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Ready to stay and fight, Ukrainian women take self-defence courses near Russian border

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By Reuters

KHARKIV, Ukraine – Viktoria Makarova loads her rifle and takes aim at a target across the snow-covered ground, while an instructor holds her shoulder steady for the recoil.

Makarova, a construction company manager in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, is spending her weekends learning how to fire guns, practise martial arts and honing her first aid skills as the country braces for a potential war with Russia.

She has taken up a self-defence course in Ukraine’s second largest city, a major industrial centre 40 kms (25 miles) from the Russian border.

“Now is the time to protect my country, my house and my family,” the 44-year-old mother of two said.

“Russian troops are amassing at our borders and there is a huge danger we will be invaded again. We are not going to run away and abandon our beloved city of Kharkiv, this means we have to learn how to defend it,” Makarova said.

Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders in recent weeks, sparking fears of a large-scale military invasion. Moscow denies any such plan but has demanded security guarantees from the West including a promise by NATO never to admit Kyiv.

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that Kharkiv could be a Russian target, but his office later said the president was speaking hypothetically.

Demand for military and self-defence courses has increased among Ukrainian civilians as fears of an invasion mount.

“Every time Russian aggression grows, the people’s motivation increases, they obviously want to refresh their skills and learn news ones,” said Igor Pushkarev, a veteran of Ukraine’s war against Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine and one of the course instructors.

Dariya Konokh, a 23-year-old law student taking part in the course, said she was not surprised the majority of participants were female.

“This (is) the right place for girls. I know a lot of professional female soldiers and I believe gender in this situation doesn’t matter,” she said.