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Ukraine amateur army: Thousands of young civilians drafted into military amid Russia invasion threat

Thousands of young civilians, from veterinary medical students to architects, have been drafted into Ukraine’s army reserves and trained for war, as fears mount over a potential invasion by Russia.

Young men and women, some as young as 21, have been taking part in Kyiv Territorial Defence unit training over the weekend in a snow-covered forest in the capital, as they prepare for a possible conflict with Moscow.

Scores of civilians across the country have signed up to similar training programs to receive basic combat skills. 

In the event of a potential invasion by Russia, these youngsters will be part of the country’s civil resistance that will carry on the fight against Russian soldiers if the Ukrainian military is overwhelmed.

The region has been on a knife-edge since the end of last year when Moscow moved as many as 100,000 troops, as well as tanks and missiles, close to its border with Ukraine, but tensions have ramped up in recent days after a surge in equipment and troop movements, among them military police, from the extreme east of Russia.

Amid fears that an invasion is imminent, the UK began withdrawing diplomats from its mission in Kiev today – following a similar US move at the weekend.

Young men and women, some as young as 21, have been taking part in Kyiv Territorial Defence unit training over the weekend in a snow-covered forest in the capital, as they prepare for a possible conflict with Moscow

Among the Ukrainian civilians who have been training with Ukrainian soldiers is 21-year-old Tatiana, a university veterinary medicine student (pictured)

Among the Ukrainian civilians who have been training with Ukrainian soldiers is 21-year-old Tatiana, a university veterinary medicine student (pictured) 

Civilian participants in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit train on Saturday in a snow-covered forest in Kyiv

Civilian participants in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit train on Saturday in a snow-covered forest in Kyiv

Mariana, 52, a marketing researcher who for the past two years has been a volunteer in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit, trains on Saturday in a forest in Kyiv

Mariana, 52, a marketing researcher who for the past two years has been a volunteer in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit, trains on Saturday in a forest in Kyiv 

In the event of a potential invasion by Russia, these youngsters will be part of the country's civil resistance that will carry on the fight against Russian soldiers if the Ukrainian military is overwhelmed. Pictured: A group of young men observe the military training on Saturday

In the event of a potential invasion by Russia, these youngsters will be part of the country’s civil resistance that will carry on the fight against Russian soldiers if the Ukrainian military is overwhelmed. Pictured: A group of young men observe the military training on Saturday

A civilian participant in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit waits to fend off a mock attack by Russian soldiers while training in Kyiv on Saturday

A civilian participant in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit waits to fend off a mock attack by Russian soldiers while training in Kyiv on Saturday

Among the Ukrainian civilians who have been training with Ukrainian soldiers is 21-year-old Tatiana, a university veterinary medicine student.  

Tatiana, who is enrolled in a military reserve program, joined hundreds of other young Ukrainians in a Kyiv Territorial Defence Unit training exercise on Saturday in a snow-covered forest in Kyiv. 

Among them was Anton, 32, a journalist, who was seen carrying a plastic gun during the exercise where they staged a mock Russian attack.

If Russia does invade Ukraine, a move that Putin has denied, they will be under direct command of the Ukrainian military.     

Ukraine’s army, which totals 215,000 soldiers, has been battling a Moscow-backed insurgency in two breakaway regions since 2014 in a long-simmering conflict that has claimed over 13,000 lives. 

While Ukrainian officials have acknowledged the country has little chance to fend off a full Russian invasion, Russian occupation troops would likely face a deep-rooted, decentralised and prolonged insurgency.

‘I believe that every person in this country should know what to do… if the enemy invades their country,’ Daniil Larin, a 19-year-old university student who took part in a training exercise in Kyiv last month said. 

Larin had joined about 50 Ukrainian civilians in December who drove from Kiev to an abandoned Soviet-era asphalt plant to train for how to defend their country in the event of a Russian invasion.    

Mariana, 52, a marketing researcher who for the past two years has been a volunteer in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit, trains on Saturday in Kyiv

Mariana, 52, a marketing researcher who for the past two years has been a volunteer in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit, trains on Saturday in Kyiv 

If Russia does invade Ukraine, a move that Putin has denied, the civilians will be under direct command of the Ukrainian military.

