UN troops spot their national differences: Julian Nundy in Sarajevo finds that the new world order has not succeeded in overcoming some ancient prejudices

WITH MILITARY men from a dozen nations sinking cold beers, it seemed a good time to review the new world order. Where better to start than with officers of one of the world's most recently created fighting forces - the Ukrainian army? The British, they concurred, were the worst drunks.

They semed to have a point, as a burly young man called Billy and his red-eyed chums from the Cheshires lurched about a few yards away while Pavel, Sasha and the two Sergeis remained fragilely upright. The slur, however, incurred the wrath of the French. A clear case of the pot calling the kettle black, blustered a French major (of Laotian origin) when he heard of the charge.

The scene was a Canadian party in the headquarters of the UN Protection Force (Unprofor) in Sarajevo in the city's PTT building, arguably one of the most sinister edifices in the world.

Commonly described as an aquarium or a submarine, the building houses UN officials and staff officers of the three-nation force operating in the Sarajevo sector with the hazardous mission of seeing that the humanitarian aid convoys get through. One side of it gives on to Sniper Alley, the perilous road between the airport and the city. Transport to and fro is by armoured personnel carrier (APC) only. Outdoor dress is formal, bulletproof vests and helmets, and there are no exceptions.

The windows are sandbagged so that daylight never penetrates. Life on the upper floors, therefore, is perceptibly little different from life in the two basements, which were once the underground car park. Now the garage billets soldiers and nurses and accommodates the main UN infirmary.

The general commanding the Sarajevo sector is Egyptian. The deputy commander is a French colonel. The chief of staff is a Ukrainian colonel. Each has a battalion of around 400 soldiers from his home country in the city.

Hundreds more soldiers pass through from bases elsewhere in the war zone. Others are in other parts of the UN effort such as the observer mission or run specific logistics. 'The Kiwi Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina' is written on the room of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

For the officers of all nations there are sources of permanent bewilderment. One is the UN bureaucracy and operation of a mission where cost seems more important than results. Another is the behaviour of all the others in the building.

For the Ukrainians, there is only one other good lot - the Canadians. The British, they say, are too yobbish, have poor discipline and are clearly in decline. As for the French, they're stuck- up and difficult. 'Froggy is Froggy,' observed Sasha.

For almost everybody else, the source of the most amazement is the Ukrainians. For the French officers whose army fosters a casual officer-men relationship, the way the Ukrainian officers treat their men is the worst. 'They're just Soviets, they've kept that Soviet nomenklatura,' the Laotian- French major said. 'The officers live like kings and the soldiers are in terrible conditions.'

Last week, the Ukrainians celebrated six months in Sarajevo. Normally, they should have been replaced by fresh troops but, so the Ukrainians said, word had not come from Kiev. In the meantime, the officers draw a monthly salary of dollars 600 ( pounds 390) from the UN, a huge amount for Commonwealth of Independent States citizens.

Perhaps the most interesting fact about the Ukrainian battalion is how few of its members are Ukrainians. Of five officers at the party, three were Russians. Ukrainian soldiers talk Russian, not Ukrainian, at mealtimes. Based in Odessa, the officers said they had had a choice between unemployment or an oath of allegiance to the new Ukrainian republic at independence a year ago. 'I live in Odessa with my family. What was I to do?' said one Sergei.

The main talking point about the Ukrainians is that they are enthusiastic black marketeers. One of the best stories is of a Ukrainian dignitary being trapped inside a Ukrainian APC under fire after the vehicle ran out of petrol. The soldiers had sold the petrol. Last week, the Ukrainian army radioed headquarters for fuel when it was accompanying a food convoy in the countryside.

'I do not understand why the escort fell short of gasoline,' a French officer said. 'They asked the French battalion to send them gasoline and I refused.' A French major said Serbian militiamen searched a Ukrainian APC and 'found four or five kilos (11lb) of coffee, UN coffee'. For another French officer, a look at the Ukrainian army had made him question how far Cold War fears were justified. 'Soviet troops were not such a terrible threat,' he said. 'Now we see them working and we are not impressed.'

One of the Sergeis said he felt that the British officers did not enforce discipline properly. 'What are those boys doing here?' he asked, motioning at Billy. 'This is an officers' party.'

'It's true,' said the Laotian- French major, 'that our drinking habits are different. But the British army is a professional army and it is very professional. When I was in Berlin and the French had parties, the British would come and drink like crazy. Their coach- drivers didn't touch a drop, however, and when the order was given to go they would go. On duty, their behaviour is perfect.'

Among the guests last Saturday, as the Russian-Ukrainians were bad-mouthing the French, was Bernard Kouchner, the French Health and Humanitarian Affairs Minister. Mumbling about France's new anti-smoking law, Sasha said: 'Is that their Health Minister? I'm going to ask him for a light.' Mr Kouchner did not have one. The minister said he found Sasha 'un peu particulier'.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum