KHARKIV, Ukraine — Some people in Ukraine's second-largest city are preparing to fight back if Russia invades.
The city of Kharkiv is just 25 miles from some of the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed at the border. It is also one of the country's industrial centers and includes two facilities that restore old Soviet-era tanks or build new ones.
Some of the city's 1 million-plus people say they are prepared to abandon their ordinary civilian lives and wage a guerrilla campaign against one of the world's greatest military powers if Russia invades. Among them are a table tennis coach, a chaplain's wife, a dentist and a firebrand nationalist. They have little in common except a desire to defend their hometown.
Viktoria Balesina teaches table tennis to teenagers in the city and said, “This city has to be protected.” Balesina said, “We need to do something, not to panic and fall on our knees. We do not want this.”
As the Associated Press reports, an estimated 14,000 were killed in 2014 and 2015 during a conflict that began in Ukraine's Donbas region, which later subsided into trench warfare after agreements brokered by France and Germany.
Tensions have soared in recent weeks, and the United States and its NATO allies worry that the concentration of about 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine signals Moscow's intention to attack.
Russia denies having any such designs — and has laid out a series of demands it says will improve security in Europe, including a promise that NATO will not extend an invitation to Ukraine and a guarantee that the alliance will remove troops from Eastern Europe.
But the U.S. and the Western alliance have firmly rejected any concessions on Moscow's suggestions. Many of Russia's demands are nonstarters for NATO, creating a stalemate that many fear can only end in a war.
In the past, Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed frustration with the Soviet breakup of some countries, like Belarus and Ukraine. According to an Associated Press analysis, Putin sees those countries as part of a historic Russian linguistic and Orthodox motherland.