Video offers rare glimpse of Kyiv’s elite DOZOR border force tasked with high-risk, clandestine operations.
16 April 2023
- The DOZOR unit is made up of the Ukrainian border force’s most elite soldiers
- Since Putin’s invasion it has joined the fight to repel Russian troops from Ukraine
Footage of a top-secret commando unit within Ukraine’s elite border force has emerged online, offering a rare glimpse into their operations as they join the fight against Russia’s invading forces.
Known as the ‘D.O.Z.O.R’ unit, the Ukrainian special force is not your typical group of border guards. There is little passport checking here.
The unit – officially named the 10th mobile border detachment – is selected from the most elite troops within Ukraine’s militarised State Border Guard service, or civilians that are deemed fit, strong and skilled enough to pass the demanding entry tests.
Founded in 2002, DOZOR is tasked with carrying out clandestine missions to protect Ukraine from threats posed along its expansive borders that span a total 7,000 miles – including a long stretch of coast.
With Belarus to the north, the Black Sea to the south and Russia dominating its eastern boundaries, Ukraine has for years fielded threats from its enemies.
Since breaking away from the Soviet Union and becoming independent in 1991, Ukraine has ever since existed in the shadow of Russia’s intimidation.
The military threat to Ukraine’s borders became acute in 2014, when Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and pro-Moscow separatists launched a coup in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine – backed by Russian military forces.
But as we now know, this was only a precursor to what was to come later.
In February 2022, Putin ordered his forces to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine with the goal of overthrowing the pro-western government in Kyiv and replacing it with a pro-Russia puppet government more amenable to Moscow’s will.
Since then, DOZOR unit has been actively fighting against the Russia invaders, and while little is known about the specifics of their operations, a picture of the unit can be pieced together from its limited public profile.
The 10th Mobile Border Detachment – also known as the 10th Separate Operational Response Detachment ‘DOZOR’ – is assigned tasks by the State Border Service.
According to information in Ukraine, these tasks will be to fulfil missions deemed most high-risk, often requiring an armed and forceful response.
Other than Russia, Ukraine’s border faces other challenges too. With Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova to the west, the country serves as an entryway into Europe for people traffickers, drug smugglers and gun runners.
As a result, Ukraine has a huge border force made up of some 53,000 people – including 45,000 military personnel.
Among them, the DOZOR unit is considered the best of the best.
According to risk intelligence firm Sibylline, prior to the full-scale invasion, the US was actively involved in supporting, training and outfitting DOZON units, including through donations of tactical equipment as well as maritime patrol craft.
The unit, the firm says, operates along the rivers along Ukraine’s borders, including that with Belarus, and has previously been known to take part in NATO-led Sea Breeze exercises, where they took part in anti-landing and anti-sabotage exercises along the Black Sea coast.
Sibylline added: ‘On land since the full-scale invasion, DOZOR have been active in preventing cross-border people smuggling, a practice that has dramatically increased since the outbreak of the war.
‘As such, they likely play a key role in preventing organised criminal groups from smuggling military-aged men out of Ukraine to avoid conscription. Given the attritional nature of the fighting in the East and the growing need for manpower, these operations will likely remain of increasing importance as conscription avoidance remains an enduring issue.’
The footage that emerged online – to mark the 22nd anniversary of the founding of the unit on April 5 – demonstrated the wide array of skills required from its troops.
The clip shows that DOZOR’s special forces are high trained in the use of military-grade firearms as well as the use of vehicles on land, sea and air.
They are also expected to be capable fighters on multiple terrains, including underwater combat, while also being able to operate in the dark.
The clip shows DOZOR soldiers training with helicopters, armoured vehicles, boats, night vision goggles and lazer sights. One is seen firing a rifle while underwater.
While the unit is largely military focused, it also performs law enforcement operations. Ukraine’s special border unit is often tasked with carrying out raids on criminals attempting to smuggle goods and people further west into Europe.
Clips shared to its social channels often show its highly trained members charging after a suspect through urban terrain before pinning them to the ground in cuffs.
Among their many responsibilities, DOZOR unit is also expected to – when required – be involved in the organisation and protection of the President of Ukraine during his domestic trips when he visits of the country away from Kyiv.