If Russia does invade Ukraine, a move that Putin has denied, the civilians will be under direct command of the Ukrainian military.

Ukraine's army, which totals 215,000 soldiers, has been battling a Moscow-backed insurgency in two breakaway regions since 2014 in a long-simmering conflict that has claimed over 13,000 lives. Pictured: Ukrainian civilians participate in training exercise on Saturday

Ukraine’s army, which totals 215,000 soldiers, has been battling a Moscow-backed insurgency in two breakaway regions since 2014 in a long-simmering conflict that has claimed over 13,000 lives. Pictured: Ukrainian civilians participate in training exercise on Saturday

Civilians form a line as they take part in a mock Russian invasion a forest in Kyiv on Saturday

Civilians form a line as they take part in a mock Russian invasion a forest in Kyiv on Saturday

Civilian participants in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit, including university students also enrolled in a military reserve program, train on Saturday in Kyiv

Civilian participants in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit, including university students also enrolled in a military reserve program, train on Saturday in Kyiv

While Ukrainian officials have acknowledged the country has little chance to fend off a full Russian invasion, Russian occupation troops would likely face a deep-rooted, decentralised and prolonged insurgency

While Ukrainian officials have acknowledged the country has little chance to fend off a full Russian invasion, Russian occupation troops would likely face a deep-rooted, decentralised and prolonged insurgency

Civilians, many of whom are youngsters, form a long line as they take part in a military exercise on Saturday

Civilians, many of whom are youngsters, form a long line as they take part in a military exercise on Saturday 

The Ukrainian reservists, who have ballooned to about 100,000 members, have been learning ‘how to handle weapons, how to behave in a battle environment, how to defend cities,’ Larin said. 

Living with war Marta Yuzkiv, a 51-year-old doctor, believes that the Russian army is ‘far superior’ to Ukraine’s and the risk of a full-scale invasion is ‘high enough’ to have joined the reserves.

‘Only if everyone is ready to defend our land, then there will be a chance,’ she said.   

One battalion commander, Vadym Ozirny, said that after mobilising at a rendezvous point, the reservists will get to work protecting administrative buildings and critical infrastructure as well as helping residents evacuate. 

‘These people must arrive, receive weapons and carry out command assignments, defend their home,’ Ozirny said.

Ukraine used civilian defence in 2014 when Russian-backed separatists attacked eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Amid rising tensions between Russia and the West, Moscow announced new live-fire sea drills that will take place off the coast of Ireland in February. They are part of wider drills involving up to 140 ships across four seas including Pacific and Atlantic.

The Irish government revealed Sunday that it has been warned of drills that will take place within its ‘exclusive economic zone’ but outside of its territorial waters – around 150 miles off its southwest coast. It said the drills are ‘not welcome’.

Russia has massed 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and issued a list of security demands to the US and its NATO allies.

The alliance has described most of the list – including a ban on Ukraine joining and the withdrawal of troops from ex-Soviet states – as ‘non-starters’, though high-level talks are ongoing with the US due to provide written responses this week. 

Members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, train in a forest in Kyiv

Members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, train in a forest in Kyiv

Members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, run through a forest during the exercise

Members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, run through a forest during the exercise 

A customer inspects a camouflage backpack in the military surplus shop of Andriy Stovbyha on January 24, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Stovbyha, who sells military surplus boots, clothing, sleeping bags, backpacks and other accessories, says he has seen a sharp increase in the number of customers at his shop since Russian troops began massing at Ukraine's borders in December

A customer inspects a camouflage backpack in the military surplus shop of Andriy Stovbyha on January 24, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Stovbyha, who sells military surplus boots, clothing, sleeping bags, backpacks and other accessories, says he has seen a sharp increase in the number of customers at his shop since Russian troops began massing at Ukraine’s borders in December

A sales assistant tends to a customer at the Militarist military clothing and accessories store on January 24 in Kyiv

A sales assistant tends to a customer at the Militarist military clothing and accessories store on January 24 in Kyiv

Boris Johnson today warned Putin that invading Ukraine will be a ‘painful, violent and bloody business’ as the UK pulled staff from its embassy in Kiev.

