukraine lost 73 of its members during the war as of 28 October 2017. The breakdown of casualties is as follows:[33]

  • 3rd Special Purpose Regiment – 44 killed in action
  • 8th Special Purpose Regiment – 14 killed in action
  • 73rd Naval Special Purpose Center – 10 killed in action
  • 140th Special Purpose Center – 5 killed in action


Previously the 3rd and 8th Special Forces Regiments existed at the locations where the SOF Centres East and West now are.[34]

  • Special Operations Forces Command, in Kyiv
    • 99th Command and Support Battalion, in Brovary
    • Special Operations Center East, in Kropyvnytskyi (former 3rd Special Forces Regiment)[35]
    • Special Operations Center West, in Khmelnytskyi (former 8th Special Forces Regiment)[36]
    • Special Operations Center South, in Ochakiv (formerly 73rd Maritime Special Operations Center) On 24 August 2022 President Zelenskyy bestowed the For Courage and Bravery award on the unit.[37][38]
    • 47th Special Forces Detachment
    • 140th Special Forces Center, in Khmelnytskyi[39] (formerly part of the General Staff's Military Intelligence Directorate)
    • Ranger Regiment
    • 142nd Training and Education Center, in Berdychiv
    • 35th Aviation Squadron (Havryshivka Air Base, with Аn-26, Мі-24, Мі-8, Мі-2 (assigned to the Ukrainian Air Force's 456th Transport Aviation Brigade)
    • Intelligence Information Center (Розвідувально-інформаційний центр)[40]
    • Center for Safeguarding of State Classified Data (Окремий центр оборони державної таємниці)[40]
    • Special Operations Forces Signals Regiment (Полк зв’язку)[40][41]
    • Special Operations Forces Supply Regiment (Полк забезпечення ССО)[40][41]
    • support units (підрозділи Руху опору)[40][41]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Ukraine's Special Operations chief appointed". en.lb.ua. 5 January 2016.
  2. ^ [1] [dead link]
  3. ^ The Military Balance 2022. International Institute for Strategic Studies. February 2022. ISBN 9781000620030.
  4. ^ "Ukraine conflict: Ukrainian special operations forces in focus". Janes. 4 March 2022. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  5. ^ "Hunting the Invader: Ukraine's Special Operations Troops". Center for European Policy Analysis. 15 March 2022. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  6. ^ Zelensky signs off laws on national resistance, increasing number of troops, Ukrinform (29 July 2021)
  7. ^ a b "Українська частина сертифікована як Сили швидкого реагування НАТО" [Ukrainian unit certified as NATO rapid reaction forces]. MIL.IN.UA (in Ukrainian). 2019-06-24. Archived from the original on 2019-12-11. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  8. ^ a b "Ukrainian spec-ops forces unit passes NATO certification, first time in history". www.unian.info. June 24, 2019. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  9. ^ "Міністр оборони України затвердив нові правила носіння військової форми одягу та знаків розрізнення військовослужбовцями ЗС України та ліцеїстами". Ministry of Defence (Ukraine). 2017-11-21. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  10. ^ "Новини Хмельницького "Є"". 7 March 2014.
  11. ^ "Іловайськ: цифри і факти". 29 August 2022.
  12. ^ "3 окремий полк спеціального призначення".
  13. ^ "Первомайское: История села: Парашютка". may1.narod.ru.
  14. ^ "Украина возвращает миротворцев из Африки для переброски на юго-восток". Life News. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  15. ^ "Ukraine parliament delivers ultimatum to Crimea over referendum". the Guardian. 11 March 2014. Archived from the original on 2018-09-08. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  16. ^ "В первый период АТО работал только спецназ - Полторак". Ukrinform.
  17. ^ "In Donetsk Pro-Russian separatists attacked the ex-Governor Shishatskiy". Преступности.Нет. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  18. ^ "Українські силовики взяли в полон сепаратистів у Краматорську". Ukraine Pravda. Archived from the original on 15 October 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  19. ^ "На в'їзді до Слов'янська українські силовики знищили блокпост сепаратистів". Gazeta. 25 April 2014. Archived from the original on 12 July 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  20. ^ a b "Three separatists killed as Ukrainian troops repel attack-minister". Reuters. 17 April 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-10-22. