Armed civilians played an outsized role in an important battle in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The farming community of Voznesensk helped Ukrainian troops fight off a mechanized attack by Russian troops who were eager to seize the town’s strategically valuable bridge, according to a BBC report published on Tuesday. After two days of heavy combat, the ragtag combined civilian-military force drove the armored invasion back the way it came.
“We used hunting rifles, people threw bricks and jars, old women loaded heavy sandbags,” a local shopkeeper by the name of Alexander told the BBC. “The Russians didn’t know where to look or where the next attack would come from. I’ve never seen the community come together like that.”
The small but significant victory comes as the Russian military continues to wage its brutal campaign to take the country by force. After nearly a month of heavy fighting–thanks to the unexpected strength of the Ukrainian resistance and the support of the international community–the Ukrainian people have been able to withstand the invasion by a better armed and more numerous enemy.
The victory at Voznesensk also vindicates an early defense strategy deployed by the Ukrainian government. Just days before the invasion, the Ukrainian parliament liberalized the country’s firearms laws and began providing combat training to civilians willing to stay and fight for the freedom of the nation. As the Russian onslaught intensified, the government also helped distribute tens of thousands of automatic weapons to civilians to bolster its resistance.
The strategy, combined with the courage of the men and women of Ukraine, appears to be bearing fruit for the war effort.
“It’s hard to explain how we did it. It’s thanks to the fighting spirit of our local people and to the Ukrainian army,” Yevheni Velichko, mayor of Voznesensk, said. “This is such a strategic location. We’re not only defending the town, but all the territory behind it. And we don’t have the heavy weapons our enemy has.”
The weapons the townspeople did have, predominately small arms like the AK-47 and British-supplied anti-tank missiles, proved sufficient in destroying or disabling up to 30 Russian tanks and a Russian helicopter.
The fighters in Voznesensk also managed to destroy the town’s bridge, preventing Russian access, and removing a key strategic target for the invading forces. After two days of bloody combat, witnesses said the Russian forces suddenly retreated.
“They left in a hurry, one night,” Svetlana Nikolaevna, a local villager, said. “They left everything behind–boots, socks, body armour, helmets–and just loaded up their dead and their wounded and ran away.”
Velichko warned the fight isn’t over, though. He said the town needs resupply to hold out against future attacks.
“It’s only thanks to these weapons that we were able to beat our enemy here. And we say thank you to our partners for their support,” he said. “But we need more. The enemy’s convoys will keep coming.”
Still, the townspeople are confident they will win this fight.
“These Russians are sick in the head, so we’ll have to stay on guard,” Mykhailo Sokurenko, a local funeral director, told the BBC. “But victory will come, and we’ll push the Russians out of all our lands.”