By Alicja Ptak and Kuba Stezycki
WARSAW (Reuters) – A Polish firearms training company said it has seen increased interest in learning to shoot since the start of the war in Ukraine, with many people booking shooting lessons for the first time in their lives.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has unleashed a wave of anxiety in Central Europe and some people in NATO-member Poland, Ukraine’s Western neighbour, have enquired about joining the military and learning to use weapons.
“Since the start of the war in Ukraine, interest has increased four or fivefold,” said Piotr Mioduchowski, co-owner of PM Shooter. Before the war they had 30-35 calls a day to book a place, now they get more than 200, he said.
He added that most of those who came to the shooting range in the last month had not handled firearms before. Because some people feared the war may spread beyond Ukraine they were looking to get the skills to defend themselves, he said.
One of PM Shooter’s regular visitors, Sergiusz Regula, 25, said that although he had trained for several months, after the war started he decided to learn how to shoot with a Kalashnikov.
“We saw in Ukraine, in Kyiv, these Kalashnikovs were distributed to the civilian population… If like in Kyiv, guns were being handed out, I would queue up to defend my city, my home, and my family,” he said.
The Territorial Defence Forces (WOT), Poland’s volunteer militia modeled on America’s National Guard, have seen a seven-fold increase in interest since the war began.
“The spectacular successes of territorial defence there (in Ukraine) have changed the perception of our Territorial Defence Forces,” WOT said in a statement.
Some Ukrainians living in Poland, which had the region’s largest Ukrainian community of about 1 million people before the war, started to learn at shooting ranges in Poland before joining the army in Ukraine.
“I can’t stand on the sidelines. I want to go, I want to defend,” Andrii Drahan, a 27-year old taxi driver, said after his second lesson. He plans to return to Ukraine to fight on Monday.
“We won’t be living under Russia that is for sure.”
Russia sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 on what it calls a “special operation” that it says is designed to destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
(Reporting by: Alicja Ptak and Kuba Stezycki; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)