In war-torn Ukraine, women get taste of combat training

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There are 57,000 women in the Ukrainian armed forces, 26,000 of which are on active duty. Above, Ukrainian women soldiers train for a military parade for 2018 Independence Day. (AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2019

In war-torn Ukraine, women get taste of combat training

  • Ukrainian officials and political activists organize the combat training courses for women on weekends
  • Participating women learn how to shoot guns, use knives, and provide first aid

MARIUPOL, Ukraine: In a gym in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, not far from the frontline with Russia-backed separatists, 20 women fall to the floor and pull back the rifle bolts of dummy Kalashnikovs.
Next to them a bearded instructor in camouflage barks out orders: "Get on your knee, reload, take aim, get on the ground, reload, take aim."
A policeman by day, the 28-year-old who goes by the alias Kazhan ("bat" in Ukrainian) teaches combat training for women on the weekends.
The free courses -- dubbed "White angels" -- were put together by police officers and former members of a far-right battalion who fought against the separatists in the east of the ex-Soviet country.
"Our country is in a state of open war," Kazhan told AFP in the government-held city around 20 kilometres from the frontline.
"The entire population of the country should be ready to fight," he added as his trainees wiped sweat off their faces during a short break.
Fifty women aged 18 to 40 -- including a make-up artist, a veterinarian, and a housewife -- signed up for the courses which began in December.
The trainees meet twice a week for two-hour sessions in the gym in a Mariupol shopping mall to learn gun handling basics and hand-to-hand combat.
They will also learn how to fight with a knife and provide first aid.
At the end of the course -- possibly in spring -- the women will be taken to a shooting range to hone their skills. The organizers also plan to introduce a lecture on Ukraine's modern history.
One of the trainees, Olga Moskovchenko, shows off her trembling hands and a bruise on her shoulder from handling a 3.5-kilogramme dummy gun.
"Usually, women don't get automatic rifles just like that," said the 34-year-old mother of three.
"It's hard but very interesting. I'd only seen things like this on television," the blonde woman said with a smile.
Another trainee, 18-year-old Valeriya Mazurenko, expressed hope she would be better at self-defense thanks to the course.
"It is not safe in our city," she said.
In 2015, Mazurenko fled the rebel stronghold of Donetsk after it came under the separatists' control.
Backed by Moscow, separatists have seized control of two eastern Ukrainian regions -- Donetsk and Lugansk -- in a conflict that has claimed some 13,000 lives since 2014.
Ukraine's armed forces personnel include around 57,000 women, including 26,000 in active military service.
Mazurenko dreamt of joining the Ukrainian army but when she started to collect documents to enlist, she realized she would not be taken seriously.
"I wanted to serve but I am such a petite woman nothing came out of it," said Mazurenko, wearing a white T-shirt with two crossed hammers, the logo of a Donetsk football club, Shakhtar.
Another instructor, 20-year-old Anna Yagmurdzhy, who teaches hand-to-hand combat, said the women were not being prepared "for special forces or the army".
"But we can stand up for ourselves and protect our loved ones," added Yagmurdzhy, who works as a security guard at a nightclub.
In the future the organizers hope to be able to offer nationwide training programs to get more women to learn self-defense.
"It's a law of nature," said Kazhan, the policeman.
"If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, there are two options: you either become a victim or a winner," he said.
"We intend to come out a winner. And in this war too."


Alaska man discovers 50-year-old message in bottle from Russian Navy

Updated 19 August 2019

Alaska man discovers 50-year-old message in bottle from Russian Navy

  • Then Russian Navy Capt. Anatolii Prokofievich Botsanenko wrote the letter when he was a 36-year-old aboard the Sulak
ANCHORAGE, Alaska: A man discovered a 50-year-old letter in a bottle from the Russian Navy on the shores of western Alaska.
Tyler Ivanoff found the handwritten Russian letter early this month while gathering firewood near Shishmaref about 600 miles (966 kilometers) northwest of Anchorage, television station KTUU reported.
“I was just looking for firewood when I found the bottle,” Tyler Ivanoff said. “When I found the bottle, I had to use a screwdriver to get the message out.”
Ivanoff shared his discovery on Facebook where Russian speakers translated the message to be a greeting from a Cold War Russian sailor dated June 20, 1969. The message included an address and a request for a response from the person who finds it.
Reporters from the state-owned Russian media network, Russia-1, tracked down the original writer, Capt. Anatolii Prokofievich Botsanenko, KTUU reported.
He was skeptical he wrote the note until he saw his signature on the bottom.
“There — exactly!” he exclaimed.
The message was sent while the then 36-year-old was aboard the Sulak, Botsanenko said. Botsanenko shed tears when the Russian television reporter told him the Sulak was sold for scrap in the 1990s.
Botsanenko also showed the reporter some souvenirs from his time on the ship, including the autograph of the wife of a famous Russian spy and Japanese liquor bottles, the latter kept over his wife’s protests.
Ivanoff’s discovery of the bottle was first reported by Nome radio station KNOM.