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To the Africa Day: Ukrainian sting of the UN "scorpio" in DR Congo. Where our national contingent serves and w

To the Africa Day: Ukrainian sting of the UN "scorpio" in DR Congo. Where our national contingent serves and what tasks it performs

May 25 in the world is celebrated as Africa Day. Throughout history, Ukraine has been an active participant of UN peacekeeping operations and an important contributor to the world security. Today, 338 service members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine carry out tasks under the aegis of the United Nations and more than 80% of them are deployed in Africa.

After Ukrainian peacekeepers honorably completed their mission in Liberia, the peace in this country has been reached and they returned home, the Democratic Republic of the Congo left the only African country where not only Ukrainian military observers are serving, but also a national contingent is deployed.

The origins of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo date back to genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when a huge number of Tutsi escaped to Zaire (the DRC nowadays). Then the Rwandan civil war turned over into the territory of Zaire. On August 2, 1998, the Tutsis launched a rebellion in the east of the country, in the city of Goma, and bloody clashes with massacres of civilians, group rapes and killings of prisoners of war started. The conflict in the country was exploited by many external players, who provoked the beginning of the so-called "Second Congolese War", which involved at least 20different armed groups from nine states.

In this regard, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1279 of 30 November 1999 and launched an international peacekeepingoperation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2000th , according to the Decree of the President of Ukraine, Ukrainian peacekeepers were sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo - this is how the history of Ukraine's participation in the protection of civilians, security and democracy in anotherplace of the planet begun.

The main tasks of the peacekeeping forces at that time were to observe the implementation of the ceasefire and forces division. Side by side with foreign partners Ukrainian peacekeepers stopped the open war, in 2003 the country got a transitional government, and in 2006 - the constitution wasapproved.

However, sinse then the conflict has transformed and acquired hidden forms. Illegal armed groups continued to stay in the country, often supported by the parties of the Second Congolese War. The exceptional wealth of natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo become its curse and the struggle for influence over them continued. The civilian population continued to suffer from the freezed conflict, militants controlled some parts of the country and the United Nations Mission in the country had to evolve as well.

In 2010, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution 1925, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was renamed to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, not only the name of the Mission changed, but also the essence. Under the new mandate, the Mission forces were authorized to use all necessary means to protect civilian population, humanitarian workers, and support the acting government to establish peace in the country. In fact, the Mission receives a unique "offensive" mandate of its kind, designed to eliminate any threats to the citizens, including by force.

In this context, the need to increase the capabilities of the Mission's force component appeared and in 2012 the United Nations sends letters of assistance to Ukraine asking for sending helicopters at the disposal of the peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ukraine once again confirmed its status as a peacekeeper State, committed to the UN values, and on February 13th, 2012 the 18th Separate Helicopter Detachment was established in the city of Goma.

Since the first days of its service, the Ukrainian national contingent has proved itself as one of the main units of the Mission's forces. The Mi-24 helicopters of the unit allow the Mission to respond quickly to escalation of the situation in any part of Africa's second-largest country. The Mi-8, in its turn, is an indispensable in conditions of extremely poorly developed road infrastructure of the country and threats from illegal armed forces. Officials, including the Force Commanders, often highlight the unique capabilities of  the Ukrainian Aviation Unit, calling it the key element to ensure mobility of the UN Mission forces.

Since 2012, almost every day, despite of difficulties, unit performs flight tasks, including working in high mountains with extremely sharp weather changes, daily interaction with other contingents, both ground forces and other aircraft crews, flying at night with the minimum necessary navigational equipment. Only Ukrainian pilots among Mission contingents are capable of carrying out tasks using landing sites at an elevation of more than 3,000 meters above sea level, which are quite numerous in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Therefore, the intensity of the flights and the number of taskscarryied out by the Ukrainian national contingent is extremely high. Since 2012, 18 Separate Helicopter detachment performed 21 060 flights. The crews of our helicopters spent more then 23,000 hours in the air, transported more than 78 409 passengers and delivered almost 3 millions 668 thousand kilograms of cargo.

It is important to emphasize the role of Ukrainian peacekeepers in demonstration of force and combat engagement missions and the invaluable contribution of service members of current 9th Rotation, who are now returning home after honorably fulfilling all MONUSCO tasks. The period of this rotation turned out to be a turning point for the country: during this time, the country's first democratic presidential elections were finally held. Before, theywere delayed for many times, provoking the activation of illegal armed groups.

That’s why the Mission carried out a large-scale Operation under the code name "Scorpio", aimed to destroy one of the most brutal groups of militants on the continent just before the elections. In November 2018, the Ukrainian Aviation Unit carried out 124 fire damage missions against forces and positions of illegal armed group, called "Alliance of Democratic Forces" - ADF.

After this operation, the mass media nicknamed Ukrainians as "Sting of the UN Scorpio". The locals gossiped that Ukrainian helicopters are the biggest nightmare of the militants.

The same statement was confirmed by the current Commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo, Brazilian Lt. Gen. Elias Rodriguez Martins Filho. In his speech after decoration of Ukrainian warriors with medals on April 12 this year, he stated: "Your presence in this territory is providing us with an opportunity to accomplish the noble and responsible tasks to ensure peace and stability in the DRC, which the Ukrainian peacekeepers are honorably performing".

It is fair to say that there is still no peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, at the moment, the series of illegal armed groups showloyalty to the acting government. Last month, the leader of the "Kamuina Nsapu" group, Nkanka Simon, sent a letter to the President of the DRC, Felix Tshisekedi, emphasizing his commitment to the newly-elected president, and noted that the his formation adopted a joint decision on disarmament and initiation of a negotiation process with the authorities. Meanwhile, the leader of the political wing of the "M23" group, Bertrand Basimwa, who is on the territory of Uganda, assured the newly-elected president in full support by the group representatives.

It motivates Ukrainian peacekeepers, and, fulfilling duties thousands of kilometers away from their home, which today must also be protected, it is especially important for them to see the support of international community. In resolutions adopted by the United Nations in December 2018, urging the Russian Federation, as the occupying power, to withdraw its military forces from Crimea and to end its temporary occupation of Ukraine’s territory without delay, they also see their contribution. They see that their efforts on maintaining the image of their Homeland, as a strong country, a reliablepartner and ally, committed to the principles of freedom and democracy under all circumstances, who always fulfills its obligations, are not in vain.

These are the actions of the international community, which in fact show that making any place on the planet safe, Ukrainian soldiers bring peace to their own country as well. And this is the greatest reward for Our Warriors of Peace.

18th Separate Helicopter Detachment Assistant Commander on communications with mass media, Captain Andrii Ostapiuk