Invasion, stock, and barrel. Ukraine’s personal arms market is booming

6 February, 12:57 PM
Ruslan Rokhov, 35, from Kyiv, has purchased Diamondback riffle for self-defense (Photo:Natalia Kravchuk/ НВ)

Ruslan Rokhov, 35, from Kyiv, has purchased Diamondback riffle for self-defense (Photo:Natalia Kravchuk/ НВ)

Ukrainians have started buying arms en masse for self-defense, and are joining the Territorial Defense Forces, a newly established branch of the Ukrainian military. As a result, sales volumes for rifle have exploded and a civilized arms market is in the making, reports NV magazine.

If you applied for a gun permit this January, you deserve a free pizza at Pizza Veterano,” the owner of Pizza Veterano, Leonid Ostaltsev, the owner of the well-known veteran-established pizzeria in Kyiv, wrote on his Facebook page. His restaurant is running a promotion for a free pizza for new firearm owners from Feb. 2 to Feb. 4.

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Ostaltsev says this is his way of supporting other Ukrainians who rushed out to purchase weapons in light of a massive Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s borders.

Demand for firearms has recently skyrocketed in Ukraine, local arms experts told NV, though they’re not cheap - with the usual price hovering at about three average monthly salaries - approximately $1,900. That price doesn’t even take into account the cost of a firearms permit, which is necessary to legally purchase one.

However, despite the high costs, Ukrainians are still investing in their personal safety. Owning your own firearm is also a requirement to join the Territorial Defense Force, which has been established to serve as a ‘home guard’ in case of all-out war.

However, Ukrainians aren’t waiting for one to start, instead, they’ve taken matters into their own hands and are already actively buying rifles, to give themselves time to go through the necessary training.

Kyivans attend territorial defense training (Фото: АFP)
Kyivans attend territorial defense training / Фото: АFP

According to the data provided by the Ukrainian Arms Owners Association, Ukrainians buy around 70,000 guns a year. Experts are expecting a much higher figure this year. At the moment, there are almost 1.5 million firearms in circulation, reports the Interior Ministry, but that number is bound to soar, given the unprecedented demand.

“Sales are unequivocally on the rise,” the CEO of the Zbroyar arms company, Serhii Horban, told NV.

“We would like the figures to continue growing, but not because of a looming invasion…We expect the civilian arms market to keep growing in the future.”

A Zbroyar rifle is the weapon of choice for the 52-year-old mother of three, Maryana Zhaglo, who recently made headlines with her purchase. Mariana told The Times that she had bought the gun to join the Territorial Defense Forces.

“It turned out that Territorial Defense Forces are quite open to women recruits,” Zhaglo told NV.

“I’ve been acquiring news skills for the last two years. That’s how it all began.”

The thorny path to gun ownership

The first step to gun ownership is to save around 50,000 Ukrainian hryvnias (a little under $2,000). Then, a citizen can apply for permission purchase a firearm, which needs to be registered with law enforcement authorities.

“It takes about a month to get permission to purchase a gun,” said new gun owner, 33-year-old Oleksandr Pechalov.

“Then you need to buy the weapon together with a safe. Afterwards, you take your gun purchase permit to the authorities. A month later you can collect your gun storage permit.”

Pechalov has been regularly training with the 130th battalion of the Kyiv Territorial Defense Force since last spring. In autumn, he bought a .223 caliber Zbroyar Z-15 rifle worth around 50,000 Ukrainian hryvnias ($1,778.39 at current exchange rates). Pechalov is now using his rifle to work on his combat and marksmanship skills.

The exact nature of this newly found demand for firearms is constantly changing. There are those who prefer to buy Ukrainian-made weapons, while others are fans of foreign-manufactured rifles.

“The demand has definitely evolved in the light of the looming Russian invasion,” says Zbroyar’s Horban.

Zbroyar’s most popular models are the Z15 and Z9 carbines, though the Z9 is the more affordable option as it takes pistol caliber rounds and needs cheaper cartridges. 

This demand for firearms has spread beyond Ukrainians concerned with a potential invasion, or looking to join the ranks of the Territorial Defense Forces, and if the current threat passes, then Ukraine may find itself in the midst of a personal defense weapon renaissance.

For now, Ukrainian legislation still restricts the market - Ukrainian civilians can typically only own non-lethal and hunting weapons - the category that Zbroyar’s offerings fall into. Handguns, submachine guns, and other popular categories of firearms are still out of the question.

Bachelors in Self-Defense

Of course, just owning a rifle and knowing where the shoot bit is is far from all that’s needed to be able to use the weapon in combat. Firearm experts note the need to participate in regular trainings and drills, as marksmanship skills are likely to degrade if not polished.

Center-A, a security training center based in central Kyiv, is offering courses and trainings for gun owners, and have reported a dramatic increase in client numbers over the past months.

“In the last month and a half we’ve started up to ten new groups with eight people each,” said Center-A CEO Roman Zembitsky.

“The new participants are learning to use non-lethal pistols, as well as rifled and smooth-bore guns. We offer courses where we teach the basic skills for gun usage, including tactical skills.”

A basic gun training course is composed of 5 to 9 classes, depending on the category, and can cost up 900 dollars. Having completed the beginner’s course, you can then go on to do three more advanced-level courses, with ten classes each.

Given the current situation, there is also public demand for first aid courses, which Center-A also offers.

The number of people wishing to become gun owners is constantly growing and it boost the development of the weapon market. Ukrainian shops offer a wide choice of guns, cartridges and other equipment.

Since the personal arms market has hardly been a historically dynamic one for Ukraine, the current demand has led to greater variety in gun stores across the country. The current boom is reminiscent of 2014, the year when Russia first invaded Ukraine, explains weapon expert Taras Oliynyk.

“However, there’s a much wider selection now available in shops. The target audience are middle-class people who can afford to own a rifle.”

Oliynyk says that the cheapest option is a smooth-bore hunting rifle, that can cost up to 6,000 Ukrainian hryvnias (around $200). Civilian carbines such as the AKM and AR-15 are more pricey, but also a lot more effective.

“All civilian firearms in Ukraine are classified as hunting weapons,” said Oliynyk.

“This is mostly a formality, but when you apply for a gun purchase permit, you have to fill in ‘hunting’ rather than ‘self-defense’ or ‘defending your country’. Bear that in mind if you want to get a permit without any issues,” adds Oliynyk, though he notes that actually going on a hunt is entirely optional

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