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Photos: Ukrainian citizens volunteer to defend and fight Russia

Ohen Russia launched an attack on Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky immediately vowed to arm the 43 million citizens who volunteered to defend the country.

While a million Ukrainians have already fled to neighboring states for their safety, others have enlisted in the Territorial Defense Forces (TDF), which organizes Ukrainian militias. Some received combat training, with bank clerks and teachers learning to use AK-type assault rifles. Those unprepared for combat took on other tasks, such as weaving camouflage netting to hide Ukrainian artillery from Russian reconnaissance. Some have turned their homes into makeshift sites for making molotov cocktails. Volunteers dug trenches and barricades to guard against attacks.

These concerted efforts helped bolster the Ukrainian military, which successfully defied the expectations of even Western military observers and slowed the Russian advance. And this despite Moscow’s overwhelming advantage in terms of troop numbers and military firepower. Olenka Prokopenko, co-chair of the Ukraine Transatlantic Task Force and German Marshall Fund visiting scholar, says the TDF is an “integral part” of the resistance and “significantly increases” the Ukrainians’ chances of stopping the Russian invasion.

Citizen resistance in Ukraine is not new. In 2014, an unprepared Ukraine had to rely on armed groups of volunteers as Russian-backed separatists began dissident campaigns in the eastern Donbass region and Russian forces annexed the Crimean peninsula. As Russia built up its forces near the Ukrainian border in 2021, the Ukrainian government passed a law legitimizing these ad hoc armed groups, making them an official part of national defense.

Read more: How Open Source Intelligence Became the World’s Window on the Ukraine Invasion

The Kyiv government launched the TDF earlier this year, consisting of 25 locally organized brigades (one per region) divided into 150 battalions (one per administrative district). About 10,000 full-time soldiers will form the core of the force, but Ukraine hopes to recruit between 1.5 and 2 million people. Thousands of Ukrainians have already signed up to help defend their country against Russian invaders.

“Our people are very motivated, very motivated,” 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 our survival.

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