News agency 'Vchasno'

How Residents of Eastern Ukraine Are Preparing to Fight Against a Russian Invasion

Citizens in cities of eastern Ukraine are trained to defend themselves and their homeland in case of a Russian invasion.


Russia launched its well-planned armed aggression against Ukraine on 20 February 2014 with the military operation of its Armed Forces on seizing a part of the Ukrainian territory — Crimean peninsula. The next step of the Russian aggression was an attempt to destabilize the situation in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine in order to form a quasi-state «Novorossiya». Russian President Vladimir Putin announced this plan at the «Dialogue with the Russians» TV program on the First Channel on 17 April 2014. Ukraine succeeded to disrupt the full implementation of his plans, but Russian regular troops and its proxies occupied certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine.

Now Russia has drawn more than 100,000 troops to the borders of Ukraine.

In terms of the information about the possible large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, ordinary Ukrainians are actively Googling the map of bomb shelters in their cities and packing bug-out bags. The most conscious citizens are enrolled in the units of territorial defense. So what it is and how it works precisely in eastern Ukraine — in the article of «Vchasno».

What is territorial defense?

The ability to unite around a common threat seems to be in Ukrainians' blood. In 2014, self-defense units defended Ukrainian cities in eastern Ukraine from the Russian army.

Therefore, the concept of territorial defense is not new for Ukraine. Since the beginning of 2022, the new law on national resistance has singled out the terrorist defense as a separate branch of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Now it exists independently, has clear roles, and forms a new system of public protection.

The basic principle — you protect your home, the district, the territory where you live

In the case of a threat, the territorial defense forces will perform the following tasks: to guard important objects or the border, to be on duty at checkpoints, to counteract saboteurs or other illegal groups on their territory.

In fact, the territorial defense creates a whole network of citizens living their ordinary lives, but ready to take the weapon at any moment. The core of the territorial defense is formed from military men. They go to work and get paid. Another component is the reservists. They are involved in the trainings, continuing to work in their main, civilian positions. Based on the results of participation in combat training, they will also receive a monetary reward, however, once a year.

Now 25 territorial defense brigades have already been formed in Ukraine — one for each region and one in Kyiv. They will unite more than 150 battalions, one for each district.

Ukrainian military conducting a large-scale training for civilians in Mariupol on Sunday, February 13 / photo: Facebook of Dmytro Chychera

Territorial defense in front-line Donetsk oblast

Remembering well the speed with which Russian mercenaries can «teleport» to Ukrainian territories, a territorial defense brigade was formed in Donetsk oblast even before the adoption of the new law.

Today, five territorial defense battalions have been created in the territories controlled by the Ukrainian government: in the cities of Kramatorsk, Bakhmut, Volnovakha, Mariupol, and Pokrovsk. We visited the latter personally.

Pokrovsk — city and the administrative centre of the Pokrovsk district in Donetsk oblast. Population: 86,295 people. The city is located 50 km from the front line.

The members of the Pokrovsk territorial defense entered the new premises in early January. Dozens of military men are already serving here.

Everything necessary for the functioning of the future territorial defense headquarters has already been set up here. In addition to the military, it will include representatives of the National Police, the State Emergency Service, the National Guard, the Security Service of Ukraine, and the leadership of territorial communities — there are 14 of them in Pokrovsk district. In case of an emergency, the headquarters will operate around the clock.

«This is the future brain center of the headquarters. In the case of a threat or emergency, all processes will be managed from here,» Major Anatolii Vyshnevskyi, Commander of the Territorial Defense Battalion explains during a short tour.

Territorial defense in front-line Donetsk oblast (Pokrovsk) / photo: "Vchasno"
Dozens of military men are already serving in Pokrovsk territorial defense / photo: "Vchasno"
The members of the Pokrovsk territorial defense entered the new premises in early January / photo: "Vchasno"
Everything necessary for the functioning of the future territorial defense headquarters has already been set up / Photo: "Vchasno"
Pokrovsk territorial defense / Photo: "Vchasno"

Military tension on the borders with the Russian Federation only add interest in territorial defense

In the Pokrovsk territorial defense, they react calmly to intimidation from Russia. The basis of the battalion is the military, who went through the war in eastern Ukraine from the beginning. In addition, these are all local residents, so they do not need extra motivation to defend their native land. Ukrainians unite around a common disaster. And with its intimidation, the Russian Federation once again prompted them to prove it.

«It turned out that all this tension along the border affected the acceleration of the formation of the territorial defense. Initially, the first phase of deployment of the territorial defense forces was supposed to last until May. The current situation accelerated this process,» Commander Vyshnevskyi says.

Major Anatolii Vyshnevsky telling about the Pokrovsk territorial defense / photo: "Vchasno"

The willingness of every Ukrainian to resist held back Russian aggression

The fighters of the Pokrovsk battalion carried out the first combat coordination in the fall of last year. Then more than 350 reservists took part in the staff training. In addition to their own instructors who conduct trainings, soldiers of the Special Operations Forces were attracted.

