The rag-tag army of Ukrainian civilians preparing to face Putin’s invasion force have spoken to MailOnline of their determination to protect their homeland.
We watched as raw recruits to the reservist Territorial Defence Forces were put through their paces at a sprawling disused factory near Kyiv.
In bone-chilling temperatures of –6C, some of the mainly middle-class professionals had weapons and uniforms, others just wooden guns and the warmest clothes they could find.
Lawyer and mother-of-two Natalia, 43, from Kyiv, who did not want to give her surname, said on a normal Saturday she would be taking her daughters, aged 11 and 17, out to lunch or to a museum.
Reservist Territorial Defence Forces were put through their paces at a sprawling disused factory near Kyiv
Training at an abandoned site outside of Kiev, where locals are learning how to defend themselves
They practised firing positions and weapon drills alongside other recruits yesterday toting wooden cut-outs of Kalashnikov assault rifles
Members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, train with fake wooden guns close to Kyiv, Ukraine today
Now she is preparing in earnest along with fellow citizen soldiers to face the biggest standing army in Europe.
‘When I studied to be a lawyer I never for once dreamed this would happen to me, that I would hold a gun,’ she said.
‘I came here on my own but I’ve met a couple of other lawyers who also attended,’ she said.
‘I wanted to play my part in defending my family. So far I have only had one lecture and this is my first practical training day.
‘I have no weapon, only a wooden gun and no uniform yet but they will come. I have thought about the danger and of course it’s a huge risk but I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my country and my family. I am prepared to kill if we are attacked.
A civilian army volunteer with a fake gun in Kyiv today as Putin continues to mount pressure with accumulating forces, tanks and missiles along the Ukrainian border
Russian officials have repeatedly denied planning to invade. But Moscow says it feels menaced by Kyiv’s growing ties with the West. Pictured: Ukraine Territorial Defence Forces training
Pictured: First Lieutent Andrea Poltorak, 44, who has been leading the new recruits through training
‘It is natural to want to defend your homeland but I cannot understand the motivation of those who would want to invade someone else’s country.’
She said her husband, a businessman, already has military experience, but she wanted to learn herself.
One of the oldest people at the training day was grandfather Vasily Nazarov, a 61-year-old IT administrator.
Shivering in tracksuit bottoms and trainers, he told MailOnline: ‘Our country is in danger and I joined to protect me and my family.
Members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces were seen wielding the cutout props in unusual training drills as dozens of civilians have been joining army reserves.
‘I have no military experience but have a son and a baby granddaughter and I want to keep them safe.
‘We need to stop the Russisans from invading our land.’
Logistics firm boss Mykhailo Kailo, 44, only recently started basic training and pulled on a camouflage coat he bought from a sports shop over his winter jacket yesterday.
He completed 12 months of military service 20 years ago but has returned to the ranks to join ordinary men and women across the nation taking up arms against Putin’s hordes.
Commanders told the dad-of-two he will be issued with a uniform and firearm soon after he signed papers committing to serve in the volunteer force.
But he practised firing positions and weapon drills alongside other recruits yesterday toting a wooden cut-out of a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
A Ukrainian service member fires a next generation light anti-tank weapon (NLAW) supplied by Britain during drills at Ukraine’s International Peacekeeping Security Centre near Yavoriv in the Lviv region, Ukraine yesterday
The dad-of-two said: ‘I’m still waiting for my uniform and gun and will train in my own clothes and use a replica weapon until they arrive.
‘We are preparing to fight for our families and for our future and will not wait until the war comes to our home – and we will take the fight to the Russians if they invade.
‘We have been at war with Russia’s allies in the east for seven years and are being well trained by people with battle experience.
‘Our motivation is high because we are fighting for our way of life and more and more people like me are joining every day.
‘If Russia threatens us we will defend ourselves and we will not give up without a fight – we will not give up at all.’
Mykhailo’s pal Andrii Yudin, a 42-year-old Kiev-based manager for a German biotechnical firm, swapped his business suit for a Ukrainian Army camouflage uniform yesterday.
Tanks of the Russian Southern Military District’s 150th Rifle Division take part in a military exercise at Kadamovsky Range on Thursday
The father-of-two said: ‘We know that it will be a tough hard fight and that we may die in battle.
‘But we cannot do nothing and let Russia walk over us – we must fight back.’
Andrii revealed the self-defence force fighters had been briefed to be on the lookout for Russian spies attempting to penetrate their ranks and to be wary of being followed.
And commanders have warned all recruits to minimise personal exposure on social media to avoid falling prey to Russia’s sophisticated cyber hackers.
In charge of the training, 1st Lieutenant Andrii Poltorak, 44, an IT professional in his weekday job, said that each recruit would be instructed at weekends for about six months, and weapons and uniforms were on their way,
‘In recent weeks, we have seen a large increase in the numbers of people volunteering because of the political situation.
‘They come from all walks of life, and a lot of women too.’
As he spoke, US officials revealed that Russian troops had shipped supplies of blood, along with other medial materials in yet another key indicator of their military readiness, if Russian President Vladimir Putin gives them the green light.
Russian servicemen of the 150th division of the Southern Military District shooting from howitzers 2A65 Msta-B during a training in the Rostov region, Russia yesterday
The Pentagon has previously acknowledged the deployment of ‘medical support’ as part of Russia’s build-up. But the disclosure of blood supplies adds a level of detail that experts say is critical to determining Russian military readiness.
‘It doesn’t guarantee that there’s going to be another attack, but you would not execute another attack unless you have that in hand,’ Ben Hodges, a retired U.S. lieutenant general now with the Center for European Policy Analysis research institute, told Reuters.
Russian officials have repeatedly denied planning to invade. But Moscow says it feels menaced by Kyiv’s growing ties with the West.
Eight years ago it seized Crimea and backed separatist forces who took control of large parts of eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s security demands, presented in December, include an end to further NATO enlargement, barring Ukraine from ever joining and pulling back the alliance’s forces and weaponry from eastern European countries that joined after the Cold War.
Putin said on Friday the United States and NATO had not addressed Russia’s main security demands in their standoff over Ukraine but that Moscow was ready to keep talking.