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As Russian troops mass on Ukraine’s border it is unclear if or when there will be an invasion. But many Ukrainians are preparing for the worst and have stepped up training in civil defense. NewsHour Weekend’s Hari Sreenivasan reports on Ukraine’s volunteer defense forces.
As Russian troops mass on Ukraine's border, no one can say for sure whether there will be a war. But many in Ukraine are taking no chances and are training in civil defense, just in case.
The relative calm and beauty on a brisk winter morning in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, belies the tension that is building as Russian troops amass along the country's borders. For citizens here, the question of what to do if Russia invades is never far from mind.
I am slowly preparing food for my family, stocking up on water if the water is turned off. We brought a stove just in case the gas was turned off so that the children could cook something for themselves.
For 52-year-old Mariana Zhaglo, a market researcher and a mother of three, it means facing an ominous reality. She has bought a rifle. And she has signed up as a volunteer reservist, doing many hours of makeshift military training. She is one of thousands who are participating in the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.
Every Saturday morning, ordinary citizens gather near the Lisova metro station in Kyiv. These are the civilians that have signed up for weekly training in the forests just outside the city. Their number has exploded since more than 100,000 Russian soldiers have mobilized on the country's borders.
In short, all the people who come here love Ukraine. They are ready to defend it and want to know how to do it and what can be useful in this Russian-Ukrainian war to protect our state. In fact the golden rule taught here is how not to die in the first minutes of battle, so that later you can continue to serve and be useful.
Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces are not new. They have been organizing weekend military training for civilians for several years now and have battalions of experienced reservists ready to help the Ukrainian army if needed. What is new is growing participation, fueled in part by social media attention to Russia's aggressive stance. Newcomers are easy to recognize by their everyday clothes and wooden guns.
There are more and more new people coming to our organization because people are trying to find their place in this new reality and those who decide that they should defend their country, they find the territorial defense forces for that.
Today's drills will take at least six hours, starting with the nuts and bolts of basic training: How to stand at attention, how to hold a gun, and how to move with a weapon in their hands, New skills for many who hold traditional jobs.
When you are having a normal week you are partially thinking about possible invasion and it feels OK, but on weekends you start thinking about what to do, how to be prepared. That's why I have joined the training.
We are here to learn and train in order to know what to do and where to go in case of events, and who to communicate with, who to work with to defend the land, city, the family.
My plan is to defend (my country) and my family also knows what to do. I have given instructions to them so we are ready. I think Ukraine is more and more ready for the possible invasion by Russia.
Two people will be in the building at 12am, two at 9 am and two at 6pm 30 meters away from the building.
The instructors are mostly veterans from the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, where separatists abetted by Russia have carved out political enclaves. Forty eight year old Serhii Grim is one of them. He has been training civilians for the territorial defense forces since 2018.
We live every day expecting to be attacked, we have no choice but to do so. That is why we get people used to the idea that we will all have to live this way. That's why we train, we prepare, we train people, we pull people up, we constantly coordinate, we work constantly. We never expected anyone else to fight for us. No one will fight for us, this is our country and we will fight for it ourselves.
Alexander Rusalovskyi learns how to stay on his feet when pushed on his first day of the train-ing. He is trying to balance the pressures of Ukraine's political reality with those of his family and civilian life. The day after his weekend military training, he teaches his son how to not fall on the skating rink in Kyiv.
Mariana Zhaglo used to take her son to the art lessons every Saturday. Now those familiar do-mestic habits must be set aside for the bigger questions about peace and war, her nation's past and future, and, quite literally, life and death.
That's exactly why I'm ready to fight, so that my children can live in a Ukraine without the problems that exist now, without the Russian-backed occupation, without the bad economy, which is very much strained by this war, and with a free, free, independent, prosperous country.
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Hari Sreenivasan joined the PBS NewsHour in 2009. He is the Anchor of PBS NewsHour Weekend and a Senior Correspondent for the nightly program.
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