Youth will serve: Poland's young mobilize into militias

Thousands of young people are joining paramilitary groups to defend Poland in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine

The apocalyptic scenario is never far from the minds of Poles. After all, their country disappeared from world maps for more than a century and, after its 1918 rebirth, experienced invasion and occupation from the Nazis, then “liberation”-cum-subjugation by the Soviets. Now, as a new type of Russian aggression threatens neighbouring Ukraine, interest in patriotic paramilitary organizations is soaring, with thousands of young people seeking out weekend defence training. “There has a been a rise in insecurity,” says Piotr Malecki, a photographer and filmmaker who spent three months documenting the groups earlier this year.

The government has embraced the trend and plans to transform seven of the militias into a single, U.S.-style National Guard. One group, the F.I.A. (Fideles et Instructi Armis), whose membership skews a little older, is already training with the Polish Army—albeit with replica weapons. “Our history is harsh,” Malecki explains, “and we no longer have the luxury of feeling totally secure.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.