Ukrainian volunteers train to protect cities if Russia attacks: NPR

Members of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces are taking part in a training session on Saturday morning outside Kiev. New members who have not yet trained with the device should start with the basics, and wood-mock weapons, regardless of their level of experience.

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Members of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces are taking part in a training session on Saturday morning outside Kiev. New members who have not yet trained with the device should start with the basics, and wood-mock weapons, regardless of their level of experience.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

KYIV, Ukraine – In cities across Ukraine, there are billboards showing a smiling young man waving in full combat gear. “Learn how to defend your home today,” the message reads.

The ad from Ukraine’s territorial defense forces, an offshoot of the army, seems to be working. While Ukrainians are preparing for a possible Russian invasion, thousands of citizens are volunteering to train in case they need to help protect their cities.

On the outskirts of a forest outside Kiev, about 60 men and women stand in line to begin six hours of military tactical training on a cold Saturday morning.

Civilian clothes are left in cars parked along the gravel road. Dressed in combat fatigue and cradle weapons and woodcuts, this group is ready for action.

“I decided for myself, it’s time to be prepared,” said Yegor Soboliev, a former member of Ukraine’s parliament. Soboliev says he resigned after Russian President Vladimir Putin began moving troops to Ukraine’s border.

Members of the Territorial Defense Forces stretch before participating in training in January. While Ukrainians are preparing for a possible Russian invasion, thousands of citizens are volunteering to train in case they need to help protect their cities.

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Members of the Territorial Defense Forces stretch before participating in training in January. While Ukrainians are preparing for a possible Russian invasion, thousands of citizens are volunteering to train in case they need to help protect their cities.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

“This is a great way to be educated for people who have jobs, families and for older people,” he says with a laugh. “I think this will change the situation with our security dramatically.”

Soboliev says that Ukraine, like Israel, should be prepared for war at all times to protect its independence.

Ordinary Ukrainians began training last year to prepare for a Russian invasion

The territorial defense forces were set up to train part-time reservists after 2014, when Russia conquered and annexed Crimea.

But last year, the exercises were opened to ordinary citizens as part of the country’s strategic defense plan in the event of a potential invasion from Russia – to promote popular resistance if the Ukrainian military is overwhelmed. They learn guerrilla tactics and firearms.

The deputy commander of the battalion, Vlas Honcharuk, 50, says Ukrainians must be able to defend their cities block by block.

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The deputy commander of the battalion, Vlas Honcharuk, 50, says Ukrainians must be able to defend their cities block by block.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Eastern Ukraine is already involved in a separatist war driven by Russia. Civilians at this training are guessing that there is a 50-50 chance that Russian troops will now invade. The deputy commander of the battalion, 50-year-old Vlas Honcharuk, says Ukrainians must be able to defend their cities block by block.

“I feel a little bit tired, but inflated,” he says. “I’m here because I’m Ukrainian and there’s a war going on. Because Putin is actually the 21st century Hitler. History repeats itself.”

The students learn to shoot and crawl in the woods. The coal-sitting shell of a partially built cement factory forms the framework for practicing urban guerrilla tactics.

The territorial defense forces were set up to train part-time reservists. But last year, the exercises were opened to ordinary citizens as part of the country’s strategic defense plan in the event of a potential invasion by Russia – to promote civilian resistance if the Ukrainian military is overwhelmed.

Pete Kiehart for NPR


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Pete Kiehart for NPR


The territorial defense forces were set up to train part-time reservists. But last year, the exercises were opened to ordinary citizens as part of the country’s strategic defense plan in the event of a potential invasion by Russia – to promote civilian resistance if the Ukrainian military is overwhelmed.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Many of the volunteers are old enough to remember when Russians and Ukrainians were Soviet brothers. They say Ukrainians did not have such a strong separate identity after their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. But now, thanks to Putin’s military aggression and propaganda, Honcharuk says, a genuine Ukrainian nation is being forged.

“Why did they start this war? Because they do not even consider Ukraine a proper nation,” he says. “They think of Ukrainians and Belarusians as Russians, but a kind of second-class Russians, what we call a village Russian. And that’s why they always say, ‘Oh, come from that, keep it away with this independence thing.’ “Honcharuk calls the Russian position” offensive. “

Nearly half a million Ukrainian civilians are already involved in their country’s defense efforts in the east

Civil defense is not an unknown concept in Ukraine. In 2014, when the war against Russian-backed separatists began in the east, volunteer brigades made up a large part of the country’s forces.

Members of the Territorial Defense Forces take a break during training. Many of the volunteers are old enough to remember when Russians and Ukrainians were Soviet brothers.

Pete Kiehart for NPR


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Members of the Territorial Defense Forces take a break during training. Many of the volunteers are old enough to remember when Russians and Ukrainians were Soviet brothers.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Retired Ukrainian general Volodymyr Havrylov says the situation is now completely different. He says the Ukrainian army, with more than 200,000 active employees, is well-trained and prepared, and most importantly, highly motivated and fighting to defend its own territory. And not just the army, he says – also ordinary citizens.

Our troops, our military and civil society are all very motivated compared to what it was in 2014, “he says.” Today we have more than 400,000 citizens participating in all kinds of activities to help with the war effort in the East. This is a very critical mass of people who were absent in 2014. “

Oleksiy Vasylchenko, a 55-year-old digital marketer and part-time diving instructor, was in the Soviet Army 35 years ago. He says that when Russia took Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and started the fighting in the east, Putin poisoned the relationship between Ukrainians and Russians, many of whom maintained close personal ties after the Soviet collapse.

“Many of my friends, my relatives, called me and said we are fascists here, we are killing everyone,” he says. “Because Russian propaganda constantly says that [Ukraine is] nationalist, it is fascist and [Ukrainians] … kill people [who] speak Russian. “

Complete fabrication, says Vasylchenko, noting that Russian is widely spoken in Ukraine. But now, he says, because of Putin’s aggressive tactics, people are switching to Ukrainian.

Many Ukrainians tell NPR that they now feel closer to Europe than before, and their values ​​are in line with European values. That bond is being strengthened as Ukrainians travel to Europe more frequently. In 2017, the EU waived visas for Ukrainians.

Marta Yuzkiv, a doctor working in medical trials, poses for a portrait while exercising. “I would like to say that we are in danger now, and not just danger to Ukraine, but danger to the whole democratic world,” she says. “So I hope we can all stop Putin.”

Pete Kiehart for NPR


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Marta Yuzkiv, a doctor working in medical trials, poses for a portrait while exercising. “I would like to say that we are in danger now, and not just danger to Ukraine, but danger to the whole democratic world,” she says. “So I hope we can all stop Putin.”

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Marta Yuzkiv, a doctor who works in medical trials when she is not volunteering for military training, says Ukrainians feel they are fighting for something bigger.

“I would like to say that we are in danger now, and not just danger to Ukraine, but danger to the whole democratic world,” she says. “So I hope we can all stop Putin. And I know that all Ukrainian partners support us in this effort, so we are grateful for this.”

Ukraine receives military aid from NATO, Europe and the United States On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced an additional $ 200 million in defensive military aid. If Putin invades, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said that support will rise.

Members of the Territorial Defense Forces participate in training on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine.

Pete Kiehart for NPR


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Members of the Territorial Defense Forces participate in training on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

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