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Ukraine women take up arms to protect homeland

Hiroto Sekiguchi / The Yomiuri Shimbun
A woman learns how to handle a rifle from a volunteer instructor in Lviv, Ukraine, on April 16.

LVIV, Ukraine — More and more civilians in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv are learning how to handle guns as the Russian invasion of their nation continues, anticipating the expansion of the front lines. Among them are a number of women who are holding guns for the very first time.

Women were in the majority at a rifle-training session at a Lviv school facility in mid-April, accounting for nine out of the 15 participants.

“Lean forward with your feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure you don’t break position due to the shock of the recoil,” an instructor’s voice said.

Mila Hryshko’s body wobbled as she held up a Kalashnikov that weighs more than 3 kilograms. The 31-year-old IT company worker aimed the gun at a paper target with a person’s picture on it.

“I couldn’t do it well because the gun was heavy. I’ve only held guns on game machines before,” Hryshko said.

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Hryshko had been fighting in cyberspace, joining the “IT Army” created by the Ukraine government.

“I thought about what I could do next, and decided to learn how to handle guns,” Hryshko said. She learned how to hold and aim a firearm that day, and intends to receive further training in shooting live ammunition.

Hryshko attended the session with her 34-year-old colleague Olga Chipak. “I won’t hesitate to confront an enemy if I need to,” Chipak said. “But if possible, I don’t want the day to come when I have to use a gun.”

Hiroto Sekiguchi / The Yomiuri Shimbun
A woman learns how to hold and aim a rifle in Lviv, Ukraine, on April 16.

The instructor was a 35-year-old sports shooter named Yurii. Soon after the start of the invasion, he volunteered to teach people how to handle guns, primarily residents who had never touched a gun before.

According to Yurii, more women are taking his lessons recently.

“The most dangerous thing when handling a gun is to be afraid, as you could injure or kill people around you or yourself,” he said. “I’ve loved shooting as a sport. I really regret having to teach this to women for combat.”