In War-hit Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia, Women Learn Urban Combat


Down at a shooting range in Zaporizhzhia in south-eastern Ukraine, six women are learning how to use Kalashnikov assault rifles as part of an urban combat training programme.

Crouching down behind makeshift walls, one takes aim at a target in the distance, before scurrying over to another position. Most are young and many are dressed in olive-green fatigues.

It’s their third session at “The Sixth Sense”, a security training centre in the city where a team of experts has just set up the scheme teaching women gun skills and urban combat tactics.

With the fighting edging ever closer to the city, 47-year-old Natalia Basova didn’t think twice about signing up.

For her, the front line is just too close.

“I knew how to use weapons before the war. I used to visit shooting ranges, I was very interested,” says Basova, who is on the course with her 29-year-old daughter Ulyana Kiyashko.

“But now everyone needs to know about it,” she says, wincing at the loud crack of a gunshot behind her.

Basova’s husband and son are now on the front line, as is her son-in-law. While their men are out fighting, she and her daughter are trying to learn as much as they can about urban combat.

“Our instructor teaches us how to take aim and how to use a weapon correctly,” she told AFP.

“We knew how to shoot but we didn’t know to do it properly, so you don’t injure your companions.”

Until now, the centre has only been training military personnel or territorial defence fighters.

But more and more women are coming forward to be trained in Zaporizhzhia so they are prepared if Russian forces push into the city.

Under martial law, the training is free for all of the city’s residents.

‘We won’t let the city down’

Sergey Yelin, who set up the training centre, says the basic course involves teaching students how to stand and take aim, trigger control techniques, breathing and different ways of firing weapons.

For women, the programme lasts 15 hours but he says the basic course can be mastered in five or six.

“We put together a few tactical exercises for civilians because we all know that if the enemy enters the city, there is street fighting,” said Yelin, 47.

“And that usually happens in difficult locations like ruined houses, in basements or inside shops.”

The instructors work with both the military and civilians offering training in three areas: basic weapons handling, a specialised course and a tactical element for Kalashnikov assault rifles, normally for the special forces.

Since the Russian invasion began on February 24, some 4,000 people have been trained at the centre.

“We need to know how to do this for ourselves and for our families because we are right on the front line,” says 33-year-old Yana Piltek, another student.

Piltek says she is not afraid of fighting and wouldn’t hesitate to defend her hometown.

“We are training to win in a fight in the city. And if it comes to it, we won’t let the city down.”

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