When the Russian army marches through Ukraine, they may just be met by a battalion made up of “babushkas.”
According to Al Jazeera, a group of older women has been volunteering in Ukraine since Russian separatists began conflict in some regions of the country eight years ago.
These women have been referred to as “babushkas” — a Russian word referring to a grandmother or older woman.
During the conflict between Ukranian nationalists and Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, these women have helped move supplies, provide medical care and build a lookout tower. Now, the Russian army has invaded other parts of Ukraine.
On Feb. 14, 79-year-old Valentyna Konstantinovska told Al Jazeera she already knew a Russian invasion of a wider scale was a distinct possibility. She said she would not hesitate to fight when it happened.
“I love my city, I am not leaving,” Konstantinovska said. “Putin can’t scare us off. Yes, it’s terrifying, but we will stand for our Ukraine until the very end.”
Konstantinovska said since she began volunteering, she had dreamed of being able to take up a firearm and fight for Ukraine.
“I’ve been dreaming since 2014 to learn to use a gun, but was told ‘babushka, you are too old for that. You will be knocked off your feet with the recoil,’” she said.
Yet with Russian aggression imminent, the Azov movement held an event teaching the citizens of Mariupol, Ukraine, survival skills including how to wield a gun.
According to Al Jazeera, Azov is considered “a far-right all-volunteer infantry military unit.” They have been accused of forwarding neo-Nazi ideas, but it is unclear whether that perception is based off of characterizations from the Russian government.
The Kremlin would have reason to dislike Azov, as their goal is to defend Ukraine from Russian separatists.
Citizens of Mariupol view the Azov favorably since the military reclaimed the city from Russian separatists in 2014.
While Konstantinovska told Al Jazeera she did not agree with the neo-Nazi views the Azov was accused of, she attended their training event for one reason — “defending their motherland.”
Liudmyla Smahlenko,65, has been volunteering alongside Konstantinovska. She was further motivated to fight the separatists after she lost a relative to the conflict in 2015.
“We are already a babushka battalion,” Smahlenko told Al Jazeera. “In 2014, we dug trenches, set up field bases and since we donate our pillows and blankets, plates, mugs – we bring them everything we can.
“You try to help the soldiers and they become like your kids. Then one of them dies. A lot have gone now and it’s like your children dying every single time.”
Just like Konstantinovska, Smahlenko said she attended the training in preparation of defending her country.
“I am ready to fight if Russia does invade, even if I have to get into a fistfight with them,” Smahlenko said. “They are not our brothers.”
A week and a half later, the fears have come true: Russia has invaded Ukraine. If these women still feel as strongly as they did, Russian forces can expect to see the “babushka battalion” take up arms against them.