Thu, Mar 06, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Ukrainians rush to enlist amid crisis in Crimea

AFP, KIEV

Ukrainian servicemen play with a soccer ball near Russian military vehicles at Belbek Sevastopol International Airport in the Crimea region on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

There may not be any fighting in Ukraine yet, but as tensions ratchet up in Crimea, young men in Kiev were lining up to sign up for the army, ready to take up arms if it comes to a war with Russia.

“I want to take part in the fight,” said Roman Surzhikov, a 33-year-old engineer and army reservist, one of a steady stream of people going into an army recruitment facility in the city center on Tuesday, despite a “closed” sign posted outside.

“Have they declared a general mobilization yet?” he asked the woman at the reception desk.

Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea has been under the de facto control of pro-Kremlin forces in recent days, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has reserved the right to send troops into the autonomous, but mainly Russian-speaking region.

Putin denies claims that Russian soldiers are already operating there.

“It’s obvious an intervention is under way in Crimea and it’s not impossible there will also be one on Ukrainian territory,” Surzhikov said as he explained why he wanted to enlist.

“I can’t say I look forward to it, but if there is going to be a war, it’s my duty. We have to defend the country,” he said. “Ten million men are prepared to take up arms.”

For now, he was told to just come back in a few days and leave his details.

So far, only some Ukrainian army reservists are being called up and he was not one of them.

The Ukrainian army was put on alert over the weekend after Russia’s parliament gave Putin permission to send troops into Ukraine, a former Soviet state.

In response, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council head Andriy Parubiy announced on Sunday that Kiev was to call up all military reservists, a move he said was to “ensure the security and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

While short of a general mobilization, the announcement nevertheless drew hundreds of young men across the country eager to do their bit.

Television footage showed long lines in front of recruitment centers.

The defense ministry declined to say how many had actually signed up, saying the information was top secret.

Faced with more volunteers than it could take, the recruitment office in central Kiev decided to shut its doors until today.

Volodymyr Bykovski, who works at the office and has already been signed up himself, confirmed he had seen an influx of keen men — young and old — since the weekend.

“Most of them came on their own initiative” rather than being called up, he said, smoking a cigarette outside the center, which was topped by the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag.

“Many are disappointed because they thought a mobilization was already under way, but we’re still telling them to wait, that we’ll call them when it’s time.”

Not just individuals, but companies have stepped forward — for example with computer equipment — to help a Ukrainian army that has seen better days.

Compared with Russia’s military force of about 845,000 troops, Ukraine’s armed forces have six times fewer soldiers and their equipment is mostly outdated.

With this in mind, “people are scared of course, and I too am scared,” Bykovski said. “But it has to be done, it’s our duty.”

This sense of patriotism in the face of stiff odds was shared by Dmytro Gerzhan, 42, who had just left his contact details with the recruitment office.

“If the situation gets more complicated — who knows how things will develop, what Russia will do — we have to join up,” he said.

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