A 79-year-old great-grandmother who took part in civilian combat training in Ukraine was today flooded with praise as the country braced itself for invasion from Russia.
Valentyna Konstantynovska was taught how to use an AK-47 assault rifle by the country’s national guard in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, yesterday.
She was shown how to use the gun by the Special Forces Unit Azov — who have previous faced accusations from Western journalists that they are a neo-Nazi group — in a training exercise for civilians.
It is one of several drills that have been carried out across the country to build up a rag-tag army ahead of the ‘imminent’ invasion by Russian troops.
Ukrainians described Ms Konstantynovska as a ‘hero’ for taking part in the drills, which have also seen children as young as four put through their paces.
Valentyna Konstantynovska, 79, holds a weapon during basic combat training for civilians, organised by the Special Forces Unit Azov, of Ukraine’s National Guard, in Mariupol, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, yesterday
Ukrainians described Ms Konstantynovska as a ‘hero’ for taking part in the drills, which have also seen children as young as four put through their paces
She was taught how to use an AK-47 assault rifle by the the country’s national guard in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, yesterday
Speaking during the exercise, she told an NBCNews reporter: ‘Your mother would do it too.’
She told local media: ‘I am ready to shoot if something happens. I will defend my home, my city, my children.
‘I will do this because I think I’m ready for it. I don’t want to lose my country, my city.‘
Ms Konstantynovska added: I underwent this training but I probably won’t be a very valid soldier because my body doesn’t serve me that much anymore.
‘And the weapon is too heavy for me.’
Neighbours described her as ‘the example of Ukrainian’ after she was pictured aiming down the sight of the gun while prone.
Ukrainian Elena Mirko wrote on social media: ‘I know her, she was our neighbour, she lived in the next house, she is a beautiful woman, the example of Ukrainian.’
Valentyna Konstantynovska, 79, told local media: ‘I am ready to shoot if something happens. I will defend my home, my city, my children’
Neighbours described her as ‘the example of Ukrainian’ after she was pictured aiming down the sight of the gun while prone
Ms Konstantynovska says she ‘want to lose my country, my city’. Pictured: The great-grandmother’s Facebook account
And political analyst Ariana Gic said: ‘This woman is my hero.’
Ms Konstantynovska is not the only Ukrainian woman aiming to defend her country this week, with the country’s deadliest female sniper Olena Bilozerska, 42, telling MailOnline she would be at the front lines again within hours to face the Russians.
She is credited with at least 10 confirmed ‘kills’ in the trenches of Donbas and is part of the Ukrainian Marine Corps.
Mrs Bilozerska said she has no qualms about any of the men she has killed or wounded in battle.
‘When the enemy crawls towards our position to kill me, does he think if I have a husband, parents, or kids?’ she said.
Olena Bilozerska, 42, is credited with at least 10 confirmed ‘kills’ in the trenches of Donbas
‘Of course not. And I don’t bother myself with stupid things either. That stuff is for books and movies.
‘In real life, anyone who thinks along those lines in battle is already as good as dead.’
The sniper, from Kyiv, is something of a celebrity in Ukraine, having written a best-selling book called ‘Diary of an Illegal Soldier’, referring to the fact that for the first few years of her service, volunteers like her were not technically allowed to fight on the front lines, but that law was changed in 2016.
She was well-known even before the war as her oppositional journalism found her under threat of imprisonment by the old hardline regime of Viktor Yanukovych, deposed in the 2014 Maidan Revolution.
And mother-of-three Mariana Zhaglo, 52, is also aiming to protect her country.
‘As a mother I do not want my children to inherit Ukraine’s problems, or have these threats passed on to them. It is better that I deal with this now,’ Mariana said.
‘If it comes to it then we will fight for Kiev; we will fight to protect our city. If there is a need for the shooting to start, then I’ll start shooting,’ the mother continued, as she showed off her newly-bought Zbroyar Z-15 rifle in her flat in the Ukrainian capital.
She went on to explain that the Zbroyar Z-15 is a hunting rifle, but that she has no intentions of hunting.
‘I have never hunted in my life. I bought this carbine after listening to some soldiers discussing the best rifle to get,’ Mariana told The Times.
The marketing researcher is just one of thousands of Ukrainians who recently joined the nation’s Territorial Defence Forces (TDF) — a voluntary section of the army which has seen its numbers swell amid rising tensions on the Russian border.
Mariana Zhaglo is far from a typical Ukrainian soldier, but the 52-year-old marketing researcher has said she is willing to do whatever it takes to defend her country. ‘As a mother I do not want my children to inherit Ukraine’s problems, or have these threats passed on to them. It is better that I deal with this now,’ Mariana said as she showed off her newly-bought Zbroyar Z-15 rifle in her flat in the Ukrainian capital
The Kiev branch of the TDF ran a training exercise in January in the snow covered forests outside the capital, while scores of civilians across the country — many of them young — 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 Ukraine’s 255,000-strong regular army is overwhelmed.
Mariana told The Times that many Ukrainians have learned to live with the threat of a potential invasion ever since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and said it is not unusual for Russia to intermittently increase troop deployments near the border.
But she remained resolute in her intention to remain in the capital and fight in the event of an invasion.