This year marked the fourth consecutive cadet exchange between the United Kingdom and Ukraine, with two cadets from each country being hosted for a week each. I would like to give my sincere thanks to Air Marshal Sir Ian Macfadyen, Yulia Osmoloskaya, Wing Commander Stuart McNeill and Cathy Houghton, among numerous RAFAC and Ukrainian Air Force personnel, since without their combined efforts the exchange, and wonderful opportunity afforded to the exchange cadets, would not be possible.

The program for myself and FS Bovill in Ukraine was significantly different from last year’s; we were hosted at the National Air Force University in Kharkiv, Kharkiv Oblast, in the north east of the country. Ukrainian cadets embarking on a career as an officer in the Ukrainian Air Force must first complete five years of specialised training within one of the faculties at the university. Navigators, rotary and fixed wing pilots, anti-aircraft specialists and radar operators are trained here, with engineers occupying a separate campus. With the current geopolitical situation in Ukraine, their training takes on a different light to the RAFAC’s aims. They are already in military service, training to serve their country at a time of conflict. Despite the sobering thought that we were closer to a warzone than the capital city, Kiev, during our stay, our hosts remained upbeat and cheery, allowing for a thoroughly enjoyable visit.

Following a five-hour train journey over 400 kilometres, we met with our hosts, Sergei and Tanya, who are two fourth year cadets at the university. Sergei is training to become an Antonov-26 pilot, and Tanya is pursuing a career as a navigator. Their hospitality and friendliness was unparalleled and by the end of the trip we were firm friends. Both of them spoke English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian, and to their credit they translated flawlessly for us both during the trip. We were also mentored in our pronunciation of some basic Russian and Ukrainian words! The other cadets at the university were again very amiable and I was pleased to find a running partner and to meet with a future MiG-29 fighter pilot. We got on very well with them and it turned out to be a surprisingly sociable week in a foreign country. Of course, the cadets take their military service very seriously, but they embrace the saying “… having a sense of humour is vital to having a career in the military.”

The exchange was aviation-oriented and this meant that we were given the privilege of several tours led by professionals in the field. We toured the training faculties of the university, which included ground school classrooms, aerodynamics facilities and flight simulators. Pilots training to fly the MiG-29 Fulcrum or Su-27 Flanker first complete three years of training on the L-39 Albatros light jet trainer, for which there are several simulators at the university. We were given a demonstration of the L-39 and Mi-8 helicopter simulators, and had the opportunity to complete a short aerobatics flight on the simulator. Later, we sat in on a theory lesson for helicopter pilots on air collision avoidance, which was thoroughly interesting to see how similarly training is delivered between our two organisations. In this case, a cadet was giving a presentation on an air crash case study for the purpose of presentation feedback and analysis of the factors leading to the accident. This was highly reminiscent of some of our cadet-led lessons on the Qualified Aerospace Instructor’s Course (QAIC). I was particularly interested to look around the aerodynamics lab, since their equipment was a step up from our basic wind tunnel used for instruction on QAIC.

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the engineering campus to be given a detailed walkaround of some of the Ukrainian Air Force aircraft in service. My favourites were the Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter and the MiG-29 – we had the benefit of an engineering officer showing us around who was able to answer our questions about the airframes and their systems. On the second to last day, we visited Chuhuiv Air Base which is home to 203 (Training) Aviation Brigade, flying the Antonov-26 transport aircraft, Mil-8 and the Aero L-39 trainer. We were lucky enough to visit on an operational day, so saw several jets in action on training flights.

Aside from the educational aviation visits, the exchange presented an opportunity to share with one another the unique cultural differences found between the UK and Ukraine. For example, I was interested in Ukrainian-Russian relations post 1991 and gained an insight into Ukraine’s ‘decommunisation’ laws and the end of all trading relationships with Russia since 2014. On a lighter note, we tried Ukrainian food (I particularly enjoyed ‘blins’ and ‘borscht’) which is largely meat based with a range of interesting dishes and drinks such as ‘compote’, an alternative to fruit juice. Our various walks around the city allowed us to see Kharkiv’s many beautiful monasteries and historic architecture. Kharkiv is a rapidly expanding city, with many green spaces and extensive leisure areas – we explored many of its parks and even visited a safari ecopark. However, the more of Ukrainian culture we experienced, the more similarities we were able to identify with our own culture; UK and Ukrainian cadets are not so different after all!

I would thoroughly recommend this exchange to any cadets interested in experiencing a foreign country and its cadet program. The Kharkiv National Air Force University were gracious hosts and I would like to extend my thanks to Sergei, Tanya and the Ukrainian Air Force for welcoming us to Ukraine and providing such an interesting and enjoyable program. It has been an honour and a privilege to be selected to represent the United Kingdom abroad and I am sure that this exchange has and continues to promote the spirit of international understanding and cooperation between our two countries.