Ukrainian volunteer forces prepare to fight off Russian invasion as US troops deploy to Eastern Europe

They come from all walks of life – Ukrainian actors, plumbers or IT professionals – and all political leanings. But one thing unites them, and that is the defense of their country against a Russian invasion.

Thousands of people gather on weekends to learn military tactics and skills, and Fox News has reached out to some who say they’re ready for whatever comes their way.

“I remember the Russian army (its) regular artillery and mortar attacks, including against civilian infrastructure and civilian homes,” said Evgeny Leshan, a 43-year-old investigative journalist from Russia. Crimean region.

Following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, armed Russian separatists – who Western countries say are being backed by Moscow with troops and weapons, which Moscow has denied – have taken over. control of the predominantly Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine.

Leshan has direct experience fighting against the Russian military and separatists. In 2014, he was an artilleryman in the Donbass region.

“At the cemetery of the village of Granitne, near which we fought, there are graves of civilians who died due to Russian artillery shelling,” Leshan said. “In fact, this is the very essence of Russian expansion. Russians call themselves ‘saviors’, but civilians are hostages or consumables to them,” he said.


Still, for Leshan it is very important to be ready for any possible invasion, and that is why he and thousands of others are part of what is called the Territorial Defense Force, a type of national guard that , according to him, “is necessary so that the enemy of Ukraine does not feel safe anywhere… Wherever our enemy goes, wherever he appears, our weapons will meet him everywhere.

Leshan says things are much more organized, unlike in 2014.

“We saw in 2014 how small groups of Russian saboteurs, with the support of local provocateurs, took over the cities of Donbass,” Leshan recalls. “It was because there was no active local armed force to protect the cities. Now this force will be in every region, in every district, in every city of Ukraine.

“We will protect critical infrastructure, city security from sabotage groups and pro-Russian forces, and we will also meet enemy regular forces and lead the fight to allow the army to use reserves and strike enemy. Territorial defense is an opportunity for everyone to take part in the defense of their land.”

Leshan added that US support is vital.

“I’m sure that Americans understand very well the importance of a free Ukraine. It’s important not only for the Ukrainian people, but also for all of Europe and for the whole world,” Leshan said.

“If Ukraine falls, it will be a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, and the balance in the world will also change in favor of the archaic Russian autocracy, and that is terrible, believe me. But I know Americans understand that. the volume of US military assistance is unprecedented, and US diplomatic support for Ukraine is also very significant.


Observers say civilian military units will play an important role against any Russian invasion with more than 130,000 Ukrainian volunteers to call on the reserve force pool.

“The war with the Russian Federation has been going on for eight years. We live in this state all the time,” says Illia Rykov, a 50-year-old businessman who is part of the volunteer forces. “Almost every day we receive news about injuries or deaths of our soldiers in Donbass.”

Rykov told Fox Digital he realized he had to do his part to help.

“I decided that not only our army could help stop the aggressor, but also citizens like me. I am not a military man, but I was ready to learn how to defend my family and my country,” said Rykov.

Rykov joined the NGO (non-governmental organization) Ukrainian Legion in 2016, describing it as “a civilian organization that set out to train citizens in basic military skills. In 2017, I joined the territorial defense of the city of Kiev. Today, for the sixth year in a row, I had military training almost every week on weekends.”


Rykov said he was very grateful for the support the United States has given Ukraine over the years.

“I want to thank the United States for the real help it has given our country for all these years,” Rykov said. “It is very important and valuable for us.

“We are ready to defend our country and our values, our desire for democracy and freedom. We are at war with the Russian Federation, which has one of the strongest armies in the world, whose state policy denies the very existence of the Ukrainian nation and Ukraine as a state We believe in the continued support of the US government and the American people in our fight against the aggressor.

Oleksii Sannikov works day in the Ukrainian IT industry. The father of a teenager, Sannikov heads an NGO called the Ukrainian Legion, which aims to “train ordinary Ukrainians in the art of civil defence”, he says.

Oleksi Sannikov


“Our NGO prepares civilians to act in certain critical situations – and war is just one case among many,” Sannikov said. “After our training, people can recognize if they want to build a military career.”

He says the organization is a training platform for civilians, but says it may soon be officially recognized.

“According to the new regulations, we can become a combat unit and an official part of the homeland defense forces,” he explained.

He said his organization had about 450 members and had trained more than 4,000 civilians. He says he wants the American public to understand that Ukrainians want to live apart from Russia.

“Not all brothers are good brothers, you know,” Sannikov said. “We can live in peace, but they must forget their desire to enslave us again.” He said he understood how difficult it would be “to fight with Russian troops, but if (the) United States helps us with a deadly weapon or weapons, and if you close a sky, I guess we We’ll handle this situation.”


Rykov and his gang of siblings are far from weekend warriors. He makes sure to point out that they are trained by former and current servicemen and says that several times a year they train with Ukrainian army units to learn additional skills and knowledge.

“As part of our training, we study combined arms disciplines, tactical medicine, surveying and engineering training,” Rykov explained. “In addition to acquiring theoretical knowledge, we constantly put these disciplines into practice during our training.

“In our ranks there are people who fought in the Donbass as well as ordinary citizens of different ages, genders and professions. This is not a commercial initiative. We engage in (this) voluntarily, without receiving compensation.”

Rykov and his colleagues are ready to repel what they see as the Russian aggressor should an invasion occur.

“If there is a full-scale invasion (by) the Russian Federation, I am ready to take up arms and go to defend my city and my country,” Rykov said. “My family is here, my children were born here, my parents and friends live here. I have someone to protect.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ben Evansky reports for Fox News on the United Nations and international affairs. It can be tracked @BenEvansky.