AP PHOTOS: Ukrainian volunteer fighters come from near and far | United States government and politics

By FELIPE DANA – Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — They are old, young, local, foreign, often new to war. Thousands of people volunteered to join the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces and resist the Russian invasion. The Associated Press spent time with some of them this week.

A 30-year-old actor, Sergiy Volosovets, now commands an 11-man unit and oversees the military training of other volunteers at a base northeast of the capital, Kyiv, just a few miles from the front line. After their training, they can join the fight or guard the checkpoints.

“They never thought they would have a gun in their hands,” Volosovets said. But “that desire brought them all here.”

At the start of the war, he said, fighters were sent to the front after just two days of rushed training. Now the instruction is more thorough. “We need self-aware people who know what they’re doing,” he said.

Among the volunteer fighters is Kostyantyn Kovalenko, a 24-year-old sound engineer. “As a sound engineer, I listen to the sounds of war that I can hear, I think, a little differently,” he said. He is bothered by the sounds like everyone else, but studies them and tries to identify the weapons. “I only regret not having my recorder to record the sounds and use them for a patriotic piece,” he said.

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A husband and wife, Anton Grom and Valya Gromovytsya, both in their late 30s, joined the fighters, leaving their 11-year-old son with his grandmother. “I want to defend kyiv and expel the Russians,” Gromovytsya said.

One foreigner who has joined the volunteer fighters is Jraven Gerber, 21, of Seattle. He first tried to get into the Ukrainian International Legion, but he said they kept saying, “Tomorrow, tomorrow.” Impatient, he decides to look elsewhere to take action and joins forces with the Territorial Defense Forces.

“I believe it’s better to fight when you’re young,” he said. Among his fellow fighters, there are people younger than him, 18 or 19 years old, and “if they fight, why not me?”

Francisco Floro, a 30-year-old Spaniard, works in security at home and, like Gerber, saw the defense of Ukraine as a just cause.

“I believe that the whole West has a responsibility towards Ukraine,” Floro said. “We have to be part of this and tell the world what’s going on here.”

He found his way to the Territorial Defense Forces after speaking with the Ukrainian Embassy back home. Despite the drama of war, Floro said the life he ultimately wanted was pretty quiet. “I don’t aspire to more than that,” he said.

Like many volunteer fighters, 29-year-old local entrepreneur Vadym Kovalyov never expected to go to war. “These people, my brothers, they are in the right place,” he said. “They made the right choice not to go abroad. They stayed with the people and on our land to defend it.

Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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