KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) — Standing in the dining room of her Kyiv flat, mother-of-three Mariana Zhaglo pulls her long rifle out of its khaki case.
As fears grow of a potential invasion by Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border, this 52-year-old territorial defense reservist insists she is willing to fight to defend her country.
“We [are] not waiting for them to arrive, we’re ready to give them a welcome they’ll remember,” Zhaglo said, who works in marketing and is married to a serving soldier.
“I’m not alone. There are many women like me in Ukraine,” she added, her closely-cropped hair flecked with gray.
“No man will do what a woman can do to protect her family, her child. She is a formidable force.”
A mother to two adult daughters and a son of 12, Zhaglo says a year ago she spent “between $2,000 and $3,000” — a small fortune in one of Europe’s poorest countries — to buy the Ukrainian Zbroyar Z-15 hunting rifle and extra gear to adapt it for combat.
“A telescopic sight, mounts, sound moderator,” she proudly lists off the additions. By law, the gun cannot be automatic.
Zhaglo signed up two years ago to be in the reserves and has undergone sniper training.
For almost eight years now, Ukraine has been mired in a conflict with Russian-backed separatists who took over a chunk of the country’s east. The war — which started after Moscow seized Crimea — has claimed over 13,000 lives.
Tensions have now soared again in the past few months as the West has sounded the alarm over a potential full-scale Russian invasion after the Kremlin sent over 100,000 troops to Ukraine’s borders.
The country’s authorities have sought to calm fears over an imminent incursion, even as some media have raised the specter of Kyiv being attacked.
‘Defend my home’
Ukrainians — hardened by the years of conflict — are not panicking, but some have begun stocking up on food and readying themselves in case the worst does come.
A poll this week showed that 48 percent of respondents believed a Russian invasion was possible.
Zhaglo has already packed her military backpack — uniform, helmet, flak jacket, gloves, kneepads — in case the call comes.
She regularly does shooting practice and trains for patrols and ambushes with fellow reservists who would be deployed together to protect their home areas.
“If there was no war, I would never have thought of getting involved with these military things,” she said.
Army reservist Oleksandr Makhov had to abandon his home in east Ukraine for Kyiv when the conflict erupted in 2014. Today his military equipment is packed.
“I’m not going to leave a second time. My bag is prepared for fighting,” the 35-year-old journalist said. “I have a plan and I am ready.”
But Zhaglo admits she doesn’t yet have a plan for what to do with children if the situation unravels.
“For sure, I am worried about it,” she said.
She still hopes that war can be avoided — but blamed the current crisis on the “imperialist” ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I have a completely fine attitude towards Russians as a people — just like towards the French, the Germans or the Chinese,” Zhaglo said.
But if the invasion does come, she is ready to take up her gun.
“I’m not looking to kill people, I’m just going to defend my home,” she said.