SVYATOGIRSK: Manning checkpoints and patrolling towns and cities: the reservists of Ukraine’s territorial defence force are the last line standing between ordinary civilians and Russian troops.

Standing 2.07 metres (six feet 9.5 inches) and dressed in camouflage fatigues that reveal only his eyes under a hood, “Buffalo” quit his job in construction and signed up for the force when the Russians invaded.

A cheerful young man in his 20s, he is one of the hundreds of thousands to answer President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for reservists.

He was posted to Svyatogirsk, a village about 30 kilometres north of Kramatorsk, the capital of the Donbas region in the east of the country.

The front lines are just 10 kilometres to the north and northwest, where fighting rages and the sound of intense bombardments can be heard daily.

Fighting is particularly fierce around the town of Izyum. Victory there for the Russian troops would open the way towards Kramatorsk.

“I’m sure you can hear the artillery,” Buffalo said. “And how our villages are disappearing from the face of the Earth.”

Protecting civilians

He proudly shows a video on his mobile phone that shows him with his comrades deployed for combat in the snow, Kalashnikov in his hand. But his mission also includes protecting and helping the local civilians.

“The civilians have learned what war is,” he said. “They stay in the basements and it’s all they can do to stay alive.

“Any time we can, we bring them food and water. There are a lot of elderly people there who have no place to go.” There are still a good number left in the village of Svyatogirsk, which had a population of 5,000 before the war, and was then best known for its Orthodox monastery.

Behind the counter of his little cafe Andriy is kept busy. Local people mix with soldiers and reservists as they line up for a hot dog, a hamburger or a hot drink.

“Some people have left and others have stayed,” he said.

“The people are here. Everybody is walking around, shopping — one way or another they have to eat.” Dressed in fatigues with a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder, reservist Andriy, 35, is among the customers. For him, the territorial defence force is unique.

“We have people of all ages and from different backgrounds who all came together because they had only one goal.

Teachers, engineers, workers, artists, it’s extremely important,” said the young man, a civil servant before the war. “We will hold on until the last breath,” he said.

Many bridges in the region have been destroyed by the Ukrainians to slow down any advance by the Russians as Moscow turns the focus of its offensive towards the Donbas region.

The one in Svyatogirsk is still standing, even though mines are ready to blow it up.

Previously guarded by the territorial force, regular soldiers now keep watch over it. “The bridge is under the protection of both the Ukrainian armed forces and the territorial defence,” said Volodymyr Rybalkin, a civilian journalist and head of territorial defence in the town.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

Budget and politics
Updated 14 Jun, 2024

Budget and politics

PML-N, scared of taking bold steps lest it loses whatever little public support it has, has left its traditional support — traders — virtually untouched.
New talks?
14 Jun, 2024

New talks?

WILL this prove another false start, or may we expect a more sincere effort this time? Reference is made to the...
A non-starter
14 Jun, 2024

A non-starter

WHILE the UN Security Council had earlier this week adopted a US-backed resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza...
Budget for stabilisation
Updated 13 Jun, 2024

Budget for stabilisation

The proposed steps lack any “disruptive policy changes", especially to "right-size" the govt, and doubts remain on authorities' ability to enforce new measures.
State of the economy
13 Jun, 2024

State of the economy

THE current fiscal year is but another year lost. Going by the new Pakistan Economic Survey, which maps the state of...
Unyielding onslaught
Updated 13 Jun, 2024

Unyielding onslaught

SEVEN soldiers paid the ultimate price in Lakki Marwat on Sunday when their vehicle was blown up in an IED attack,...