The Ukrainian government is poised to loosen its strict gun laws in the face of the Russian onslaught.
The country’s parliament voted on Wednesday to advance a bill expanding civilian gun ownership. 274 of the country’s 450 elected representatives voted for the bill, according to local media outlet Ukrinform. The bill would formalize the country’s gun laws, allow more civilians to own and carry guns, and allow them to be used for self-defense in more places.
The authors argued the bill “is fully in the interests of the state and society” due to “existing threats and dangers for the citizens of Ukraine,” according to Canadian broadcaster CTV News.
The move to expand civilian gun rights follows the Russian military crossing into Ukraine on Monday. It also comes as the Ukrainian government is training civilians in military tactics as part of the country’s strategy to repulse the invaders. Thousands of civilians have signed up for the training and many more have rushed to local gun stores in an attempt to prepare for further aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We understand that we have to take care of ourselves,” Twenty-year-old law student Maria Skoropad told Newsy when explaining her decision to buy a gun. “And if somebody will come to our homes … We have to know how to rescue our families ourselves.”
Andriy Yendzievski, who manages the Lviv Shooting Club in western Ukraine, told the news outlet most people are buying semi-automatic AK-47s. He said demand has increased five-fold. Skoropad said the concern of her relatives in the United States pushed her to arm herself.
“They wanted us to come to the USA, but we decided that we have to be with Ukraine today,” she said. “They’re very worried. So that is why we are buying guns.”
Andriy Sadovyi, mayor of Lviv, said the will to resist the Russian invasion is strong. While the Ukrainians are outmatched militarily against their aggressive neighbors, he noted they have the advantage of fighting in and for their own country.
“My position is very strong,” he told Newsy. “It is my city. It is my country. Ukraine is an independent country. But I am ready to fight.”
The Ukrainian government is counting, at least in part, on that tenacity and experience. The country is not new to organizing civilians into effective fighting forces. Volunteers have been fighting against Russian-backed separatists in the now-occupied eastern provinces since shortly after the puppet government was thrown out during a popular uprising. The government is now organizing these efforts into Territorial Defense Forces administrated by the military.
They have begun more formal training and equipping of these volunteers as the threat from Russia has ramped up. That includes explosives and weapons training as well as the teaching of guerrilla resistance tactics, according to The New York Times. These exercises have drawn in Ukrainians from every walk of life who seem to understand the deck may be stacked against them but wish to fight anyway.
“We have a strong army, but not strong enough to defend against Russia,” Marta Yuzkiv, a clinical research doctor, told The Times. “If we are occupied, and I hope that doesn’t happen, we will become the national resistance.”
“The more coffins we send back, the more the Russian people will start thinking twice,” Ihor Gribenoshko, a 56-year-old advertising executive, said.
A sizeable portion of the population may be willing to take up arms as well. The government is hoping to recruit 130,000 volunteers to the Territorial Defense Forces. Recent polling indicates many more may be willing to resist the invasion. A June poll from the Razumkov Center 24 percent of all Ukrainians, including 39 percent of men, said they were willing to take up arms.
Decades of strict gun laws have limited the number of guns in civilian hands, though. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, which currently oversees civilian gun ownership, told Ukrinform in 2021 there were only about 1.3 million civilian-owned guns in the country of 43 million (by contrast, American civilians own more than 400 million guns with a population of 330 million). And, even if many Ukrainians do resist the invasion by force, it’s unclear how effective they could be as a cohesive fighting force.
But the history of warfare is rife with examples of smaller, weaker, and less organized forces besting even the greatest militaries in the world. From the American Revolution to Vietnam, Iraq, and multiple wars in Afghanistan, it isn’t difficult to find templates for how a Ukrainian resistance could eventually prevail if Russia attempts to capture and hold it. At least some Ukrainians appear prepared and willing to take up such a fight.
“What are we supposed to do? Stay and wait for them?” Sadovyi said. “We won’t let them kill us.”