joining the terrotorial defense forces of Ukraine

Fighters of Territorial Defense Forces training. Photo: open source 

Opinion, Russian Aggression

Article by: Vadym Petrasiuk
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
While in the past Ukrainians frequently bribed the military office to avoid service, nowadays there is an opposite trend. There are more people volunteering to be enlisted than logistics will allow. A journalist describes his experience of being accepted to the overflowing Territorial Defense to protect his hometown from the Russian invasion.

“So, here I am, a full-fledged fighter of the Territorial Defense Forces. Week 2 of the war, living and sleeping with my machine gun,” relates Vadym Petrasiuk, a journalist with Ukrainska Pravda.

In January 2022, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry announced that it was speeding up the formation of the Territorial Defense Forces. The government planned to build a reserve army of 10,000 regular, full-time troops, with a mobilization potential of 130,000 trained fighters.

The idea of a reserve force has been discussed since Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the Donbas in 2014. Finally, the Territorial Defense Forces were legally established with the entry into effect of the National Resistance Act on January 1, 2022.

Men and women between the ages of 18 and 60 can join the brigade in each region of Ukraine.  On February 11, 2022, the planned number of volunteers was increased to 1.5-2 million.

Vadym Petrasiuk, a journalist with Ukrainska Pravda, tells us how he succeeded in joining the Territorial Defense Forces.

Lining up to enlist

Here’s what happened in my sector, but it certainly doesn’t apply to all units.

During the first day of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war [it actually started in 2014 but erupted into a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24,2022-Ed], the territorial defense offices were open to everyone. On the second day, there was a line-up, like the long line of people we used to see at the Lenin mausoleum.

Some guys got discouraged and went home; others stood in the cold for six to eight hours, finally received their weapons and stayed.

But, many others managed to weasel their way in through a kind of “bribe”, or “the buddy network”.

I admit that’s the way I managed to sign up. I went to the recruiting office, took my place in line and waited.

In the meantime, I called up my son, who had signed up a few days ago. He came to see me because he wasn’t on duty that day and we had some time to talk about this and that. I told him I really wanted to enlist.

My son pointed to the commander. I approached him and asked directly:

-Will you take me?

He asked me how old I was, frowned, and looked up at the sky:

– I’d rather take younger guys who can run fast… and shoot, of course.

– I have a master’s degree in sports, specializing in shooting, I replied.

The commander looked me up and down silently. Suddenly, an older fellow in a sports suit spoke out loudly:

– If you’re telling the truth, I’ll take you in my group.

So, he gave me a weapon and watched as I trained a bit with a machine gun, gave tips to younger people. Then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Okay, you’re in!

Territorial Defense Forces

Fighters of Territorial Defense Forces training. Photo: MoD Ukraine

Member of the Territorial Defense Forces

My gun is always with me. We sleep in one bed. We go out together and return home after a day’s service in the freezing weather. The gun is cold and uncomfortable, but it warms up slowly pressed against my body. Heat emanates from my chest, warming it up and returning the warmth to calm me down.

Several friends have asked me how to enlist in the Territorial Defense Force. I asked our commanders.

The standard answer is that they don’t need any more people. But, if you have friends with combat experience, go for it!

I don’t know anybody with combat experience. So, nothing came of that. But, I tell everyone that they’ve stopped recruiting ordinary folk. They need specialists, so you’re welcome if that’s the case!

However, there are many new guys who managed to get in through “a friend of a friend”, through a brother, godfather, etc..

There are a lot of guys from western Ukraine. I talked to Yura from Zakarpattia. He says that there are six of them here, in one of the Kyiv battalions. They arrived in two cars. All of them have some combat experience fighting in eastern Ukraine, in the ATO zone.

The police stopped them at a checkpoint at Bila Tserkva, near Kyiv, and checked their documents. They were suspicious as everyone was fleeing from Kyiv to western Ukraine, and here are these guys looking to reach Kyiv! They examined the military certificates and asked them to wait.

How to join Ukraine’s Foreign Legion of Territorial Defense

The officials arrived quickly, checked the military certificates again to make sure that they were really war veterans, and offered them a choice – either in a local defense unit or in a military law enforcement unit. Yura told them they’d all served in the military police in the Donbas.

Yura scowled, took his boys aside and said:

“Guys, f**k the military police! This is war, so we don’t wanna be directing traffic, do we!?”

They apologized to the officials and told them they wanted to go to Kyiv. And … the officials gave them a number that they could call as soon as they got to the city.

A “recruiter” was waiting for the group on the outskirts of Kyiv. Today, they’re with me in the same unit.

“There would’ve been no problem enlisting in the Territorial Defense Forces of Zakarpattia. But, we’d be sitting on our asses waiting for those moskali [Russians] to come to our homes?! No way! Our task is to fight them and kick those motherfu***rs out of our country as fast as possible. We can’t just let them waltz into our territory!” said Yura.

Yura’s example, and mine, are a sign of the times. It’s how different people from different regions of Ukraine manage to sign up and go to war. Such “corrupt practices” as the buddy system, gentle bribery, nepotism or cronyism help us get in.

Indeed, that’s how I managed to sign up. I don’t brag about it, I don’t complain and I don’t say that you should do what I did. It’s just another way in.

I’m happy to say that with each passing day large numbers of volunteers of all ages and from all regions of Ukraine are swelling the ranks of the Territorial Defense Forces.


Translated by: Christine Chraibi

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