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  21. ^ "Ukrainian troops recapture key port city of Mariupol". Human Rights Observers. 13 June 2014. Archived from the original on 2016-03-22. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  22. ^ "Спецназ штурмує Луганськ і Донецьк без артилерії, наступ силовиків триває. Мапа АТО - Новини України на 1+1 - ТСН.ua". Tsn.ua. 16 August 2014. Archived from the original on 18 August 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  23. ^ "Ukrainian authorities: Separatists cleared from 2 eastern cities". CNN. 7 July 2014. Archived from the original on 19 August 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  24. ^ "Чому це важливо?". .narodniy.org. Archived from the original on 2014-11-20. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  25. ^ "Під Донецьком героїчно загинув командир очаківських морських піхотинців". TSN. 18 August 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-09-11. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  26. ^ "Аэропорт Донецка штурмует спецназ ГРУ России - СМИ". Liga. 17 September 2014. Archived from the original on 10 October 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  27. ^ "На Одесском НПЗ "маски-шоу": ворвались люди с автоматами, "охраняют" нефть". Ukraine Pravda. Archived from the original on 2014-11-29. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  28. ^ Oliphant, Roland (10 August 2016). "Putin accuses Ukraine of 'terror' over alleged Crimea raid". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2019-02-28. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  29. ^ "Poroshenko reported on a shootout between the Russian military and the FSB". Edesk News. Archived from the original on 2016-09-20. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  30. ^ "Проект символіки Сил спеціальних операцій ЗСУ". krsof.wordpress.com. 2016-04-04. Archived from the original on 2016-07-07. Retrieved 2016-05-20.
  31. ^ (in Ukrainian) The law on national resistance came into force, Ukrayinska Pravda (1 January 2022)
  32. ^ "Ukraine forms special forces unit for foreign fighters". The Jerusalem Post.
  33. ^ "Книга пам'яті загиблих". Archived from the original on 2018-08-31. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  34. ^ "Ukraine Military Dispositions" (PDF). Royal United Services Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 April 2014.; "Волонтеры передали 8-му полку спецназа ВСУ спецсредства на сумму свыше 500 тысяч гривен". censor. 3 July 2014. Archived from the original on 2019-03-06. Retrieved 2019-03-04.
  35. ^ "Зеленський нагородив відзнакою Центр спеціальних операцій «Схід»". www.ukrinform.ua (in Ukrainian). 2022-07-29. Retrieved 2023-09-06.
  36. ^ "Про присвоєння почесного найменування Окремому центру спеціальних операцій "Захід" Сил спеціальних операцій Збройних Сил України". Офіційний вебпортал парламенту України (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 2023-09-06.
  37. ^ "Указ Президента України №611/2022" [Decree of the President of Ukraine No. 611/2022] (in Ukrainian). August 24, 2022. Retrieved May 8, 2023.
  38. ^ "Три частини ССО отримали стрічку до Бойового Прапора «За мужність та відвагу»". Retrieved 2022-09-03.
  39. ^ "КАПИТАН ДАН КОЛЕСНИК: "САМЫЙ ТЯЖЕЛЫЙ БОЙ 140-ГО ЦЕНТРА СИЛ СПЕЦИАЛЬНЫХ ОПЕРАЦИЙ"". Censor. 27 November 2014. Archived from the original on 2019-03-06. Retrieved 2019-03-04."140 окремий центр спеціального призначення ЗС України отримав Бойовий Прапор". gur.mil.gov.ua. Archived from the original on 2022-04-02. Retrieved 2022-01-22.
  40. ^ a b c d e "Зеленський отримав шеврони від спецпризначенців у День ССО". www.ukrinform.ua (in Ukrainian). 2023-07-30. Archived from the original on 2023-09-06. Retrieved 2023-09-06.
  41. ^ a b c "Зеленський: Сили спеціальних операцій - це героїзм, про який неможливо розповісти всі деталі одразу". Interfax-Ukraine. 2023-07-30. Archived from the original on 2023-09-06. Retrieved 2023-09-06.
  42. ^ a b "Президент змінив командування Сил спеціальних операцій" [The President changed the command of the Special Operations Forces]. Ukrayinska Pravda (in Ukrainian). 2020-08-25. Archived from the original on 2020-08-25. Retrieved 2020-08-25.
  43. ^ a b "Ukraine's President sacks special operations commander". Newsnpr. 2022-07-26. Retrieved 2022-07-30.
  44. ^ a b "Zelensky replaces commander of Special Operations Forces". www.ukrinform.net. 2023-11-03. Retrieved 2023-11-03.

External links[edit]