Makeshift Ukrainian Army Camp Gives Sense of ‘Frontline’ With Russia

Guards stand at the entrance to a makeshift Ukrainian army camp about 600 yards from the Russian border. Ayman Mohyeldin / NBC News

OLEKSIIVKA, Ukraine – A makeshift army camp along the Ukrainian frontier with Russia gave a sense of the proverbial "frontline" between Ukrainian and Russian troops Thursday.

The makeshift camp, near the Ukrainian village of Oleksiivka, is about 600 yards from the Russian border. It was set up on March 5 after tensions with Russia had escalated rapidly.

Lt. Col. Vasil Poljoviy, a short and stocky man, spoke calmly and defiantly that morale was high among his men as he gave NBC News a tour of the base.

Poljoviy, who ironically, like many of his peers, was trained in a Russian military academy after Ukraine won its independence in the early 1990s, is now prepared to fight Russia.

He would not tell us specifically what capabilities he had in the camp of about 200 or so men. But light weapons and armor, a handful of communication trucks, an armored personnel carrier and a communication towers could be seen around the base that was once used as a tractor storage warehouse during the Soviet era. Sand bag barriers were set up in various parts of the camp to fortify the positions.

Ayman Mohyeldin: Ukraine Military 'Ready,' 'Morale High' 0:33

The entire unit was deployed on March 5 from Cherkasy in the central part of Ukraine.

Poljoviy said his main objective was to maintain troop preparedness and avoid any provocations on both sides of the border that could lead to broader violence.

He said that the safety of his men was his main concern and that his responsibility was to make sure they return safely to their families and their homes.

On more than one occasion he emphasized that his men were prepared and would fight if Russia attacked or invaded. But he also said he believed there would be no war as both sides expressed their desires to avoid confrontation.

He called what happened in Crimea illegal and a provocation by Russia. But he said he would not pass judgment on the Ukrainian military forces that had defected and joined the Russian military in Crimea. He said he understood that they had families and homes in Crimea, too.

- Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC News