Currently, weapons have become something quite usual and ordinary in the hands of Ukrainians. However, just last year, none of the people now buying rifles and shotguns could have imagined they would have firearms in their homes. Now they are all in support of the gun trade and the use of weapons for legal self-defense.
Ukraine is the only country in Europe with no law regulation for civilian firearm ownership. During the entire period of independence, the government of Ukraine tried to propose more than a dozen laws, but none of these were accepted. It is strictly prohibited to buy and bear arms for self-defense. Even “traumatic” (non-lethal) weapons are only available to limited individuals, like judges and national deputies. The only way to own a firearm legally is to purchase a rifle or a shotgun for hunting. It is absolutely legal to purchase any modifications of non-automatic army weapons (such as AK or M16), but owning a handgun is prohibited by the law. Even though these guns are the most suitable for self-defense.
In 2014, during the tragic events in Ukraine (Euromaidan, the Crimea annexation, the War in Donbass), sales of hunting weapons increased several times over. This happened because people could not trust and rely on a government that did nothing to protect the rights and freedom of citizens. According to official statistics, by the end of 2014 there were already 558,033 registered owners of rifles and shotguns. By March 2016, the number of weapon owners increased to 888,047.
Nowadays, shotguns are in high demand. Future owners of firearms have to learn how to handle them safely. Quite often, they also learn how to take part in military actions, in many cases as part of a small mobile team. Russia’s hidden aggression towards Ukraine makes the prospect of the military conflict expanding from the east of the country to the central regions quite realistic, and acts as motivation for Ukrainians to be prepared for a future war. However, the main reason for wanting firearms to be legalised is not to convert civilians to the army, but to protect one’s family and belongings. It seems like a firearm is a modern version of the amulet, giving its owner extra power. Not everyone is comfortable pointing it at an aggressor and shooting, but everyone feels safer having one.
Andriy Lomakin (1974) is a Ukrainian photographer based in Kiev. From 2008 to 2014 he worked as staff photographer at Tyzhden magazine (Ukraine). Since 2014, he is working on personal documentary and art projects as a freelance photographer. His work will be exhibited at Odessa/Batumi Photo Days festival that opens this Wednesday in Odessa, Ukraine.