Ukrainian reservists prepare for conflict with Russia

KYIV, Jan 29 (Reuters) – From Monday to Friday, Mykhaylo is a lawyer, Alexander is a computer programmer and Konstantin is a freelancer in online advertising.

On Saturday, the three men gathered at an abandoned construction site on the outskirts of Kiev to train as Ukrainian army reservists, ready to be called up should a war break out with neighboring Russia. .

Worried about the threat of some 120,000 Russian soldiers massed near the border with Ukraine, Kiev launched a new territorial defense force this year, which it wants to build into a body of up to 130,000 people.

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Although they stand little chance against the much larger and better equipped professional Russian army, reservists like them could be tasked with protecting civilian sites in Kiev in the midst of any conflict.

Saturday’s training brought together around 70 locals, some in full infantry gear with hunting rifles and with combat experience from when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and then supported rebels fighting the government troops in eastern Ukraine.

Others wearing sneakers and casual sportswear received fake wooden guns.

“I’m worried,” said Konstantin Sevchuk, the 43-year-old freelancer who said he had so far avoided contact with the military after serving a year in the eastern Donbass region in 2014/15 during of the general mobilization of Ukraine.

“It doesn’t really fit into my life, I didn’t really want to. But now the situation is such that it is necessary.”

While computer programmer Alexander took part in the 2013/14 pro-democracy “Maidan” mass protests in Kyiv, he said he did not feel ready to fight back when Moscow reacted to the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro- Russian by annexing Crimea.

“Now I’m in my thirties and it’s time for me to join,” he said, his face covered in a blue scarf. “It’s better to commit now than when it’s too late. I want to be ready.”

Breathing heavily after getting up and falling on the snowy ground several times with his heavy gear, Mykhaylo, 39, was excited to go fight.

Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces reservists take part in military exercises on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine January 29, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

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“My fondness for war machines was there long before the war. Now it makes perfect sense to do so,” he said during the demonstration drills.

As the United States warned that military intervention was likely and imminent, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said too much “panic” was hurting the economy of 41 million people.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the West has failed to meet Moscow’s key security demands in the Ukraine crisis, but is ready to keep talking.

Meanwhile, the West has threatened Russia with heavy economic sanctions if it invades Ukraine again.

While Moscow insists it does not want war, it has also rejected calls for its troops to withdraw, saying it can deploy them as it sees fit on its own territory. He cited the Western response as evidence that he is the target, not the instigator, of the aggression.

UKRAINE

The motley crew of reservists – arriving in everything from a small Suzuki to 4×4 vehicles and even an electric Tesla – sometimes criticized Zelenskiy and had differing opinions on NATO.

But they shared the feeling that Ukraine, formerly a Soviet republic, wanted to decide its own fate independently of its former overlord Moscow.

“I want a peacefully developing Ukraine,” Konstantin said. “I want it to be a peaceful and flourishing country, like Poland, like the Czech Republic, like Germany, like all European countries.”

Mykhaylo said he wants his children “to be born and live their lives in a law-abiding and democratic country. To know what freedom is and to be ready to fight for it.”

Alexander noted how years of tensions with Russia – over Crimea, the eastern Donbass region and Ukraine’s aspirations for closer integration with the West, but also over gas supplies and history difficulty that both nations share – had changed his country.

“We have grown as a nation. We understand what we want and how to get there. We have only taken small steps, but we know that we are Ukrainians. We are no longer the Soviet Union.”

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Written by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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