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As war rages in Ukraine, Russians sign up for lessons on how to use automatic weapons

A former Russian special forces captain is teaching men and women how to use automatic rifles In a sports club outside Moscow.

As the war rages in Ukraine, many Russian civilians are seeking to learn military skills.

While Western countries have condemned Russia’s invasion as a devastating post-imperial land grab, what the Kremlin refers to as “a special military operation” is seen differently by some.

President Vladimir Putin casts the conflict as a watershed moment in which Russia has finally stood up after decades of humiliation in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The upsurge in patriotism among some Russians has seen civilians like 31-year-old Vladimir seek out urban warfare training in free classes provided by Ilya Shadrikov, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) captain who was in the elite special forces.

“We are doing urban military training, which for us civilians who have not served in the army could be a very useful skill if we need to defend our homes or if we need to be sent to the front to defend our motherland,” Vladimir said.

“We need to win.” 

Neither Russia nor Ukraine give up-to-date numbers on the deaths of personnel, but the US military estimates tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides have been killed or wounded. 

Surveys show a clear majority of Russians support the war in Ukraine and Mr Putin’s ratings remain higher than before the conflict, however there are questions over the accuracy of the polling. 

Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Russians, many of them military-age men, have fled the country to avoid being called up to serve in Ukraine, and groups representing soldiers’ mothers have been vocal in criticising the conflict and Mr Putin.

Russia at war 

In Krasnogorsk, a city north of Moscow, Mr Shadrikov’s “Yaropolk” club is evidence of a revival of combative Russian and eastern Slavic patriotism after years of disillusionment.

Named after the Slavic god of the spring sun “Yarilo”, the club is painted outside with the white, blue and red of the Russian tricolour and adorned inside with posters, including an array of drawings by children in support of the war.

One child’s drawing shows a fierce Russian bear in a tug of war with Uncle Sam and the European Union over Ukraine.

A giant picture of Mr Putin graces the entrance to the sports hall.

A man walks past a wall with a picture Mr Putin on it and large Russian writing.
A banner with the portrait of Vladimir Putin says: “Sport is not a game, but the guarantee of a nation’s health.” (Reuters: Yulia Morozova)

The club’s videos show training to a popular song with the lyrics: “Be afraid — we, the Russians, are coming.”

Mr Shadrikov, dressed in FSB camouflage clothing, teaches civilians how to hold Kalashnikov AK74s and AK103s, how to attack in groups of two and three, how to evacuate a wounded colleague under fire and how to detain an enemy combatant.

For Mr Shadrikov, the club is a way to help unite Russian society against enemies within and without.

“You know, we are not playing with toys here,” he said.

“When the dark storm clouds gather over Russia, the Russian people unite.”

The club collects gifts for Russian troops and members write letters to the soldiers.

“I came here today because it is very relevant given the special operation — and it is unclear what will happen next,” one participant said.

“[Russian] society has become more consolidated and more solid — perhaps it always happens in tough periods.”

Source : ABC News