WARSAW, Poland (AP) — NATO aircraft scream across eastern European skies and American armored vehicles rumble near the border with Russia on a mission to reassure citizens that they’re safe from Russian aggression.
In Poland, doctors, shopkeepers, lawmakers and others are heeding a call to receive military training in case of an invasion. Neighboring Lithuania is restoring the draft and teaching citizens what to do in case of war. Nearby Latvia has plans to give university students military training next year.
The drive to teach ordinary people how to use weapons and take cover under fire reflects soaring anxiety among people in a region where memories of Moscow’s domination — which ended only in the 1990s — remain raw. People worry that their security and hard-won independence are threatened as saber-rattling intensifies between the West and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, where more than 6,000 people have died.
In Poland, the oldest generation remembers the Soviet Army’s invasion in 1939, at the start of World War II. Younger people remain traumatized by the repression of the communist regime that lasted more than four decades.
It’s a danger felt across the EU newcomer states that border Russia.
“There’s a real feeling of threat in our society,” Latvian defense ministry spokeswoman Aija Jakubovska told The Associated Press. Military training for students is a “way we can increase our own defense capabilities.”
Most people are still looking to NATO’s military umbrella as their main guarantor of security. Zygmunt Wos waved goodbye to a detachment of U.S. armored vehicles leaving the eastern Polish city of Bialystok with apprehension: “These troops should be staying with us,” he said, “not going back to Germany.”
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