People’s army that is stepping up for the fight

Published by The Daily Mail (24th February, 2022)

Liza Lukyanova might seem an unlikely recruit for the army of a country that is facing a fight for survival from a military machine that has 2.9million troops and reserves.

She is 43, the mother of two children, and studying to become a website developer. But she is also a trained doctor and has seen the chilling reality of Russian aggression after being forced to flee her home eight years ago.

‘I know what it feels like to run away,’ said Lukyanova. ‘Now, though, we have nowhere to run. Besides, I don’t want to run.’

Yesterday, she joined thousands of other Ukrainians answering their president’s call for military reservists to come forward as the country moved on to a war footing.

President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered the move – which could double the size of the Ukrainian army with an extra 250,000 troops – then said: ‘We are ready for anything.’ His government imposed a state of emergency at midnight across Ukraine – banning strikes and mass events – as Moscow moved troops and tanks closer to the conflict frontline.

Lukyanova fled her home city of Luhansk after the 2014 revolt by separatists backed by Moscow, which led to the proclamation of the area as an independent pro-Russian ‘republic’.

I met her outside a military enlistment building in Kyiv where she joined others preparing for frontline duties. In front of her was an engineer, behind her came a woman in her early 20s.

Under a new law, women in key jobs have been put on the reservist list alongside all men under 60, including conscripts who served in the armed forces. ‘If there’s a full-scale war, I’ll be sent to a military unit as a medic so I’ll have to quit my studies,’ said Lukyanova.

Her 21-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son do not want her to join the army. ‘They are worried I would be in danger but I try to explain to them that we’re all in danger and I’m doing it for them.’

Her husband, who fought in Donbas against the separatists and Russians, is also rejoining the army.

The volunteer reservists have been praised by Ukraine’s military head Valery Zaluzhny, who had urged people to go ‘en masse’ to recruitment centres.

One man called Viktor, 41, said it was tough to leave his three children as a divorced stay-at-home father. He served in the military 20 years ago and explained: ‘The latest developments leave me no choice – I have to protect the country.’

He was joined by his psychology student girlfriend Yana Kaminska, 33, who fears Ukraine will be attacked on all sides by Putin’s forces.

She also saw her home city of Luhansk seized by Russian troops in 2014 and tearfully described ‘watching all the horror’.

‘They destroyed my life. They took my home. The place where I was born is run by foreign people. A foreign currency is used there,’ she said. ‘My parents are there and I do not speak with them any more.’

Like many Ukrainians, she never expected Putin to seize Crimea illegally and grab areas of Donbas. ‘Our country was not prepared. But now I’m going do everything possible to make sure we are prepared and the Russians will not take any more land from us.’

In further signs of a possible invasion, Russia evacuated its diplomats from Kiev with video footage showing officials loading suitcases into cars in the capital and burning documents in the consulate in the Black Sea port of Odessa – a possible target for its armed forces.

All Ukrainians living in Russia – about three million people – were told to leave by the government in Kyiv. Meanwhile, another cyber-attack targeted the Kyiv parliament, the security services, the ministry of defence, Kiev city hall and several banks – the second major assault in eight days.

The previous attack was traced to Russia, China, the Czech Republic and Uzbekistan. Police also detained 34 people after it was discovered that up to 1,000 were due to be paid to protest about prison violence outside the Ministry of Justice headquarters in Kyiv, according to reports.

The plan fits a pattern of recent weeks with the previous discovery of a covert plot to destabilise Ukraine by sparking violent clashes – with hundreds of people paid to fight police and fake blood used to create propaganda videos of supposedly beaten protesters.

Such incidents tie in with fears of ‘false flag’ events orchestrated by Moscow to inflame tensions and provide a possible pretext for invasion.

Meanwhile, President Zelensky met 50 leading business figures and announced a package of measures to shore up the economy, which has been struck hard by the impact of Russia’s hybrid war.

His advisers say the crisis – estimated to have left Ukraine with a £206billion bill since 2014 – is currently costing the country £2billion a month as its currency plummets and anxious firms move their staff to safety.

No wonder many Ukrainians fear their nation is confronting an existential crisis on several fronts. ‘We are facing military invasion and I have two teenage children to protect,’ said Sergiy Shchevelev, 43, a rescue diver who was at the army enlistment centre in Kiev.

In an unwavering statement echoed across Ukraine, he said: ‘This is my land and I will protect it at all costs.’

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