DNEPROPETROVSK, UKRAINE — As a crisis heats up in eastern Ukraine, the country is working to recruit and mobilize local, regional militias to boost the under-powered armed forces.
At this training center outside Kyiv, a new battalion gets ready for war.
These soldiers are from the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the heart of a pro-Russian separatist insurgency.
The training is part of a government strategy to recruit local militias to help put down the rebellion.
Semyon Semyonchenko, the commander of the Donbas volunteer militia, said, “We are looking for men who are first of all ready to die for their motherland, in case of need, better to avoid it, but this readiness to fulfill their duty until the end is what distinguishes a soldier from the quitter who just drops his weapon and runs away.”
These soldiers will be joining Ukraine's National Guard as the country steps up what it calls anti-terrorist operations in the east.
In the past week, separatist rebels scaled up their own attacks.
Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said Ukraine needs a more unified force in response.
“This is the third battalion of the National Guard that was a guerrilla squad before. Now that the terrorists are more organized, and better formed, receiving weapons from Russia, the military understands that we need to be united,” said Gerashchenko.
Self-defense groups have taken the lead in security operations.
Here in Dnepropetrovsk province, soldiers from a local battalion search cars coming from Donetsk -- one of the regions wracked by separatist violence.
The Russian border is not far away, but in this area, there is no rebellion.
Dnepropetrovsk is an industrial center -- home to influential businessmen and politicians, as well as the historic center for the country's aerospace program during the Soviet era.
Officials say local businesses and the governor helped finance local militias.
While they should work with the National Guard, or the local administration, these soldiers say they are basically on their own.
Local commander Sergei Goryachiy said, “Mostly the administration provided consultation and coordination, but zero financial support. About material resources, at the beginning they brought us these concrete blocks, several flak jackets, a couple of flashlights and some binoculars, this was the extent of their support.”
Ukraine blames Russia for supporting the separatists, though Moscow denies any involvement.
With reports of new fighters and weapons coming from Russia, Ukraine's armed forces are facing an increasingly tough fight. Their only hope may be in uniting these independent volunteer militias under one flag.