Conflicts & War

Ukrainians train to defend their homes in case of Russian invasion

By Olga Tokariuk

Kiev, Dec 19 (EFE).- “I am married, I have three kids, 10 cats, two dogs, a chicken and a garden,” says Marta Yuzkiv, 51, during a short break in the territorial defense unit drills on the outskirts of Kiev.

Every Saturday, Marta – who has a degree as a doctor and works for an international company specialized in clinical research – and her husband come here with their eldest son to train to defend Ukraine against a potential Russian aggression.

“I don’t want to have a war, I don’t want to fight. I am a civilian woman, but (…) I want to be ready,” she says.

“In the history of Ukraine, we had a lot of examples when women stood just behind or together with the men.”

Alarmed by reports of Russia’s military buildup at Ukraine’s borders, Marta joined the 130th battalion of Kiev’s territorial defense in April.

Captain Yuriy Kostenko, head of staff of the 130th battalion, says many more are now signing up as, according to US and Ukrainian officials, Russia has amassed up to 115,000 soldiers in preparation for a potential attack.

“I receive a lot of calls every day. There is a boom of requests to join territorial defense from entrepreneurs, lawyers, public servants,” he tells Efe.

“People want to know what to do if the war starts. We give them an opportunity to train and to gain necessary skills.”

From January, when a new law comes into force, there will be 10 territorial defense battalions in Kiev, up from six, bringing the total number of reserve personnel in Ukraine to 80,000.

The main objective of these units is to provide support to the regular military in a war situation in urban and suburban settings, Kostenko explains.

“Our task is to patrol, create checkpoints and guard objects, such as public administration offices, roads, bridges, airports and railway stations.”

“The main difference with the armed forces is that we are not deployed to the frontline,” adds battalion instructor Sergiy, nicknamed Thunder. “We stay in the cities and towns we live in to protect them, because we know them well.”

At the drills attended by Efe, participants were trained in the event of an enemy ambush. “We are also learning tactical medicine, cooperation between people in different situations: in the forest, in town,” explains Danylo, 21, a mathematician, who trains with a replica, airsoft gun.

“For a third of my lifetime, there has been a war in my country. So as a responsible citizen I have to be prepared to defend my family, my country, my home,” Danylo says.

“I am from Kiev, not from Donbas. I didn’t know how it felt to leave your home, where you were born, because some people with guns and Russian flags came to your city… I think it’s very scary.”

Dmytro Ternovskyi, on the other hand, knows very well what life under Russian occupation feels like. Originally from Donetsk, he fled the city in 2016, two years after it was taken over by Russian-backed militants.

“My father served in the Soviet army and my mother was a teacher of Russian language and literature, but they raised me as a patriot of Ukraine,” he says.

Ternovskyi, 39, who now works as a physiotherapist and football coach in Kiev, says he joined the territorial defense units because he was “ashamed that guys from Lviv and Kiev took arms in their hands and went to defend my hometown, and I was doing nothing.”

Asked how likely she thinks a new Russian attack is, Marta Yuzkiv just shrugs. “It seems illogical to start a big war in Europe, it would be a tremendous disaster. But who knows what happens in Putin’s head. To be honest, I would prefer to work in a garden rather than carry a gun. But if the war starts, I think I will be ready.”

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