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Ukrainians hone survival, self-defence skills as tensions with Russia mount

By Caravanserai and AFP

A military instructor teaches civilians holding wooden replicas of Kalashnikov rifles during a training session at an abandoned factory in Kyiv, Ukraine, on January 30. [Sergei Supinksky/AFP]

A military instructor teaches civilians holding wooden replicas of Kalashnikov rifles during a training session at an abandoned factory in Kyiv, Ukraine, on January 30. [Sergei Supinksky/AFP]

KYIV, Ukraine -- In a forest on the outskirts of Kyiv, a group of Ukrainian civilians build shelters from snow and tree branches as part of a crash course in survival techniques.

For the participants, the two days of learning how to make fires and get by in sub-zero temperatures has taken on a new urgency as fears swirl over a buildup of Russian troops on the border.

"If we will have an attack from Russia, it is very important to have these skills," said computer programmer Artem Kuzmenko, 29.

Ukraine is used to war. Since 2014 it has been locked in a conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in the east of the country that has cost more than 13,000 lives.

Ukrainian civilians learn how to build a shelter as part of a crash course in survival techniques, in a forest on the outskirts of Kyiv, on January 30. [Genya Savilov/AFP]

Ukrainian civilians learn how to build a shelter as part of a crash course in survival techniques, in a forest on the outskirts of Kyiv, on January 30. [Genya Savilov/AFP]

A military instructor teaches civilians holding wooden replicas of Kalashnikov rifles, as they take part in a training session at an abandoned factory in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on January 30. [Sergei Supinsky/AFP]

A military instructor teaches civilians holding wooden replicas of Kalashnikov rifles, as they take part in a training session at an abandoned factory in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on January 30. [Sergei Supinsky/AFP]

But of late an increasing number of residents of cities like Kyiv have begun looking to prepare for the worst as the West sounds the alarm over a possible full-scale invasion by Russian forces.

"People in the big cities got used to the fact that the conflict was far away from them," said instructor Sergiy Vyshnevsky, 40, kitted out in military camouflage.

"Now they realise that the war might come to them."

Vyshnevsky fought on the front line as a volunteer before starting the survival courses for civilians. He details the chaos that could follow any attack -- huge crowds fleeing for the borders, casualties, destroyed infrastructure.

In recent weeks he has seen a surge in interest as the talk of a potential incursion has grown louder.

About 4,000 Ukrainians have signed up for an online webinar he is giving soon.

"Everyone should know how to build a shelter for their family," he said.

Student psychologist Yana Kaminska, 33, attends the course with her boyfriend as she tries to prepare both physically and mentally for what might be ahead.

She has already packed an emergency bag in case she has to leave in a rush -- and she knows what her priority would be.

"First of all it is to look after our families," she said.

"We would make sure they had a safe place for them -- and then we could go back to try to defend our home."

Russia and the United States Monday (January 31) faced off at the United Nations (UN) Security Council over Moscow's troop buildup on the Ukrainian border, as Western nations intensified their high-stakes diplomatic push to avert open conflict in Europe.

Russia tried to block the 15-member council from holding the meeting at all -- with its envoy to the UN Vasily Nebenzya accusing the United States of trying to "whip up hysteria" by pushing a Security Council debate.

But Washington's UN envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Moscow's troop buildup justified the move, and Russia's blocking move was rejected with 10 out of 15 members backing Washington.

"This is the largest... mobilisation of troops in Europe in decades," the ambassador said. "And as we speak, Russia is sending even more forces and arms to join them."

In parallel with the UN meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was preparing for fresh talks Tuesday with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov -- the latest of a flurry of diplomatic contacts among Moscow, Washington and Brussels over Ukraine and over broader European security concerns.

Self-defence

Meanwhile, more and more training sessions have started springing up around Kyiv as Ukrainians try to bolster their knowledge.

About 150 women watched in a university lecture hall over the weekend as an instructor showed how to incapacitate an unarmed attacker by targeting the pressure points on their head and neck.

Olena Biletska, whose Ukrainian Women's Guard organisation put on the free self-defence and survival lessons, said that almost 1,000 women had applied, but COVID-19 restrictions meant numbers had to be limited.

"Everyone understands that their life and health and the health and lives of their family are their own personal responsibility," said the lawyer.

"You need to have at least some knowledge and basic skills."

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has desperately sought to calm nerves in the face of a growing clamour of worry from the United States.

And in Kyiv life is carrying on as normal with shops open and restaurants full.

But human resources manager Oleksandra Kovalenko, 25, said she still wanted to be primed for any possibility.

"You think about and plan for the worst case scenario that could happen -- a military operation -- and an attack is a real possibility," she said.

Wooden Kalashnikovs

Elsewhere in the city, about 300 Ukrainians turned up on the grounds of a former factory for basic military training organised by a nationalist party created from former volunteers who fought in the east.

The course was entitled "Do not panic, prepare yourself!"

"Panic comes when people do not know how to react, how to use a weapon, how to defend themselves, what to do in case of shooting," trainer Maksym Zhorin, a former commander of the Azov battalion, told participants.

They practised how to hold, aim and move with a gun -- many of them using wooden models of Kalashnikov rifles.

The students -- who included families with children -- crept through a disused building supposedly occupied by "enemies", learning how to enter a room and kneel down to shoot.

"Your left leg is still in the wrong place!" a trainer shouted at a young man as he tried to pivot.

Medical instruction was also planned during the training, which the organisers said they aim to repeat next week and hold in other regions.

"It is my country; how can I not worry?" Evgeny Petryk, 20, said after getting to grips with his rifle.

Like everyone here, he has no idea if an attack is actually coming -- but he isn't taking any chances.

"Probable or not, it is not for me to judge," he said.

"I am not a fortune teller, but you have to be ready."

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11 Comment(s)

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Ukrainians are not Mokshas; they won't cry. They will be fighting for their land, for themselves, not the government. Death to the Kremlin occupiers! Glory to Ukraine!

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Putin went to bow to his master in China. Despite all the Russian president's obsequiousness, China didn't recognize Crimea.

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German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht refused to send weapons to Kyiv, saying the dialogue to resolve the conflict in Ukraine is still underway.

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"No signs of slowing down:" Russian inflation has reached a new six-year record. The markets await the Central bank rate increase to 9.5%, possibly 10%. I'M PROUD OF RUSSIA!

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Moronic Ukie schoolkids run around with wooden rifles!

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Russians have such a funny president. The man is already 70 while he exhibits the demeanour of a young hooligan, enjoying cosmetic Botox injections like an Instagram model at the same time.

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Russia is a cursed cow with short horns.

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Russia seems like it went in full reverse :))

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"Russky, don't bear your teeth at Ukraine"

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Countries are willing to pay big money to join the USA or the EU. Impoverished backward Russia is appealing no one. That's why military threats are all they have.

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Ukrainians are willing to fight to keep themselves from becoming part of Russia. Apparently, it is quite the revolting shithole )))

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