Estonians are keen on protecting their home, with more people applying to join the voluntary Defense League than before the Ukraine war.
The Defense League had 25,300 total members at the start of 2022 – almost 15,000 Defense League members, over 2,700 women's voluntary defense organization Naiskodukaitse members, a little under 4,000 Young Eagles and over 4,000 Home Daughters.
Escalation of the Ukraine war has seen the number of people looking to join the organization spike, with 530 applications filed in the first week of March alone. New applications between February 24 and April 8 numbered 2,126. The last two days have brought another 19 applications.
The 2026 national defense development plan prescribes growing the Defense League to 30,000 members.
The Bronze Night riots in 2007, war in Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 delivered similar spikes in the number of applicants. The Defense League had over 25,500 members in 2020.
The new members of the Sakala District of the Defense League met for the first time last Saturday. They were given an overview of the organization and its Sakala branch, as well as the various opportunities Defense League and Naiskodukaitse members have for contributing to national defense and civil protection.
"Of course, one needs to be prepared to defend oneself because at the end of the day, that is the only person one can count on in a crisis," said Martin Kala who attended the newcomers meeting.
"The main idea is not to end up needing help myself and being able to help others," Piret Leskova said.
Entrepreneurs Martin (35) and Piret (50) have not had contact with the Defense League before. Martin has not even been through conscription. However, looking at events in Ukraine and the eastern border of Europe, they decided it was time to exit their comfort zones.
"The driver was the war in Ukraine. Though I do regret not starting a year or two sooner," Martin said. "I even wanted to learn to professionally handle firearms and serve as a so-called sharpshooter."
"My family is aware. The kids were not over the moon about it. They thought mom might get sent to the front. But I have managed to calm them down, and they seem to be content now. My goal was to work on the so-called evacuation side. Because I have fired an air gun in school and even taken part in competitions, it appealed to me once more. I believe I want to do shooting sports," Piret said.
The woman added that ignorance creates fear. "You get a lot of know-how here, and courage," she said.
During the days of the Ukraine war, 42 people filed an application to join the DL Sakala District of whom 39 were invited for training.
"That is an unusually high number. We normally only get five or six new members a year. It is much higher than usually now," said Cpt. Silver Mäe, chief of staff for the Defense League Sakala District.
He said that while interest has spiked during military conflicts in the past, recent interest is somewhat surprising. "It was the same in 2014 when the Ukraine conflict began," he noted.
Mäe said that the duration of training depends on how much time the person has to give the Defense League. "If they attend all the courses we can offer, they will be a soldier after a year."
The law obligates Defense League members to contribute 45 hours a year, while the Sakala District has those who put themselves at the organization's disposal for 600 annual hours.
All new Defense Forces members will have to undergo basic training after which they can start contributing in their chosen field.
Editor: Marcus Turovski