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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Jordan King

Ukrainian soldiers trained in UK given free cigarettes

Ukrainian soldiers training in the UK were given free, duty-free cigarettes as part of a Ministry of Defence (MoD) deal, according to reports.

The UK launched Operation Interflex in the summer of 2022 to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion, and a government deal made shortly after saw soldiers given cigarettes as part of their rations.

The cigarettes were reportedly donated by an international tobacco firm and imported duty-free.

The deal, facilitated by then defence secretary Ben Wallace and his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov, reportedly came after complaints that cigarettes were too expensive in the UK and that there were not enough available on bases.

They said that the lack of “creature comforts” was impacting soldiers’ ability to concentrate on their training.

A source quoted by The Telegraph said: “They smoke at higher levels than us. Not only were cigarettes in the UK too expensive but there were not enough of them in the camps where they had to stay.

“It was reported up the chain of command that there were concentration and creature comfort issues as a blocker to progress on training.”

Ukrainian soldiers take part in a training excercise at the STANTA training camp in eastern England (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Ministry of Defence stressed that no public money was spent on cigarettes and said it had made sure “healthier nicotine alternatives and advice were available”.

Cigarettes being included in rations during wartime is not a new thing. During the Second World War, soldiers famously received four cigarettes a day.

They were usually provided by various manufacturers at little-to-no cost to the government – as is the case with this deal.

The revelation comes as Rishi Sunak’s government is working to essentially ban smoking with an incremental increase in the age of tobacco use.

Mr Sunak, who has also championed tougher curbs on vaping, is pushing to make it illegal for anyone born from 2009 onwards to buy tobacco.

While the move has received some praise for helping generations avoid the unhealthy and dangerous habit, it has also garnered criticism for being “puritan”.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the plan “absolutely nuts” while his successor Liz Truss called the proposed bill a “virtue-signalling piece of legislation”.

The MoD has not commented on the deal to get cigarettes to Ukrainian soldiers in light of this.

Their full statement said: “The UK has trained over 60,000 Ukrainian personnel, providing them with the battlefield skills they need to fight Putin’s illegal invasion.

“Ukrainian recruits who were existing smokers could access cigarettes as part of their supplied ration packs.

“No public money was spent on cigarettes, and we ensured that healthier nicotine alternatives and advice were available.”

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