Several hundred civilians from Ukraine armed with wooden rifles, they play war in the ruins of an old tractor factory in Kiev, where they learn the rudiments of defending the city in the event of invasion by Russia.
“Today we face the greatest threat of a Russian attack since 2014,” The first commander of the ultra-nationalist battalion explains to Efe AzovAndrei Biletsky, alluding to the Russian annexation of crimea and the armed uprising in the donbas.
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More than five hundred men and women attend the ATEC factory, converted into a training center for that paramilitary group that fought against the pro-Russian militias in the east of the country and is now integrated into the Army.
MILITARY EXERCISES FOR CIVILIANS
“Don’t panic, be prepared” is the call launched by Azov, which has mobilized thousands of residents in the Ukrainian capital to participate in military training and civil defense exercises.
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The concentration of more than 100,000 Russian troops in the vicinity of the Ukrainian border is a “great scale” threat to which a symmetrical response cannot be given, says Biletski, since “Russia is a nuclear power and its military and demographic power exceeds several times” that of Ukraine.
For this reason, he adds, it is necessary to be prepared to give an “asymmetric response” in which civilians would play a primary role. In these circumstances, it is vital that organization prevails and not panic.
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The volunteers who arrive at the factory are organized in three columns: one for the most experienced, some veterans from the Ukrainian east; another for beginners who want to learn basic tactical elements and train in the use of weapons; and a third, interested in civil defense.
Unlike the regular Ukrainian troops or the emerging Territorial Defense Units, which require enlistment paperwork and are sworn as soldiers, This exercise has been attended by a diverse public, mostly young, over twenty years of age, who have no other commitment than their desire to defend the country.
At every step there are posters with the Azov coat of arms, adorned with the battalion’s runic symbol reminiscent of the Nazi swastika, although the paramilitary group denies its connection to this ideology.
SHED SWEAT INSTEAD OF BLOOD
Some volunteers wear military uniform, be it camouflage, khaki or black, but most are simply in civilian clothes, with the only requirement being not to freeze during a long winter day of outdoor exercises.
General Sergei Krivonós, deputy secretary of the Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (SNBO), laconically harangued the formation.
“The more you sweat in these exercises, the less blood will be spilled in combat,” warns the soldier, battle-hardened as deputy commander of the Special Operations Forces in Donbas.
The volunteers are divided into groups to carry out tactical exercises, practice evacuating the wounded, learn how to act at checkpoints in the event of detection of suspects, master the handling of weapons or the making of Molotov cocktails.
“It is knowledge that is good to have even if I never need it”, comments to Efe Irina, an economist who is over thirty years old and who expresses her confidence that there will not be a war with Russia.
Have basic knowledge about first aid or what should be the conduct in case of emergencies “It helps to avoid stress, anxiety, and feel better prepared from a psychological point of view”He says.
They hand out wooden rifles to the volunteers. With them they practice movements in the field, learn offensive or retreat tactics, discover how to fight indoors in the ruins of the factory.
For greater accuracy, they imitate the shots with their mouths, so at times it seems more like child’s play than a military exercise.
AMEND THE PLAN TO THE STATE
However, it is something very serious, according to Biletski, who regrets that the efforts of the veterans of Donbas and particularly of Azov, aimed at legalizing the territorial defense of the country, ended with the approval of a law that is a dead letter.
“The State buries its head in the sand like an ostrich”, complaint. Thus, Azov had to undertake this initiative, in which about 70 instructors participate, all with combat experience in eastern Ukraine.
They are not condescending or complacent, the powerful voices of command are heard from various parts of the factory, while the volunteers repeat the exercises over and over again.
“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” tells Efe Nadezhda, a young woman who defines herself ironically as “office plankton” far removed from these military vicissitudes.
It is the first time that he has participated and he plans to return, since as long as tensions between Moscow and Kiev remain, “there will be no other choice.”
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