Since his landslide election victory in 2019, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is believed to have been a long-time target of the Kremlin and its assassins.
Despite this, he has made regular trips to the east of Ukraine where the country is most volatile. This is only possible with the best protection.
Since being founded, the DOZOR unit has undergone several rounds of reform – expanding its remit to include law enforcement and anti-terrorism missions.
In the mid 2010s, the Ukrainian government ordered it to adapt to meet EU and NATO standards as part of the country’s steps being taken towards membership.
In 2018, the unit launched a recruitment drive with the aim of expanding its operations – particularly along its eastern borders with Russia.
A press release from 2018 stated that the State Border Guard service was looking to bolster its special forces ranks amid concerns over Russian aggression.
A statement at the time from the head of the state branch, Petro Tsyhykal, said that by the end of 2018 he was hopeful DOZOR would have at least 1,000 special troops.
He said 270 of these would serve on the coasts of the Azov and Black Seas.
At the time, it was reported that the special unit was deployed in Kharkiv, Zhytomyr, Lviv, Kherson and Odesa – several of which have seen intense fighting since 2022.
In its call for applicants, the government agency said DOZOR was not an ordinary unit of the State Border Service of Ukraine.
‘It is used in the most difficult areas of the border, where the most illegal activities are concentrated. These are groups of illegals, armed smugglers and potential terrorists,’ the statement said.
Soldiers in the unit spend their working days training, shooting and practising tactical techniques and improving combat skills, it said.
The selection process for new applicants began in May 2018 in the form of a competition between active members of the State border Service – who had to be under the age of 35 – who wished to join the special unit.
The statement said civilians could ‘also be admitted to the selection after successfully passing the tests’. It said ‘during the selection, not only endurance and physical fitness will be checked, but also moral stability and the ability to work in a team, because in a real dangerous situation everyone can rely only on a friend.’
It is clear from clips of the unit that comradery a highly sought after trait, with the DOZOR soldiers shown working in tight-knit formations when undertaking intense training and missions.
That same year, it was reported that the United States had supplied the unit with two special boats, along with a variety of equipment, suggesting that the US embassy in the country was playing an active role in DOZOR’s upkeep.
Other reports about the unit have sporadically appeared on various online sources.
In 2019, the unit was reported to have taken part in a military competition in Lithuania – held across four days – also thanks to US involvement.
Thirteen teams of special forces entered in total from the likes of the home nation, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine, and saw the different groups undertake a variety of challenges to test their fighting prowess.
While the hosts won the overall tournament, Ukraine’s DOZOR unit came in second – ahead of other special forces units considered to be more well established.
All these skills will have been put into practice in life-or-death situations since February 24, 2022, when Putin ordered thousands of his soldiers into Ukraine in a clear violation of its borders.
Since then, information about the unit’s activities has been scarce, but reports say the DOZOR unit has been actively involved in the fight against the invading Russians.
Details of their operations are a state secret, but some videos released online have shown the unit taking part in the fight for Bakhmut – the war’s longest and bloodiest battle so far – likened to a First World War ‘meat grinder.’
Tens of thousands of soldiers – on both sides of the conflict – have been killed or wounded in the intense fighting for the city.
In one clip, six fighters from the unit are purportedly shown in the middle of an intense fight in the city, in which they were said to have held out for three hours before pulling back.
Despite Russia’s instance on the contrary, Ukraine’s borders have officially stayed the same since 2014. However, the frontlines of the war have shifted, with Russia currently occupying of vast swathes of the east of the country.
Such clips suggest that DOZOR’s determined soldiers are still fighting their hardest to carry out their ultimate mission: to protect Ukraine’s borders – both from criminal activities, terrorists and military threats – as well as those living within them.
Good to see Ukraine’s special forces flourishing, while mafia land’s has been devastated.
Starting tomorrow i will be offline, since i will visit the States. I may be back in case of some extraordinary situation in Ukraine though. Happy Easter to all of you! Slava Ukrayiny!
Have a good trip, Mike, and Happy Easter to you, too. Hope to see you back soon!
Where at in the States?
Aha, back home. I hope you have a great time and nice weather.