HMS Dragon has spent a week in the Ukraine’s premier port forging closer ties with the country’s navy.
The Portsmouth-based destroyer has broken away from the UK’s amphibious task group currently operating in the Mediterranean to patrol the Black Sea, working with Britain’s allies and partners in the region to guarantee freedom of movement.
She sailed through the Dardanelles and Bosporus bound for the historic Black Sea port of Odessa, home of the Ukrainian Navy, for a high-profile visit focused on diplomacy and combined training, before paying their respects to the city’s WW2 dead.
The Ukraine is at the beginning of a 15-year plan to build up its Navy, support facilities, shipbuilding and ports on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov with the goal of becoming a major regional maritime force by 2035.
Dragon’s visit to Odessa builds on the solid foundations laid by Operation Orbital, which has already seen more than 18,000 Ukrainian troops train alongside UK Armed Forces personnel.
The destroyer’s Commanding Officer Commander Giles Palin joined senior members of the Ukrainian Navy, including its head Rear Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa.
The ship’s passageways and compartments turned into a training ground for both elite Ukrainian commando forces, 73rd Marine detachment, who practised board and search skills.
And staff from the Ukrainian Navy’s damage control school were shown how Royal Navy sailors respond to fire and flood on board, while the team behind the destroyer’s Wildcat discussed operating a helicopter safely at sea from the deck of a modern warship and survival equipment with their Ukrainian counterparts.
Lieutenant Dimitrii Rudnev, in charge of the new Ukrainian reconnaissance ship UKRS Lahuna joined Dragon for the day of manoeuvres with three of his nation’s patrol ships off the coast of Odessa to learn about the Royal Navy’s routines at sea – and how it conducts close, complex manoeuvres with foreign vessels, assisted by standard NATO terminology and procedures.
“It means a lot to be here on HMS Dragon – particularly so soon after President Zelenskyy visited HMS Prince of Wales in England,” he said.
“Both navies working alongside one another is further affirmation of strong UK-Ukrainian bonds.”
In addition, the Wildcat shared Black Sea skies with an Mi-14 from 10 Naval Aviation Brigade, painted in Ukraine’s national colours of light blue and yellow.
“We are delighted to be working alongside the Ukrainian Navy while in Odessa – and to be learning valuable insights from one another through joint training,” said Commander Palin.
“We’ve tested our reactions to emergencies through practising advanced fire-fighting techniques and honed the ability of both nations’ specialist teams to conduct interdiction operations through boarding training.
“By capacity building with allies in this way, we bolster their resilience and ability to defend themselves in the face of any aggression – as well as enabling us to learn from their experiences.”
Odessa enjoys a Mediterranean-esque climate – it’s still in the low 20s Celsius in early October – and feel with tree-line boulevards and grand 18th and 19th Century buildings.
But it was laid waste during a bitter siege in World War 2 when invested by German and Romanian troops, while as many as 60,000 men and women sacrificed themselves defending the city.
The sailors and marines who took part in the autumn battles of 1941 are remembered by the impressive red granite Monument to the Unknown Sailor which rises 21 metres above Shevchenka Park.
Dragon’s ship’s company paid their respects to Odessa’s heroes by laying a wreath at the foot of the memorial.
And on a lighter note, the Band of the Ukrainian Navy performed on the jetty next to the Portsmouth-based destroyer – with the ship’s company lining the side in appreciation.