Ukraine: Training with AK-47s in Lviv

Offering to take up arms to defend Ukraine, hundreds of people are training in the country’s cultural capital as the weeks-long war with Russia rages on.

About 1,000 people, some as young as 20 and others as old as 65, are taking weapons training in the western city of Lviv, which has served as a refuge for people coming from eastern Ukraine and as a transit point for others looking to cross the border into neighboring countries.

It comes after Russian airstrikes hit areas just outside of the international airport in Lviv Friday at dawn, with the blasts enough to make nearby buildings vibrate.

In the suburbs, where students used to fill classrooms, now they are filled with residents learning how to handle an AK-47.

Teenagers also are being trained in first aid.

“It’s not our desire, it’s what we must do because it’s our land and we try to save it, because Russians want to take it,” Vlad, a 22-year-old student, told CTV National News Washington Bureau Chief Joy Malbon.

Vlad said he was taking his master’s degree in physical therapy just a few weeks ago, and then the war began.

He said that this is the first time he has handled a gun, but he won’t hesitate to use it if he must.

“Of course, if they come on our land, yeah, I will kill someone,” he said.

Ukraine has been involved in a de facto war with Russia since its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, following the Maidan revolution that ousted Ukraine’s Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Since then, the country has been fighting separatist forces in the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Yaryna Shumska, 32, an artist and teacher who volunteers as a translator, became emotional thinking about what may happen to her country.

Her thoughts are with her friends in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, near the Russian border, and the situation in the coastal city of Mariupol to the southeast.

While Lviv, which joined the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998, has been spared from much of the major shelling taking place elsewhere in the country, some are working to protect the city’s cultural landmarks in case of further missile strikes.

For Shumska, it’s not a question of whether to kill, “it’s the question to defend.”

She also believes everyone in Ukraine should learn how to handle a gun.

“They (the Russians) kill children, they kill students, they kill women, men, everyone,” Shumska said.

“So they don’t ask are you 10-years-old or five-years-old or a baby or a teenager. So, I think as soon as possible, we have to have this knowledge.”

Before the end of class, the city’s air raid sirens went off again, forcing everyone to huddle inside a bomb shelter.

“I imagine how much pain will come to Ukraine, to each family,” Shumska said.

“So, we have to stop it and this is the only way for us to stop (it).”

With files from The Associated Press

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