Women volunteering for Estonian defense groups after Russia attacks Ukraine

Unit of the Women's Voluntary Defense Organization (NKK) at the Independence Day parade in Tallinn. February 24, 2022.
Unit of the Women's Voluntary Defense Organization (NKK) at the Independence Day parade in Tallinn. February 24, 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Nearly 2,000 people have shown interest in signing up for Estonia's voluntary defense organizations following Russia's attack on Ukraine last Thursday — and the overwhelming majority of new volunteers have been women.

"Interest in joining the Women's Voluntary Defense Organization (Naiskodukaitse, NKK) has soared," NKK Development Specialist Elisa Jakson told ERR News on Tuesday.

Since February 24, over 1,400 women had registered their interest in joining the women's volunteer organization by Tuesday night, and by Wednesday morning, that total had jumped further to more than 1,600.

"It's likely that not every single one of them will end up signing up, but quite a lot of them have already pledged to join," Jakson said. "A lot of participants have said that they'd been weighing joining before — some for seven, some for even as long as 20 years already. But now the events in Ukraine have been the final impetus for signing up."

The NKK has responded to the boom in interest by quickly organizing a series of online introductory events.

"As we received a lot of interest and questions via various channels, we decided to organize an online introductory evening," Jakson said. "Just one, initially, but by now we've expanded our plans to five separate events."

The first two events took place on Monday and Tuesday nights, respectively. As of Wednesday morning, the NKK had already added yet another two online introductory events to their schedule to meet demand.

Unit of the Women's Voluntary Defense Organization (NKK) at the Independence Day parade in Tallinn. February 24, 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

According to the official, the women interested in signing up for the NKK have shown interest in both military national defense as well as so-called broad-based national defense, to which volunteers can contribute in the NKK's evacuation teams, for example.

Kaitseliit also sees increase in applications

The KL, which can be joined by both men and women, has also seen an uptick in applications since Thursday.

"As of today, we have received approximately 200 applications," KL Strategic Communications Specialist Neeme Brus told ERR News on Tuesday.

Asked why more people have signed up, he responded, "Most importantly, Estonian people feel that something must be done about the situation in Europe and to defend our nation, if needed. The free will of our citizens is a big asset for Estonian defense."

He did not say how many people usually sign up each week.

Units of the Estonian Defense League (KL) and the Women's Voluntary Defense Organization (NKK) at the Independence Day parade in Tallinn. February 24, 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Emergency preparedness app available

"Be Prepared!" ("Ole valmis!") is an emergency preparedness app developed and updated by the NKK, and according to Jakson, interest in the app has risen since last Thursday as well.

"People are worried and are seeking info — both about [emergency] supplies as well as guidelines for how to take shelter, how to be prepared," she said.

The app, which is being shared by people on social media as well, has seen some 6,000 new downloads from Google Play and the App Store over the past week, bringing the total number of downloads to nearly 50,000.

The NKK's "Be Prepared!" app is available for Android and iOS and includes information in Estonian, English and Russian. Source: Naiskodukaitse

"We aren't adding information about the war conditions in Ukraine to the app, as this info is constantly changing and as we're largely volunteer-based, we don't have the resources to update the app every couple of hours," Jakson explained.

"But should any major specifications or new guidelines be issued by the state, then those will most certainly be added to the app right away," she continued. "We have been continuously updating the chapter on COVID-related restrictions, for example, to ensure that the correct info is always available via the app."

The app, which is available in Estonian, English and Russian, includes guides ranging from summer and winter water safety and fire safety to what to do in case of the disruption of vital services or various natural disasters, as well as checklists for supplies sortable by category, a list of useful numbers and even a cyber hygiene training module.

As of December 31, 2021, the volunteer Estonian Defense League (KL) had 14,912 members, the Women's Voluntary Defense Organization (NKK) had 2,720 members, the boys' youth organization Young Eagles (Noored Kotkad) had 3,672 members, and the girls' youth organization Home Daughters (Kodutütred) had 4,051 members.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla, Helen Wright

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