‘A blitzkrieg’: Ukraine’s volunteer fighters brace for more

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Andrey Gonchruk was a soldier alongside Russian soldiers during the Soviet Union. He called them his brothers. On Wednesday, however, the 68 year-old Andrey Gonchruk wiped his forehead with one hand, and grabbed a rifle with the other, ready to resist their invasion his country.

Gonchruk stated, “This is a bombing campaign.” He was standing in the rubble of a house that had been destroyed by a Russian airstrike in Gorenka. This village is located on the outskirts Kiev and has been caught in the middle of the conflict as Moscow attempts to seize Kyiv.

This white-bearded retired man is just one of the tens of thousands who have offered to defend their homeland against Russia. After last week’s invasion, he and his son Kostya armed themselves. They patrolled the village together.

Pjotr Vierko (81), a French teacher, was one of those who patrolled. He had lost his wife Lidya to skin cancer after the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Vyerko stated that he is ready to use his rifle to kill invaders, as he has a son and a daughter. He also thought about what he would do without his firearm.

He said, “If they come here I’ll jab ’em with a pitchfork. If I don’t possess weapons — but I do have weaponry.”

Volunteer defenders share in the loss. According to residents, at least two Gorenka residents were killed and twelve others injured in Russia’s offensive that began a week ago. Numerous homes were demolished Wednesday. The ruins were filled with women who wept and stood.

Gonchruk stated that there has been “a lot of destruction.” “But the people are holding onto well.” Many of the men in the village have military experience.

The Ukrainian army has provided weapons to anyone who wants to defend it and has also deployed thousands of reservists. People in Kyiv are seen wearing winter coats and jeans, with yellow armbands. They also crouch behind tires at checkpoints to keep an eye on the streets.

Gonchruk stated that they are outnumbered but would try to obtain more weapons even if none were available. “We will do it ourselves. He added, “We’ll kill our enemy and take their arms.”

Gonchruk viewed the Russians in his Soviet army days as brothers in arms. This is now different.

“Everyone who visits our territory is an enemy.” He said that no one invited them to come here. “Perhaps they have good people, but it doesn’t matter to me. They are coming to my country to kill me.”

Gonchruk is stunned by Moscow’s invasion. He assumed Russia would eventually overthrow the separatist territories of eastern Ukraine. But he didn’t expect the massive offensive that has engulfed the heart of cities such as Kharkiv, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing across borders.

Others go to bomb shelters with growing anger towards Russia. We don’t have to be liberated. Larissa Lipatova, another Gorenka resident, said, “Leave us alone!” She fled to a cellar during Wednesday’s attack, hiding under a blanket and jam-filled containers.

Gonchruk, looking at the rubble around him with a veteran’s eyes, took grim pride in the Russian setbacks that they have suffered in the past week of their invasion.

He said, “They thought that they could come here and in a few days they would take Kyiv. But look at how far they have come!”

Another volunteer defender assisted people in crossing the bridge that was left untouched on the outskirts the capital. The man was carrying a gun across his chest and holding the hand of a small boy in his gloved hand. He smiled shyly at him.

One by one, others walked across the river on a falling snow-covered pipe. Locals claimed that the bridge was destroyed in order to stop the Russian advance.

Even the smallest victories were celebrated by exhausted Kyiv residents. Roza, the only name she gave, was the one who showed off her newly-purchased groceries. She said, “There’s everything, bananas, butter and even a fresh croissant.”

She had made the same decision as Gonchruk to stay rather than flee. Armed only with determination, war began that few could have envisioned.

She said, “We are running to the basement, shaking, and worried, but we believe that victory is possible.”