Ukraine: territorial defense, the last bastion against the Russians

They hold the checkpoints and are clearly visible in the cities: after the regular army, the civilians of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces are the last bastion against the Russians.

The cheerful twenty-something “Buffalo” measures 2.07 m for a hundred kilos.

Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he quit his job in the construction industry and joined this force, which was tantamount to a military reserve.

Like hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians, he followed the call of President Volodymyr Zelenskyj, who ordered general mobilization.

“Buffalo,” his code name, was struck in the area of ​​Svyatogirsk, a village about thirty kilometers north of Kramtorsk, the capital of Donbass, in eastern Ukraine.

The front lines run about ten kilometers north and north-west, particularly around the town of Izioum where the battle is raging.

Izium is the main lock that opens the main road to Kramatorsk.

From there rises the heavy noise of intense bombing every day.

“I’m sure you can hear the artillery and how our villages are disappearing from the face of the earth,” “Buffalo” told AFP in camouflage suits, showing only his eyes under a balaclava.

He proudly shows a video on his mobile phone in which he can be seen in the snow, Kalashnikov in hand, in a fighting stance with his comrades.

But its mission is also to protect and help the residents.

“Civilians have learned what war is. They stay in the basements and that’s the least they can do to save their lives. Whenever we can, we bring them food and water. There are a lot of old people who have nowhere to go,” he says.

They are still numerous in the village of Sviatogir, which had about 5000 inhabitants before the war and was especially famous for its orthodox monastery of “Holy Mountain”.

Andriy is busy behind the counter of his small café-restaurant. Local residents, soldiers or members of the Defense Force parade to pick up a hot dog, hamburger or hot drink.

“Some have gone, others have stayed. people are here Everyone is walking around, they are shopping, they have to eat one way or the other,” says the shopkeeper.

Andriy, 35, carries a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder, wears a tailored suit and a khaki beanie on his head. He believes that territorial defense “is a very important bridge to civilians, it’s made up of civilians. I think it’s unique.”

“We have people of different ages and backgrounds who all came together because they had a goal. Teachers, engineers, workers, artists, that’s extremely important,” the young civil servant said.

“We will hold out until our last breath,” he said.

Many bridges in the region have been destroyed by the Ukrainians to slow an advance of Russian forces, while a massive offensive by Moscow on this region of Donbass is announced.

The one in Sviatogirsk still stands, although mines are ready to detonate it.

Formerly guarded by the Territorial Troops, soldiers now watch over the building.

“The bridge is under the protection of both the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the protection of the territorial defense,” said Volodymyr Rybalkin, a civilian journalist and head of the village’s territorial defense.

“Above us are professional military commanders who coordinate. Our job is to communicate with the civilian population so that there is understanding and support between the two,” he explains.

When asked about the announced Russian offensive, the man is confident.

“The front line is less than 10 km away. Artillery works at full power, pushing the enemy away. I can’t predict what will happen tomorrow. Today the (Russian) planes did not fly, it is not known if they will be back tomorrow. We will respond to all their actions,” he said.

Behind him, “Buffalo” begins a chorus addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, treated with a bird name.

“Honour to Ukraine!” he concludes in a loud voice.

“Honour to the heroes,” his comrades answer in his heart.

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