As Russian forces entered Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, people all over the country are being urged by officials — and sometimes compelled by necessity — to fight back in whatever ways they can.

The country’s former president is patrolling the city streets with a civilian defense force, armed with an AK-47. Civilians have been called to find their own weapons and make Molotov cocktails — a type of crude, homemade explosive named, mockingly, after the former Soviet foreign minister.

Roughly 18,000 weapons have already been distributed in the Kyiv region, according to the government. At the country’s borders, Ukrainian guards have been stopping vehicles, looking for men between the ages of 18 and 60 who can help in the fight.

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In fact, almost anyone who wants to fight for Ukraine is welcome. “If you have combat experience in Europe, come to our country and defend Europe together with us,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a desperate video statement on Friday.

It marks a remarkable armed civilian mobilization, unseen in Europe in decades. But it isn’t yet clear if this is closer to a real grassroots flood that could truly bolster war efforts, or something closer to a tragic last stand. Although Ukraine has surprised many observers in some early, battles the invading Russian forces have far more manpower and firepower. And so far, they have used only a fraction of it.


Many Ukrainians had been preparing for this day. Though Ukraine’s active military has fewer than 200,000 enlistees, far smaller than Russia’s, it has sizable reserve forces, including a new civilian branch that has attracted recruits from all corners — and all ages. Ukraine’s defense minister said this week that anyone who can hold a weapon is urged to join these Territorial Defense Forces.

“We have simplified all the procedures,” Oleksii Reznikov wrote on Twitter on Thursday, telling Ukrainians they only needed their passport to sign up.

One Ukrainian couple, CNN reported, moved a planned wedding forward in the face of the Russian invasion, and took up arms the next day.

There are also a number of nationalist paramilitary groups, including the Azov movement and Right Sector — two groups that have trained volunteers to fight but also espouse neo-Nazi ideology.

Though these groups have limited power within Ukraine, Russian officials have emphasized their extreme views. In a speech to his Security Council on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for regime change in Ukraine, claiming that “neo-Nazis” were “acting like terrorists” and using women and children “as human shields.”

But many of the civilians fighting Russia have no link to paramilitary groups.


Not all of the pushback is even violent. Ukrainians have been asked to donate blood and sign up to help carry out cyberattacks. On social media, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry and national police force have called on civilians to obscure markers on roads they said were left by Russian troops for navigation purposes.

Accounts of exceptional bravery from Ukrainian soldiers have buoyed a nationalistic pride for many in the country. Zelenskyy has said that the defenders of Zmiinyi Island, or Snake Island, would be honored with the title “Hero of Ukraine,” the highest in the country, after battling to the last man. Audio files shared on social media appeared to show a small team of Ukrainian border guards being asked to lay down their weapons or die by a Russian warship.

Their response? “Russian warship, go f— yourself.” All were then killed.

Government calls to make Molotov cocktails tapped into a broader history of efforts to resist Moscow. The weapons, usually glass bottles filled with a flammable liquid and a rag that is set alight before they are thrown like a grenade, were used to notorious effect in Finland after the Soviet invasion in 1939. They were named after Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov.

“It is important that everyone be strong in spirit. This is our land. We won’t give up,” Ukraine’s deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar wrote in a Facebook post about the makeshift weapons.

Crude homemade weapons are a last resort. In an interview with CNN on Friday, former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko proudly showed off his “short Kalashnikov,” used by his colleagues in the civilian defense force, but said that his group did not have enough weapons to take on more people.

Poroshenko, who served as Russian president from 2014 to 2019, said that the number of people trying to sign up was a “great demonstration of how Ukrainian people hate Putin and how we are against Russian aggression.”