It turned out that yesterday the great-grandmother, pictured with an AK-47 during preparations for the invasion from Russia, learned how to use these weapons by neo-Nazis.
Valentina Konstantinovskaya, 79, became the face of a civilian combat exercise in Mariupol, in eastern Ukraine, when she was photographed looking through a scope.
The training aimed to teach members of the public basic military techniques as tensions with Russian troops on the border continued to escalate.
It was one of several exercises across the country to create a motley army that included children and a “grandma battalion”.
But it has now emerged that the exercise was organized by the far-right Azov Battalion, which is accused of neo-Nazism and attacks on LBTQ and Roma communities.
The 79-year-old great-grandmother, pictured with an AK-47 while preparing for an invasion from Russia, learned how to use the weapon for the far-right Azov movement, which has previously faced accusations of being a neo-Nazi group. . Circled: The group’s logo features a wolfsangel, one of the original symbols used by the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich” during World War II.
Valentina Konstantinovskaya became the face of a civilian combat exercise in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, when she was spotted looking through a scope yesterday.
Servicemen of the Azov Battalion at the oath ceremony in Kiev in 2014. Its original commander, Andriy Biletsky, said that Ukraine’s mission was “to lead the white races of the world in the last crusade … against the Semite-led Untermens.” [subhumans]’
The movement, named after the nearby sea, is a nationalist militia that has been fighting separatist groups in eastern Ukraine for almost a decade.
Created in 2014, the group’s logo features a wolfsangel, one of the original symbols used by the Nazi 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich during World War II.
Members of the group deny its connection to Nazism and claim that the symbol is actually an abbreviation in Ukrainian for “National Idea”.
However, its original commander, Andriy Biletsky, who headed the openly anti-Semitic organization Patriot of Ukraine, which was Azov’s predecessor, is now the leader of the far-right ultranationalist National Corps party.
In 2010, he said that Ukraine’s mission is “to lead the white races of the world in the last crusade … against the Semitic-led Untermens.” [subhumans]’.
It was created to fight separatists when Russia first annexed Crimea, but has now become a branch of Ukraine’s National Guard that takes orders directly from the country’s Ministry of Affairs.
The new leadership has attempted to publicly depoliticize the group and distance it from its Nazi origins, although many members still openly hold antisemitic beliefs and wear swastika tattoos.
The Azov Movement, named after the nearby sea, is a nationalist militia that has been fighting separatist groups in eastern Ukraine for nearly a decade. Pictured: a member of the Azov Battalion pulls out a gun at an event yesterday
The group has openly attacked feminist, LGBT and left-wing activists in recent years, and cleared out the Roma camp with hammers and axes, according to Foreign Policy.
The battalion is still described by the US State Department as a “nationalist hate group” and has been banned from Facebook.
Thus, the fact that she organized the event yesterday was hidden on social media, and many of those present were not aware of her participation.
Ms. Konstantinovskaya said she did not share the political views of the battalion and, like many, simply wanted to receive military training in an increasingly destabilized region.
This was the first time that security or awareness training was offered in the city, which has been in conflict for eight years.
She told local media, “I am ready to shoot if something happens. I will protect my home, my city, my children.
“I will do it because I think I am ready for it. I don’t want to lose my country, my city.”
But not everyone present shared her concerns about the group’s support.
A woman holds a weapon during basic combat training for the civilian population organized yesterday by the Azov movement in Mariupol.
A fighter from the Azov Battalion teaches a young woman how to hold a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Lyudmila Smakhlenko, 65, who lost a relative who fought separatists in 2015, says the militias are like sons to her.
She told Al Jazeera: “We are already a battalion of grandmothers. 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.”
The volunteer militias are seen by many as the defenders of Mariupol, reclaiming the city after it was taken over by pro-Russian separatists in 2014.
Members of the group said they would continue to offer training and guidance as the country looks forward to an end to rising tensions along the border.
The Azov commander, who asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera: “We can’t stick our heads in the sand because it’s irresponsible at best, so today we organized this event specifically to take responsibility.
“The civilians here are our responsibility, and they must know that we will stand here to the last drop of blood. We will stand on our land until we die.”
Russia today said it was withdrawing some of its forces from Crimea and the border region of Ukraine after the exercise, in what could be the first sign that Vladimir Putin is going downhill.
Russia has announced that today it will withdraw part of its troops from the border with Ukraine.
The move was met with cautious optimism from NATO and the West, with observers warning that the apparent de-escalation has yet to be confirmed by actions on the ground.
Jens Stoltenburg, NATO’s chief executive, said there was room for “cautious optimism” after weeks of escalating tensions amid signals from Russia that the diplomatic path to ending the crisis was not yet closed.
But he also warned that Putin still maintains a large military presence near Ukraine, has the ability to attack at short notice, and that there is no evidence of a drawdown yet — despite Moscow alleging some units are withdrawing after the exercise. .
His remarks echo those of Ukraine’s Defense Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who said Kiev and its Western allies prevented “further escalation” of tensions.
He added: “We have a rule: don’t believe what you hear, believe what you see. When we see the withdrawal of troops, we will believe in de-escalation.”
Boris Johnson was equally skeptical, saying that Russia was continuing to build field hospitals, which “can only be seen as preparation” for an attack.
He urged Putin to stop sending “mixed signals”, urging Western allies to remain “tough and united”.