With the Russian military at their doorstep, everyday Ukrainians from all walks of life are stepping up to fight for their freedom, their democracy and their land.
The government handed out tens of thousands of automatic rifles to civilians last week, asking men between ages 18 and 60 to stand and fight Vladimir Putin’s invading army. Even C-suite executives and lawmakers are getting their hands dirty in defense of their country.
“After seven days with a machine gun, I started to forget that I can also talk to people,” Volodymyr Omelyan, Ukraine’s former minister of infrastructure, told WHD News Digital. He is among a number of prominent Kyiv residents bracing for a Russian assault.
The military activated its reserves and citizens volunteered for militias. So many people tried to enlist earlier this week that government offices saw delays in processing them, according to sources on the ground.
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In Kyiv, the country’s capital and Putin’s prime target, a group of defiant Ukrainians built up makeshift defenses, roadblocks and checkpoints. It includes soldiers, lawmakers, prominent business leaders and the president himself.
“They will never capture Kyiv,” Omelyan said. “We are ready to fight.”
Brutal confrontation predicted
He predicted a brutal confrontation, involving urban warfare and stiff resistance as in Grozny during Russia’s invasion of Chechnya.
“I believe that Russians still remember that it’s pretty difficult for tanks or transporters to enter a hostile city,” he said.
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Despite a larger, better equipped military, American and British analysts say the Russians face unexpectedly fierce resistance. A 40-mile-long military convoy stretching toward Kyiv to Belarus went days without advancing.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a comedian and actor until he won election in 2019. Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, is a former world champion boxer.
Both remain in Kyiv despite the Russian threat.
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“The fight is here,” Zelenskyy said in a response to a U.S. offer of evacuation. “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
Ukrainian defense forces earlier this week said they thwarted a Chechen hit squad sent to assassinate the president after receiving intelligence from sources within Russia’s security agency.
“I was his furious critic before the war started,” Omelyan said of Zelenskyy. “But we put aside all political disputes and fight one enemy: Putin.”
March on Kyiv stalls
The U.S. Defense Department said Wednesday that Putin’s troops have lost momentum but remain a powerful fighting force, even as Ukrainian defense have stalled their march on Kyiv.
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“The Ukrainians have also retained a lot of their combat power,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a news briefing Wednesday. “And they’re fighting back. They’re fighting back bravely.”
But the Ukrainians are asking for more support from the West – including military equipment, humanitarian aid and ammunition. Anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons are crucial to continue to hold off Russian forces, according to the defenders. They are hoping for more sanctions, membership and the European Union and possibly, eventually, NATO.
“Even under these conditions, we fight … and we protect democracy,” Omelyan said. “On the other hand, we protect our homeland, and we protect our citizens. That’s why we will fight to the last bullet, whatever it takes, and nobody is going to surrender. It’s not Afghanistan. It’s not Chechnya. The Ukrainians are not stepping back, and nobody will destroy us.”
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Away from the battlefield, an army of IT specialists is conducting another campaign – to counter Russian cyberattacks and disinformation.
“We have the IT Army of Ukraine, where anyone with a phone could become a cyber-soldier and deploy DDoS attacks against the Russian government,” said Dr. Oleksii Shaldenko, the CEO of the Wantent intelligence firm who is taking part in Ukraine’s cyber defense.
DDoS stands for distributed denial of service – a type of attack that overloads a server with useless information to bog it down and knock it offline. It’s just one digital tool.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs launched a website to highlight dead and captured Russians It can counter Russian propaganda that would conceal death tolls while acting as a crowdsourcing tool to help families identify those killed in action.
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“One of our tasks is to convey the truth to the citizens of Russia that Putin unleashed a war and attacked all of Ukraine,” Shaldenko said.
Ukrainian hackers have also set up online bots that are programmed to match patients up with doctors to sharing instructions on how to mix up a Molotov cocktail.
Meanwhile, Russian airstrikes and artillery are increasingly targeting civilian infrastructure. Shaldenko had to cut a conversation short when he said Russian bombs began falling overhead.
Photos show jammed train stations as refugees – mostly women and children – attempt to escape the violence.
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Ukrainian air defense shot down a Russian missile overhead Wednesday, according to Omelyan. Debris landed about 300 to 400 meters away. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
“The aim of the Russian missile was general staff of the Army, which is relatively close to the railway station, in a residential area,” he said. “If they succeeded, the damage would be huge.”
A day earlier, another missile blew up a civilian TV tower in the city, killing at least five people near the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial.
Aleksey Komlichenko, a managing partner at the global recruiting agency Odgers Berndtson, said he’s been ferrying medical supplies around Kyiv, taking care of elderly citizens trapped in their homes by war.
They need more medicine and food, he told WHD News Digital, but infrastructure for water, power and internet remained mostly intact.
“There are a lot of people who are hiding underground because there are constant alerts about airstrikes,” he said. “There are a lot of children. It’s hard to say how many people are left in Kyiv.”
Meanwhile, the city’s defenders are putting up makeshift fortifications and bracing for a Russian onslaught – aware of the 40-mile-long military convoy north of the city.
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“Everything around is full-scale war which people in the West have only seen in Hollywood dramas,” said Andrii Osadchuk, a member of Ukraine’s Parliament who was driving back from Lviv on a resupply mission after dropping off his three daughters. “But everything here is real. It is today.”
In normal times, the drive takes about six hours, he told WHD News Digital. He expected to take almost 30 as he avoided danger zones.
He said there were noticeable shortages of food and fuel around the country.
“Kyiv needs all kinds of help, from food to helmets and jet fighters,” he said. “Despite the heavy fight, we’re all motivated.”
He said Putin’s Ukraine invasion is a war against the West and democracy itself.
“They are trying to destroy and nullify everything that has been built by the democratic world during the last 80 years, since the end of World War II,” he said.