Worried about Russia, Finnish women sign up to learn defence skills

·3-min read

(Clarifies paragraph 11 in JUNE 6 article to show some participants learnt how to set up camp, while others also learnt other defence skills)

By Essi Lehto

HATTULA, Finland (Reuters) -Just days after Russia attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24, Finnish entrepreneur Sissi Moberg found herself scouring the internet for courses that could teach her skills to help defend Finland in case of a military attack.

"I felt very sad for the Ukrainians. And then I started to worry about Finland and thinking what could I do about this," the 46-year-old mother-of-four told Reuters.

Within weeks, Moberg was on a course intended for reservists and learning how to use a gun and move on a battlefield.

The war in Ukraine has caused great alarm in Finland, which shares a 1,300 km (810 miles) border with Russia and during World War Two fought two wars against the Soviet Union which cost it a tenth of its territory. About 100,000 Finns were killed.

Spurred on by the invasion, Finland broke with decades of domestic defence and security policy last month when it applied for membership in the NATO military alliance.

Finland's Women's National Emergency Preparedness Association said demand for their courses had shot up since February.

"Right after the war broke out, our phones started ringing and emails were flying in ... and of course the demand for training went up," said Suvi Aksela, the association's head of communications.

The trend is in keeping with Finland's long tradition of wartime volunteering among women who, in contrast to men, are not required to do military service.

Around 19 percent of Finland's 13,000 professional military personnel are women, according to data from the military, although only 1-2% of conscripts are female.

SURVIVAL TRAINING

Last week, Moberg was back for more, this time on a survival training course organised by the Women's Preparedness Association at a military base in Hattula, 100 km from Helsinki.

For three days, she and another 35 women learned how to set up camp, light a fire in the rain, navigate in the forest and do first aid, while another 300 focused on other skills such as cyber security, mental resilience and self defence if attacked.

"I am one of the last people my loved ones would have expected to participate in courses like these since I've been quite the princess, a bit of a fancy pants," Moberg said.

Another 500 women were on a waiting list, according to the Women's Preparedness Association, a volunteer group that holds annual training sessions for civilian women on skills needed in crisis situations. It receives some public funding and can use military facilities and equipment for training.

Moberg is not alone in her concerns or desire to help defend Finland. According to a poll published by the defence ministry last month, 85% of Finns now see Russia has having a negative effect on Finland's security, compared to 34% in 2007.

The same poll showed that 83% of Finns think they should take up arms in the event of a military attack on their country, even if the outcome seemed uncertain.

"This is a good country to live in and raise children. It is definitely worth defending," she said.

"The will to defend our country is very strong in Finland," said another volunteer on the course, Satu Miettinen, who was raised by her grandmother, who was a volunteer in World War Two.

She taught Miettinen, like many other Finns have been taught too, that Moscow could attack Finland again.

"Because of that I've always had that suspicion," said the 36-year-old.

Moberg says she will do more preparedness courses to be ready for a crisis, be it a major accident at a nuclear plant or a natural disaster.

"Courage does not mean not being afraid, but acting despite of that," she said.

(Reporting by Essi Lehto in Hattula, Finland; Editing by Gwladys Fouche and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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