Photos: Hairdresser by day, drone hunter by night

Oleksandr Shamshur, 41, is a hairdresser by day and a “drone hunter” by night – one of tens of thousands of volunteers helping defend the skies over Ukraine against Russian attacks.

As the February 24 first anniversary of Russia’s invasion nears, Ukraine is becoming increasingly adept at shooting down Russian missiles and drones fired at cities far from the front lines, and Shamshur takes pride in his role.

Members of his territorial defence unit, who include a lawyer and a businessman, respond to air raid alerts in and around the capital, Kyiv, by seeking to down Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones with a restored World War II machinegun.

“I am a very happy person. Why? Because I am defending my country, I am defending our Ukrainian people,” Shamshur said as he combed the capital’s moonlit skyline through a thermal camera with a range finder from his position on a rooftop.

Nearby, a fellow fighter was adjusting the green barrels of the Soviet-made “Maxim” machinegun.

“But at the same time, I can come to the beauty salon and work with the people, do the work I know, cut hair and talk to clients,” he said.

He said it never occurred to him as a civilian to “run away and hide somewhere” when Russian armoured forces stormed into a stunned Ukraine last winter and began bombarding Kyiv and other cities.

“With the enemy at the doorstep, I had to do something, I had to act in defence,” he said.

During the night of December 29-30, Shamshur said, his rooftop unit shot down two drones over Kyiv. His team members have also passed the skills they have learned on to other units.

Shamshur sports several badges on his camouflage uniform, including one that reads “Drone Hunters” in English, and another in Ukrainian reading “Ronin” – a feudal Japanese warrior – that he has adopted as his nom de guerre.

When Russia invaded, Shamshur – an army reservist before the war – learned that his military base had already been destroyed by Russian shelling, so he joined territorial defences, initially delivering food to civilians and helping evacuate people.

At work in his salon, still wearing military khaki as he styled a client’s hair, he said he tries not to talk to his clients about the war, calling it “dark” in contrast to the “light” in the peaceful part of his life.

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