Fishing on a marbled expanse of frozen river, dressed head to toe in camouflage, Viktor Berkut looked very much the Soviet-born Everyman and has the biography to match. He joined the Red Army in 1970 and spent three decades building air defense and rocket systems directed against Moscow’s ideological enemies in the West.

But the enemy has changed, and for that Berkut blames President Vladimir Putin of Russia. With roughly 130,000 Russian troops now threatening his native Ukraine, the 71-year-old pensioner now says any connection he once felt to Russia is gone: Ukraine should join NATO, he said, and put up bloody resistance should Putin order an attack.

"I never thought like this,” Berkut said mournfully, as he plunked a Day-Glo lure through a hole in the ice of the Dnieper River near the city of Cherkasy. "I lived all right in the Soviet Union. But now I’ve begun to understand.”