By Fernando Salcines
Kiev, Feb 7 (EFE).- Hundreds of Ukrainian civilians have been training with wooden rifles in an old abandoned factory in Kiev, amid rising concerns of a possible Russian invasion of their country.
“Today, we face the biggest threat of a Russian attack since 2014,” says Andriy Biletski, the first commander of the right-wing Azov Battalion, referring to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in Donbas.
More than 500 men and women go to the factory-turned-training center to learn defense techniques from the paramilitary unit, which fought against pro-Russian militias in the eastern part of Ukraine and is now incorporated into the army.
“Don’t panic, get ready,” is what Azov soldiers tell the thousands of people mobilized in the Ukrainian capital to take part in the military exercises.
Biletski explains the buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops along the Ukrainian border poses a “large-scale” threat, to which an equal response cannot be delivered because Russia is a nuclear-weapon state with armed forces that far outnumber Ukraine’s.
So it is necessary to get prepared to give an “asymmetric response,” in which civilians would play a primary role, according to Biletski.
Volunteers training at the factory are divided into three groups: the first is for the most experienced, the second is for beginners learning basic combat skills and the third is for those interested in civil defense.
Some put on military uniforms but most of them wear civilian clothes.
“The more they sweat during these exercises, the less blood will be spilled in combat,” Sergey Krivonos, the deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, tells Efe.
Volunteers learn how to evacuate wounded soldiers, how to act at checkpoints when suspects are detected, how to hold weapons and make Molotov cocktails.
“It is the kind of knowledge that is good to have even if I never have to put it to use,” volunteer Irina tells Efe, saying she is confident that there will not be a war with Russia.
Having a basic understanding of first aid or what to do in emergencies “helps you avoid stress, anxiety. It feels better when you are psychologically prepared,” the 30-year-old economist adds.
They hand out wooden rifles to the volunteers to practice movements in the field, learn offensive or retreat tactics, discover how to fight indoors in the abandoned factory.
They even make gun sounds with their mouths for accuracy purposes, so, at times, it seems like children are playing.
“We hope for the best, but we prepare for the worst,” Nadezhda, a young woman taking part in the training, tells Efe.EFE