In Eastern Ukraine, a web designer learns how to ambush a tank | World news

KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Mykola Kholtobin had never expected to volunteer to fight for Ukraine, but this week he found himself squatting in a fox hole and throwing a fake grenade into a tank as part of a training exercise to prepare for a Russian invasion.

The 32-year-old web designer joined dozens of camouflage-clad reservists in the city of Kharkiv, about 25 km (15 miles) from the Russian border, to practice what could happen in the event of an attack.

Kholtobin was only a baby when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and was brought up to speak Russian as its first language, as did millions of others in the eastern part of then-independent Ukraine.

He deliberately switched to Ukrainian in 2014, when Russia conquered Ukraine’s Crimean region, and Russian-backed separatists launched a war with government forces in eastern Ukraine, which continues to this day.

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“I thought that if they use the (Russian) language as a weapon, then I should too. I had thought about it before, but it did not succeed. But with the beginning of the war, I ‘Ukrainianized’ myself. ” he said in an interview with Reuters.

Fast-forward seven years, and Ukraine accuses Russia of gathering more than 90,000 troops at the border and preparing for a possible invasion. Moscow denies this, saying it has the right to move its troops around its own territory as it sees fit and that the maneuvers are purely defensive.

Kholtobin, however, wonders if he will have to fight for his country.

“Until 2014, I thought the army was a kind of relic that has no place in the modern world. Who would fight in Europe? What a crazy idea! But now it sounds more than real,” he said.

On the cool training ground, members of the Territorial Self-Defense Unit line up to pay tribute to the national anthem before participating in a series of exercises: capturing an enemy combatant, evacuating a wounded colleague, placing a bandage on a wound.

“As for the thought – it’s not as scary as I thought it would be. I heard stories of how scary it is when the thought runs over you, but in the trench, I saw it pass over me, I reached out. , I threw the grenade, “said Kholtobin.

If the situation demands it, he shows up at the military recruitment center near where he lives.

“I want to go there and say – well, I’m not a soldier, but I’m ready to help you with anything you need. Maybe you need someone to load ammunition, or I have a car, and I can transport the wounded, “he said.

“And of course, if they give me a gun and ask me to protect a street or patrol a checkpoint, we’re shown on territorial self-defense exercises how to work with checkpoints. Whatever it takes, all I can do is I will do that.”

Members of Kholtobin’s family also strike – his parents and aunt make the camouflage for the army, and Kholtobin says he helps them from time to time.

He believes that all Ukrainians should know the basics of military training.

“I think it’s a good chance to learn something useful if something starts. To not just be the ballast for the country, the civilian to be protected, but to contribute at least in some way to the country’s defense, “he said. .

“Of course I’ve heard people say they’ll run away if something starts. Of course I can not guarantee that I’ll be a tough warrior, he who stands to the last, but at least I do not plan to flee. “

(Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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