Middle-age Ukrainians are filling the reserves of Ukrainian Army to defend their cities

Ukraine has a troubled past on its way to statehood. Even though the nation can claim its fair share as a participant in shaping the history of Europe, it has had very little time to enjoy its independence. The country has been invaded and reinvaded for centuries, often passing between empires. Ukrainians endured a wide variety of tyrants and now holds its breath as it faces down another.

Eight years ago, before Russia had occupied and annexed Crimea and stirred conflict in Donbas, the most Eastern region of Ukraine, most of the Ukrainian population felt cautiously optimistic about its giant Northern neighbor. Not many Ukrainians believed that Russia would enter into an armed conflict with their country. After eight years of hybrid warfare and open aggression, the opinions of Ukrainians have drastically shifted.

The events of 2014 and 2015, and what followed, have shaped the mindset of many Ukrainians, making them resilient to geopolitical uncertainty. The looming threat of a possible Russian invasion has become unpleasant normality. And as strange as it might sound, following the recent news surrounding Ukraine and this new wave of Russian aggression, life for most people in Ukraine goes on as usual.

Amongst the new and possibly much more horrific stage of the ongoing tension, Ukrainians have flocked to territorial defense units–a reserve branch of the military that trains civilians to defend their cities in case of a full-scale invasion. Such units accept and train volunteers between the ages of 18 to 57, who, upon signing up, commit to weekend drills, target practices, and occasional week-long training camps. Army instructors train them, often veterans that often have already seen the front line in eastern Ukraine.
A recently passed law with an unambiguous title "Foundations of National Resistance" has given these civilian units a supporting role to the Ukrainian Army in case of war and envisions them to have partisan duties in case of occupation. It also benefits the volunteers allowing for the purchase of arms and legalizing their privately-owned weapons if mobilized. The Territorial Defense Units have seen a massive influx of recruits since the law was passed in January 2022. Ukrainians have also been arming themselves at an unprecedented rate.

Maryana Zhaglo, 52, a Kyiv native, marketing analyst, and a mother of 3, was one of the people who recently purchased a weapon, the Ukrainian made rifle Zbroyar Z-15. Ms. Zhaglo rationalizes her becoming a reservist as a desire to defend her own birthplace. “Territorial defense for me is defending my city, my home. My motivation is my family, my city, and my country.” Ms. Zhaglo enrolled in the territorial defense on a dare from her friend from Donetsk, who had to move to Kyiv after Russian-backed separatists took over his city in 2014. "If anything starts I'll show up and be ready to follow orders. My whole family is here, we have nowhere else to go and we shouldn't be going anywhere. This is my country, I was born here and I want to be ready to defend it.”

The process of joining a civilian unit like Maryana's is not as simple as just volunteering. One can first attend an intro training session. If they want to join, they have to undergo a rigorous health and psych evaluation, supply copies of numerous documents, and then sign a contract to become a reservist. The process might take two to three weeks before volunteers get sworn in.