1 of 28: A former paratrooper who volunteers with the Territorial Defense Forces prepares for a late-night patrol.
Four weeks into its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has failed to achieve the sweeping conquest Putin—and much of the world—had expected. Its armies lay mired in conflict, confined largely to the east and south of the country, having thus far captured only two large cities. In the north, the capital of Kyiv has yet to be encircled. The Russian invaders have encountered un-forecasted resistance in all major cities, their supply lines have been hobbled by constant attacks, and the Ukrainian military has displayed a surprising, deadly mobility. All these factors can be attributed in part to the work of the all-volunteer Territorial Defense Forces, which formed in the wake of Russia's 2014 takeover of Crimea and has ramped up dramatically in the past two months.
To better understand these volunteers and the role they have played in the present conflict, I spent two weeks photographing units in and around Kyiv. I met fighters as old as sixty-eight and as young as eighteen; I saw a few sixteen-year-olds turned away. Many volunteers were veterans; others had no military experience. They included flight attendants, actors, native Russians, and newlywed couples. What they had in common was a fierce love of their country. Their role is a combination of civil engineering and paramilitary preparedness: they build the fortifications on the same streets they patrol, and which, in all likelihood, they will soon defend by force.
Additional reporting by Masha Medvedeva.
3 of 28: An improvised field hospital awaits the first casualties. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
4 of 28: A young couple who volunteered to fight together in the Territorial Defense Forces catch a few hours of sleep between shifts. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
5 of 28: A converted amphitheater houses tired Territorial Defense Forces volunteers. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
7 of 28: A nineteen-year-old member of the Territorial Defense Forces awaits a patrol order. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
8 of 28: One of many women who volunteers at a field kitchen supporting the Territorial Defense Forces and Ukrainian armed forces unit stationed in and around Kyiv. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
9 of 28: A Territorial Defense Forces soldier on the road from Kyiv to Brovary. Two weeks prior, he'd been working for an Arizona-based tech company; three nights prior, his unit had survived a cruise missile attack on its position; two nights prior, they'd turned back a Russian armored advance with an ambush that involved artillery, rockets, and Molotov cocktails. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
11 of 28: A Territorial Defense Forces squad crosses a children’s playground that they have used to fill sandbags to reenforce their defensive positions. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
12 of 28: Sergei (full name withheld), a popular local actor, reenforces one of his unit's defensive positions. Territorial Defense Forces units purchase their own uniforms; Sergei borrowed his from the cast wardrobe of the Ukrainian war film Cyborgs, based on Russia's 2014 invasion of Crimea. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
13 of 28: A sudden alert of an imminent Russian attack brings an entire Territorial Defense Forces company to their defensive positions. Many have just finished a pre-dawn patrol; others are awoken after just two hours PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
15 of 28: Kor (not his real name), a Territorial Defense Forces volunteer, enjoys a cup of tea offered by a building manager during a late night patrol. The manager has adopted several birds and plants from fleeing residents. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
17 of 28: Territorial Defense Forces members range in age from eighteen to well into their sixties. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
18 of 28: In a time of war, Ukrainian officers can, and now often do, officiate weddings. In lieu of flowers, a medic makes a bouquet out of bandages for the wedding of one of their unit's members. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
19 of 28: Anatoly (full name withheld) is the commander of a Territorial Defense Forces company on the outskirts of Kyiv. He brings twenty years of experience in a counterterrorism unit to the role. He takes his tea with more sugar than even his children, and he passes the long, unpredictable days with several packs of cigarettes. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
20 of 28: Moscowa (not his real name; Ukrainian for Moscow) is natural leader in his platoon. Russian-born, he fought in the Chechen War and moved to the Ukraine to become a priest. Now he fights on the side of his adopted homeland. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
21 of 28: The threat of Russian saboteurs is real and constant, as is the threat posed to Ukrainian infrastructure and military personnel. The strict curfew in place since the Russian invasion is largely enforced by Territorial Defense Forces units. Here, a patrol stops a man spotted out past curfew. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
22 of 28: A Territorial Defense Forces patrol stops a man seen out past curfew. He becomes a suspected saboteur when he can’t provide the patrol with valid identification or the answers to simple questions about the surrounding area. He is detained and taken to the local police while a squad searches the area. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
23 of 28: Following the discovery of a potential saboteur, and a derelict building nearby with signs of forced entry, a Territorial Defense Forces squad led by a former police officer makes entry to the building and clears it, finding no additional signs of sabotage. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
24 of 28: Driving during Ukraine’s wartime curfew is also banned. Here, a Territorial Defense Forces squad stops an oncoming car; it comes to a skidding stop only after weapons are leveled. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
26 of 28: A smoke break before a long, cold patrol. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
27 of 28: The end of a night patrol, the start of a new day. PHOTO: ROBERT SPANGLE
From: Esquire US