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Spurred by Ukraine fight, Russia’s ‘Women’s Guard’ learn to shoot

#Spurred #Ukraine #fight #Russias #Womens #Guard #learn #shoot

Wielding Soviet-designed Kalashnikov rifles, a group of Russian women with elaborate manicures and clad in camouflage are drilling different firing positions, first aiming on their knees and then their stomachs.

The gym where the women have gathered in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg near the Ural Mountains is some 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from the frontline in Ukraine.

But the year-long conflict raging in the eastern region of Donetsk has injected new militaristic fervour in Russia and fears that the fight could come back home.

“We thought that if something happens, if — God forbid — there is an attack or some kind of danger, we should learn to protect ourselves and our loved ones,” activist and founder of the group, Olga Smetanina, told AFP.

“I love Russia very much,” the 36-year-old mother-of-two said, sporting a cap emblazoned with the letter Z, symbolising the Russian intervention.

The course is part of an initiative dubbed “The Women’s Guard of the Urals,” launched by Smetanina and other activists in September when the Kremlin announced the mobilisition of hundreds of thousands of men.

Her own rhetoric around Ukraine is uncannily similar to that of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who says Kyiv and its Western allies are Nazi sympathisers posing a looming threat to Russians.

“Recently there has been so much aggression from other countries against our Russia, against our beloved country,” Smetanina said, explaining the inspiration for the project. 

– Firearms, first aid, self-defence –

Since Putin sent troops to Ukraine last February, state propaganda has gone into overdrive to boost a sense of pride in the Russian army.

The surge in patriotic messaging has spurred some Russians to join military courses like the sessions in Yekaterinburg, led by veterans of the Ukraine offensive.

Smetanina said her project was born out of a post on Russian social media proposing the idea. It was met with instant success.

“Women from all over Russia began calling us,” she said. “And men called to show support.”

By December, around 50 women had completed the course that combines training on firearms, self-defence, first aid and operating drones.

Another 50 are doing the training now, while a third group is set to start in April, she said.

The two-month course comprises three sessions a week at the gym and also includes shooting practice at a range outside the city.

Smetanina said proudly that the participants performed “very well”.

Their shooting performance was “practically the same” as that of mobilised men who did a similar firearms training, she said.

One of the participants, Anastasia Gubankova, said her father and husband were both officers in the military, so it was only natural that she sign up for the course.

“Of course, I hope that I won’t have to use these skills in real life. But if necessary, I will,” said the 41-year-old purchasing manager.

– ‘Someone has to protect us’ –

Gubankova, a staunch supporter of Putin’s military aims in Ukraine, said she would not object if her 19-year-old son joined the army. 

“Someone has to protect us,” she said, wearing a camouflage hoodie emblazoned with the letter Z.

“I was struck when he said: ‘I wouldn’t be able to live with the idea that I had betrayed my grandfather who had fought for me,'” an apparent reference to the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. 

Some of the women wear elaborate makeup and have long hair. Others attend classes without removing rings or earrings.

Smetanina, who sports long blonde locks, said learning how to fire a gun or throw a grenade would never get in the way of her looks.

“I will always be beautiful. I will curl my hair and try to take care of myself in any situation,” she said.

One instructor, who goes by the nom de guerre “Zulus” and leads the first aid training, admitted he was sceptical at first. 

But that changed when he saw the women in action.

“I realised I was wrong. That’s a real women’s guard,” he told AFP.

Smetanina is now planning a new project dubbed “The Generation Z Center” to boost patriotism among adults and children alike.

Even if Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine ends soon, Smetanina said she would continue her projects.

“We don’t know what will happen in a year, two years, a decade,” she said.

“But we will always have weapons in our hands and know how to properly hold our fists.”

Social Tags:
#Spurred #Ukraine #fight #Russias #Womens #Guard #learn #shoot

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