Photos: Ukrainian Citizens Volunteer to Defend to Fight Russia

WWhen Russia attacked Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zilenskyy instantly vowed that he would arm all 43 million people who had volunteered to protect the country.

While one million Ukranians have already fled to neighboring states for safety, others have enlisted in the Territorial Defense Forces (TDF), which organizes Ukraine’s militias. Some were trained in combat, and bank workers and teachers learned how to use assault rifles of the AK style. Those who aren’t prepared for combat have taken on other tasks, like weaving camouflage nets to hide Ukrainian artillery from Russian reconnaissance. Others turned their homes into molotov cocktail factories. To protect themselves from attacks, volunteers built trenches or barricades.

These coordinated efforts helped the Ukrainian military to overcome Western expectations and slow the Russian advance. That is despite Moscow’s overwhelming advantage in the number of troops and military firepower. Olenka Prokopenko, the co-chair of the Transatlantic Task Force of Ukraine and a German Marshall Fund visiting fellow, says the TDF is an “integral part” of the resistance and “significantly increases” Ukrainians’ chances of holding back Russia’s invasion.

Citizen resistance in Ukraine isn’t new. An unprepared Ukraine found itself dependent on voluntary armed groups when Russian-backed separatists started breakaway campaigns within the eastern Donbas. Russian forces also annexed Crimea Peninsula. In 2021 Russia grew its military forces close to the Ukrainian border. The Ukrainian government approved a law allowing these informal armed groups to be officially part of the national defense.

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TDF, which is made up of 25 local brigades divided into 150 battalions and one for each district administratively, was established by Kyiv’s government earlier this year. While the force’s core will be made up of around 10,000 people, Ukraine is hoping to attract 1.5 to 2 million more. Many Ukrainians already signed up to defend the country against Russian invasion.

“Our people are very much motivated, very much so,” Zelenskyy told the European Union in an impassioned speech. “We are fighting for our rights, for our freedom, for life. And now, we are fighting for survival.”


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