Jan. 17, 2017
Joshua Yaffa wrote for the New Yorker about Ukraine's relationship with guns.
Ukraine has long had a tricky relationship with guns. In the course of its post-Soviet history, it has been the only country in Europe without legislation governing the civilian possession of firearms. More than a dozen laws have been proposed, but none have been passed by parliament. Instead, Ukrainian gun ownership is regulated by ordinances overseen by the interior ministry. Officially, the only legal way to own a firearm in Ukraine today is to acquire a rifle for hunting or sporting purposes; handguns are banned, available only to security guards and certain categories of state officials.
Those, at least, are the rules on paper. But the war in Ukraine’s east—a grinding conflict between pro-Kiev forces and Russia-backed separatists that has left ten thousand people dead—has made an absurd mockery of these regulations. In the conflict’s early days, when the Ukrainian military was in disarray after the Maidan Revolution and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, much of the fighting was carried out by members of hastily assembled volunteer battalions. Those battalions had an unclear legal status and were not always well equipped; their weapons and supplies came from donations, private supplies, and the black market. Since 2014, when war broke out in the Donbass region, huge caches of firearms have poured into the conflict zone. Today, after numerous shaky ceasefires and direct incursions of Russian soldiers and artillery, a tense, often-deadly stasis has taken hold, and the military weapons are increasingly flooding out of the conflict zone and into the hands of civilians.