In Ukraine, an Old War Enters a New Phase

In Ukraine, an Old War Enters a New Phase
A woman holds a weapon during a basic combat training for civilians organized by a special forces unit of Ukraine’s National Guard, in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 13, 2022 (AP photo by Vadim Ghirda).

KYIV—Oleksandr Biletskyi is standing in a lecture hall on the outskirts of Kyiv laying out the items he considers most necessary to have on hand for emergencies. On the table in front of him, he’s placed a bag containing a compass, a pocketknife, a carabiner and a roll of tape. Gently, he adds three more bags: one with a Kalashnikov, one with a shotgun and one with a pistol. “We have to prepare for anything,” he tells me.

Normally, this lecture hall, which belongs to Taras Shevchenko National University, offers continuing education courses in law, economics and psychology. Today, it’s set up for a class for Ukrainian women on self-defense and survival. “Women are more conscientious than men,” Oleksandr explains. “They will pass this knowledge on to those around them.”

Oleksandr’s wife and co-organizer, Olena Biletska, greets the first students as they arrive and directs them to silently line up in the stairwell. Soon enough, the queue stretches across the entire floor of the building, as a large crowd of 200 turns up to learn how to respond to a crisis, including the worst-case scenario: a Russian invasion. If it weren’t for the coronavirus pandemic, Olena says, three times as many students would have attended.

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