The PM delivered the stark message as he admitted that the prospects of averting a confrontation in the area were ‘gloomy’.  

Mr Johnson said: ‘The intelligence is very clear that there are 60 Russian battle groups on the borders of Ukraine, the plan for a lightning war that could take out Kyiv is one that everybody can see. 

‘We need to make it very clear to the Kremlin, to Russia, that that would be a disastrous step.’

The UK government has ruled out sending combat troops, but Mr Johnson said Britain is ‘leading on creating a package of economic sanctions’ against Russia and he would be speaking to international allies later.

‘We also need to get a message that invading Ukraine, from a Russian perspective, is going to be a painful, violent and bloody business,’ he said.

‘I think it’s very important that people in Russia understand that this could be a new Chechnya.’

A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman walks on a trench on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Luganske village on January 11

A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman walks on a trench on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Luganske village on January 11 

If Russia does invade, Ukraine must fight against their well-trained troops. Pictured: Soldiers of assault engineer and recovery-and-salvage units of the Russian Army 1st Guards Engineer Brigade are seen during tactical and special training in the city of Murom on January 18

If Russia does invade, Ukraine must fight against their well-trained troops. Pictured: Soldiers of assault engineer and recovery-and-salvage units of the Russian Army 1st Guards Engineer Brigade are seen during tactical and special training in the city of Murom on January 18

Russian soldiers take part in a tactical and special training in the city of Murom on January 18

Russian soldiers take part in a tactical and special training in the city of Murom on January 18

A Ukrainian soldier mans a trench close to the front line where the army has been locked into a years-long battle with Russian separatist groups

A Ukrainian soldier mans a trench close to the front line where the army has been locked into a years-long battle with Russian separatist groups

A Ukrainian soldier uses a periscope to examine the position of Russian separatist groups on the frontlines in the country's east

A Ukrainian soldier uses a periscope to examine the position of Russian separatist groups on the frontlines in the country’s east

America has warned Russia of a ‘swift and severe’ response if it invades Ukraine, which would include a dramatic escalation of sanctions against the country.

The US is also thought to be considering military options to deter Putin, short of a direct confrontation between Russian and American troops.

Pentagon officials presented one plan to Joe Biden during a summit at the weekend, which would see between 1,000 and 5,000 US troops deployed to Baltic states Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, which border Russian territory. 

Troop numbers could then be increased up to 50,000 if the security situation deteriorates, backed up by fresh deployments of ships and aircraft. 

The plan would not involve American troops deployed directly to Ukraine, with Biden thought to be loathe to enter another conflict following his disastrous withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan last year, the New York Times reports.

Biden could make a call on military measures as soon as this week. 

A US soldier prepares a pallet of anti-tank weapons for transport to Ukraine at Dover Air Force Base, in Delaware, on Friday

A US soldier prepares a pallet of anti-tank weapons for transport to Ukraine at Dover Air Force Base, in Delaware, on Friday

A Ukrainian soldier of the 30th Army Brigade mans a trench near Svitlodarsk, Ukraine

A Ukrainian soldier of the 30th Army Brigade mans a trench near Svitlodarsk, Ukraine

Amid warnings from the Pentagon that an invasion is ‘imminent’, families of US diplomats stationed in Ukraine were ordered to leave the country.

Non-essential embassy staff were also offered a route out of the country due to ‘increased threats of Russian military action’. 

It comes after the UK alleged at the weekend that Moscow has been making preparations to install a puppet government to take control of Ukraine in the wake of any invasion.

The Foreign Office even went so far as to name former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as a potential Kremlin candidate.  

A senior Biden administration official declined to confirm specific troop numbers on Sunday but said ‘we are developing plans and we are consulting with allies to determine options moving forward.’  

America is also providing military aid to Ukraine, including weapons to help defend against Russian tanks and warplanes.  

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