The Pokrovsk battalion of territorial defense is completed, and the Commander promises to find a place for everyone who would like to become part of it.

«People come and ask — how can we be useful in case of full-scale aggression? What can we do if we stay in the city? It means that people understand their responsibility. As I say, in an extreme situation, people will act at the level of their preparation. Therefore, in order to know how to act in case of emergency, I would advise everyone to attend our trainings, where experienced specialists will be able to explain everything. It would be helpful».

Now trainings are held on weekends so that as many people as possible can join. They study general military tactics, fire training, tactical medicine.

Trainings in Pokrovsk district are held on weekends so that as many people as possible can join / photo: "Vchasno"
Soldiers of the Special Operations Forces were attracted to trainings / photo: "Vchasno"

There are a lot of people who want to join the defense

Kramatorsk is a city and the administrative center of Donetsk oblast. Population: 150,084 people. On 12 April 2014, the police station and the city council in Kramatorsk were seized by pro-Russian militants. This resulted in a tense standoff between the Ukrainian Armed Forces and pro-Russian militants. After months of fighting, the city came under Ukrainian control on 5 July 2014.

The territorial defense was fully recruited in Kramatorsk as well. Oleksii Ladyka, a local journalist, had to show all his perseverance to get at least in reserve.

«As soon as I arrived at the military enlistment office, I was told that the defense is already complete. So I asked to be in a reserve. I passed the previous medical commission at the military registration and enlistment office and now I am undergoing additional examinations. I hope there will be no contraindications,» the journalist writes on his page on the social network. «Why am I doing this? It is known that a person has three types of reactions when he is attacked: run away, stand still or fight. I chose the latter for myself. I am not a warrior and have never held a real weapon, but many people like me in 2014 went to volunteer battalions, repulsed the enemy, and took place as soldiers. I was not ready for that. And now I see no other choice for myself.»

Resistance to Russian aggression in Mariupol

Mariupol is a city of regional significance in eastern Ukraine, situated on the north coast of the Sea of Azov. It is the tenth-largest city in Ukraine and the second largest in the Donetsk Oblast with a population of 431,859 people.

In 2014, Mariupol became a stronghold of Ukraine, about which Russia «broke its teeth». Then, thanks to the Ukrainian military and local self-defense, it was possible to protect the city near the sea from the invaders.

The importance of creating territorial defense was discussed here long before the new law — since 2015, this idea has been promoted by local volunteers, who were an active part of the Mariupol self-defense.

One of the initiators is Dmytro Vykhodtsev. The man has been in the Mariupol battalion from the very beginning of its foundation and has already signed a second contract for service in the reserve.

«We proposed to create the territorial defense, first of all, for those who could not or did not want to go to serve in the Armed Forces or volunteer battalions. But it could be useful in case of wartime,» Dmytro says.

During the mobilization of forces, two parameters are important — the time for which a person will take his place in the ranks, and the quality of his training

Then the experience of the Baltic countries, in particular Estonia, was taken as an example. Estonians themselves say that they have no civilian professions in their country. Every teacher, doctor, entrepreneur knows how to handle weapons and, if necessary, can become a full-fledged combat unit.

«Real people with motivation should come to territorial defense,» he says.

Fighters of the «Azov» Regiment (Ukrainian National Guard unit) conducted a large-scale training for civilians in Mariupol on Sunday, February 13. Experienced soldiers taught civilians how to handle weapons and provide medical care — skills that are essential in the event of a Russian attack.

About 300 Mariupol residents took part in the training. The oldest participant was 78 years old.

Valentyna Kostiantynivska also became one of the participants. Since 2014, she has been making camouflage nets for the Ukrainian military and helping the army in every possible way. She says that despite her respectable age, she is trying to be at the forefront of events.

78-year-old Valentyna Kostiantynivska also became one of the participants of trainings

«I can't stay at home,» Valentyna says. — I looked at something, wrote down something on the phone so that I could learn a little if necessary. After a while, there will be more training and not one. Many people are interested. This is my first time at such training and, perhaps, I will go again. I won't shoot though. Not enough strength. But the dream from 2014 to hold a machine gun came true. I’m amazed".

According to Valentina Kostiantynivska, Mariupol residents are not panicking about information about a possible offensive. However, they are getting prepared for anything.

«It is very inspiring that there were a lot of young people. People of all ages. Well, we — my friends (though younger) will be in line, if anything happens,» she adds.

There is a hope that the public interest and the conditions in which the new system of territorial defense is being formed will help repel Russia’s desire to start open aggression.

Experienced soldiers taught civilians how to handle weapons / photo: Facebook of Dmytro Chychera
Mariupol residents are getting prepares for anything in terms of Russian aggression / photo: Facebook of Dmytro Chychera
About 300 Mariupol residents took part in the training / photo: Facebook of Dmytro Chychera
There is a hope that the new system of territorial defens will help repel Russia’s desire to start open aggression / photo: Facebook of Dmytro Chychera
Training on how provide medical care / photo: Facebook of Dmytro Chychera