Explanation: why there is a Y in Kiev, but no “le” in Ukraine
Many of these weapons have been collected by members of new voluntary defense groups that have sprung up in local communities. Under a new law passed in January, these groups are now legal across the country and their leaders report loosely to Ukrainian army commanders. As for the weapons? Their members contribute all they can.
“It’s BYOG”, explains Daniel Bilak, the leader of one of these groups, active in the outskirts of Kiev, “that is to say: bring your own weapon”.
Bilak, 61, is a Canadian-born lawyer of Ukrainian descent who moved to Ukraine some 30 years ago. His own gun, he says, is an AR-15 that he recently bought himself in Ukraine.
The defense group he leads is called the Wolverines, a nod to the heroes of the 1984 film “Red Dawn” about a group of American high school students who repelled a Soviet invasion of the United States. The X-Men’s Wolverine, dressed in blue and yellow, could of course work too, but Bilak says he’s never seen the comics or the movies.
In the weeks leading up to the start of the Russian invasion, the Wolverines held training weekends in fields and forests outside Kiev. Now, as the battle for Kiev rages on, Bilak says they are carrying out night patrols to maintain order and capture suspected Russian saboteurs.
For men over 60, the age limit for military service, groups like the Wolverines are a way to get directly involved in the defense of the country, and they are an important part of seed strategy of Ukraine to retain a larger number and a better equipped Russian army.
Moreover, in the event that Russia prevails on the battlefield, they could be the building blocks of a popular uprising later on.
“If Vladimir Putin is mad enough to try to occupy Ukraine, he will have to deal with a highly motivated and well-armed population,” said James Stavridis, a retired US Navy admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander of the United States. NATO. “Grandmas go wild might end up being her worst nightmare.”
Yet, as groups like the Wolverines show Ukraine’s claws against the Russian war machine, human rights experts warn of the dangers of arming civilians with limited military training.
“As soon as you get this weapon,” says Sarah Yager, director of Human Rights Watch in Washington, “you lose your civilian status, which means you can be targeted. And that also means that you must respect the laws of war. And of course, no one has received training in the laws of war.
Yet Ukrainians like Daniel believe they are fighting not just for their country, but for something bigger.
“We are fighting for every democratic country”, he says, “certainly in Europe and for democratic and European values”.
And despite the long odds, he says, “this is not a suicide mission.”