Ukraine’s Wooden Guns

Recently there’s been lots of reports about Ukraine’s defence volunteers training with wooden guns. 

While this plays on the David & Goliath nature of current Crisis in Ukraine it isn’t without precedent. There is a long historical precedent for recruits and soldiers training with dummy guns going back hundreds of years. 

Ukraine’s Territorial defence battalions were originally formed in March 2014 and since the crisis began there has been a refocus on them with Ukraine’s government announcing plans, in January 2022, to form 150 battalions in 25 brigades. The Territorial Defense Force allows civilians to become part-time members of the Ukrainian military, training in evenings and at weekends. 

Members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force training with wooden rifles

So why are some of the volunteers seen training with wooden rifles? One thing Ukraine isn’t short of is small arms with an estimated ten million state- and civilian-owned firearms. The Ukrainian government has decided that members of the Territorial Defence Force will only be given weapons the duration of drills or defensive operations in the event of war. This means that many will have to arm themselves while this isn’t a problem for those with privately owned firearms. It is estimated that there are a roughly 5 million firearms in civilian hands, though only a fraction of these are registered.  

Those who don’t have weapons are handed wooden dummy rifles. Some airsoft rifles have also been seen in media coverage of the units.

US recruits drilling with wooden rifles c.1917 (US National Archives)

Wooden dummy rifles are more than adequate for safely learning basic drills and getting use to holding and moving with a weapon. Historically, this has been seen countless times. Here we can see American recruits training with dummy rifles in 1917, In 1940 British Home Guard drilled with broomsticks, more recently Afghan security forces were often initially trained with wooden rifles and in South Sudan training with wooden rifles has also been seen. Even in more advanced militaries training with dummy rifles is common with rubber rifles often used in basic training. 

While considered light infantry the training of the Territorial Defense Force is rudimentary and while some media reports have discussed them acting as partisans behind enemy lines they are principally planned to be used to guard important positions in their local areas. 

U.S. Sailors assigned to Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia conduct a mock reconnaissance patrol Nov. 9, 2013 (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Caine Storino)

To be remotely effective the volunteers will need some proper firearms training in weapons handling, drills and the basics of marksmanship. The ad hoc nature of the localised training and the current lack of government issued small arms makes this sort of essential training difficult to organise.

Check out our earlier videos on the Western military aid being sent to Ukraine.

Update (26/02/22):

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy has given an update on the number of small arms distributed saying some 25,000 rifles have been distributed to TDF volunteers across Ukraine.


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Bibliography:


In Ukraine, the Formation of Units of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is Accelerating, Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, (source)

Government to Xreate 150 Territorial Defense Battalions, Kyiv Independent (source)

Guns in Ukraine, Gun Policy, (source)

Ukraine’s Citizen-Soldiers Train to Fight in Case of Russian Invasion, French24, (source)

Ukraine’s ‘territorial defense’ Trains Civilians Against Possible Hitches Amid Tensions, AA, (source)

Ukrainians are Training in Civil Defense, Just in Case, PBS, (source)

Civilians Flock to Defend Ukraine as Russia Tensions Mount, The FT, (source)

Lviv Residents are Learning to Shoot: Training Began with Public Utilities and City Council Officials, Radio Liberty, (source)

59-year-old Grandmother Trains with Ukraine’s Home Guard as Everyday People Take Up Arms, NY Post, (source)

Ukraine Readies for Insurgency as Russia Prepares for Possible War, NBC, (source)

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