These Baltic Militias Are Readying For War With Russia

You’re driving down a dirt road near the village of Misa, Latvia, roughly 32 miles south east of Riga, when suddenly a dozen youngsters emerge from the woods. They’re dressed in military garb, and their faces are painted green and brown; they wear tree branches around their heads and arms—camouflage. They’ve just finished a training simulation: liberating a hostage from enemy soldiers. They are members of the Youth Guard, a section of Latvia’s National Guard. With its more than 8,000 volunteers, it is the country’s largest paramilitary group.

Tomaso Clavarino is an Italian documentary photographer who spent nearly a month reporting from Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Between April and June of this year, he followed several Baltic paramilitary groups, including the Lithuanian Lietuvos Šaulių Sąjunga (“Riflemen’s Union”), the Estonian Defense League, and the National Guard, which was recently folded into Latvia’s 1,500-strong National army. While these groups have existed for decades, their ranks have swelled in recent years in response to Russian aggression.

Among the paramilitary volunteers are bikers, ex-soldiers, hunters, and stockbreeders. Each group has its own division dedicated to training young men and women in military tactics and patriotism; some volunteers are as young as 12 years old. These groups insist they are apolitical. They seek to defend their borders and train the warriors of tomorrow to prepare for whatever Putin has planned next.

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Kevin Winter / Getty for The Recording Academy

    Photos of the Week: Lego Bugatti, Snowy Seattle, Cattle Dating

    Valentine’s Day among humans and animals, family reunions at an Indian border fence, an icy dinosaur in Latvia, snow kayaking in Estonia, International Condom Day in Mexico City, and much more

  • Ozge Elif Kizil / Anadolu Agency / Getty

    Images From Antarctica

    Photos from the past few years of the Antarctic landscape, wildlife, and research facilities, and some of the work taking place there

  • Ralph Morse / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty

    50 Years Ago in Photos: A Look Back at 1969

    A half century ago, humans first set foot on the moon, hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in New York’s Catskill Mountains for a music festival that became a cultural milestone, and so much more.

  • Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty

    Photos From the 2019 Westminster Dog Show

    Images from the two-day competition and preliminary activities held in New York City at Piers 92/94 and Madison Square Garden