Interview

An officer of the armed forces of Ukraine: “If the russians decide to make a full-scale attack, every tree will shoot at them. Everything will be burning under their feet”

We got acquainted with this commander at the beginning of 2016. He always invites to visit his unit and is happy when you come. His soldiers mention his name with appreciation and only positively. He was never against when we wrote stories about his soldiers and their victories, but he never allowed to write about him. He agreed to tell me his story only in case I will not mention any names, nicknames or units.

But even such covert and short version of his story is worth knowing to have a more clear picture of who has been defending us during these years and whom “Come Back Alive” Fund has been helping.

ABOUT THE DECISION TO GO TO THE WAR: The mission of my family is to defend our Motherland

All men in my family were servicemen: my great-great-grandfather and my great-grandfather, my grandfather (he was a general) and my uncle. The mission of my family is to defend our Motherland. My brother and I did not think much which profession to choose.

But the training and what you try to imagine differ a lot from what is going on in a real combat, during shelling, when you need to make a decision both for yourself and for the team you lead.

I was a civilian, when the war started. I saw no sense in serving in the army before that. But after the Maidan (the Revolution of Dignity – Author) I understood that my country needed me. I could not continue doing my civil job any longer. I could not imagine myself earning money when they were killing our soldiers.

I got into the 40th battalion “Kryvbas”. This battalion was in Ilovaisk and Debaltseve. I was breaking the encirclement for the first time with them. I had been lucky to leave Debaltseve some time before our forces were encircled. There were two wounded Ukrainian soldiers and one heavily wounded captive. I had to evacuate them. When we were leaving, Logvinove was already closed. They were shooting at us using tanks and machine guns. But we managed to escape and all wounded were safe and alive. However, it was not possible to return back. Later on I did it with the other units using footpaths in Nyzhnia Lozova.

ABOUT ILOVAISK: Our side was told that we had been killed

We had a task of going to Ilovaisk, bringing a column there and staying on the strongpoints. Our unit went there, arranged posts and organised the defence. We had to get ammunition, food, water and tools for digging trenches. My group was responsible for it. We managed to pass the enemy with food and ammunition and came to Hrabske, where our forces were. On the edge of the forest we had a machine gun hidden, there was also an infantry fighting vehicle, which had been already blocked. One soldier and I used the tank to shield the infantry fighting vehicle. The wounded were taken inside the infantry fighting vehicle and under the cover of the tank they both left and came to the stongpoint. The enemy was shooting from all directions, so practically we were providing all round defence.

We hit one of the two armored personnel carriers of the militants, which were moving towards us. Then we hit “Gazel” car with “Utios”, a heavy machine gun. Everybody was shooting. Everybody was controlling the situation as much as he could. We were not panicking, somebody was opening fire from the left flank, somebody – from the right flank, somebody was defending the rear. Only general guidance was missing.

A car was hit behind me, there was a shortage of ammunition, and we started returning to the base. There was one more tank and infantry fighting vehicle there. But it turned out that we were in a circle. Initially they were shooting using hand-held anti-tank grenade launcher, then, when we left the village and came to the railroad crossing, they hit the tank’s engine using mounted anti-tank grenade launcher. The tank flamed up, we  took off and continued our way on foot. They continued shooting with machine guns and automatic mounted grenade launcher. I was wounded in my arm, splinters got into my shoulder, elbow and wrist. The mechanic was slightly wounded into his head. But due to adrenalin we did not feel pain to the full extent. We were moving further and passed the village. The enemy did not see us, but one local resident reported about us to the enemy. We started to leave and maneuver. We rushed into a swamp and were moving in the cane for 40 minutes. The distance we managed to do during these 40 minutes in cane was only 100 meters… We were crawling in body armours and helmets. The Russians were shooting into cane and set fire there. We dug into the swamp and waited. When it seemed that everything had finished, we decided to move further. But as soon as we left the cane for the road, we immediately came across a group of the enemy. A combat started, there were three of us and ten of them.

We were shooting at first, then a hand-to-hand combat started. I had the only one grenade left. Then I felt a hit into my leg and lost consciousness. They had stabbed my leg through.

When I recovered my consciousness, the mechanic was pulling me into the car. Then both of us were captured. And the gunner stayed in the bushes. We had agreed before: “Do not move from here, we will go and check, and if anything happens, you will know where we have been killed.” Later he managed to come to our side and told them that we had been killed. He heard that combat and then there was a silence, so he thought that we had been shot.

Later there was an information that we were alive and they wanted to change us. But the militants refused, they said we had been killed.

ABOUT THE CAPTIVITY: It was very difficult not to lose dignity 

We were in captivity in Donetsk during a month.

There were bastards and criminals there and it was impossible to communicate with them. There were also Russians. I knew that, because we had captured Russians, Pskov division had been captured in Ilovaisk… I was laying wounded in an iron booth and heard their talks: “See, I was in a prison yesterday, and today I kill the Ukrops (a dispising name for Ukrainians – Author).

The most difficult in the captivity was not to lose dignity. I had to stand it. There were soldiers near me and if I had been in despair, they would not have understood it. It was difficult when they took me twice to shoot down… Later they realised that we were not scared. I was ready for death. I said: “Shoot, but shoot into my heart or head”. To die immediately. It was very difficult at the beginning, but I convinced myself that as soon as they kill me, I would fly into the heaven. Then I just tried very hard to endure it.

They did not care about us, they did not ask anything, they tortured and pressed us morally. It was interesting for them, how we would react. To humiliate, to hit, to stab with a knife… We were not given any food during 3-4 days.

After Ilovaisk we were lucky because there were negotiations, and we were changed for some militants. They simply named 19 people – you, you, you – took us into a car and brought to exchange.

When I returned from the captivity, I tried not to think about it. I wanted to sleep enough, to shave and to go fishing – it was my rehabilitation. As soon as you come home and see your family and children, you know you have not been at war in vain. It helps a lot.

ABOUT THE RESCUE OF SOLDIERS FROM THE CAPTIVITY: If you are immortal, then come and take them

During the exchange, I told one militant: “Hold me, but release the others. They are wounded, they feel worse than I do”. He answered: “No, you go. Call me as soon as you recover”. And he gave me his telephone number.

I spent 10 days in a hospital, they put stitches on my leg. Then I spent 10 days at home. Then I called him and said: “I am ready”. And he said: “Are you immortal?”. I answered: “Wouldn’t you do the same for the sake of your soldiers?”.

He said they would release our soldiers only if I agreed to give an interview to a Russian TV channel.

I thought it would be somewhere in Kurakhove, but he said to come to him. I agreed this visit with the competent services.

There were five of us who went there. We came to Kurakhove and on the block post we were hit with gun stocks on our heads. He came to collect us and took us to Donetsk. Then we were taken to Horlivka. We thought it was the end. We spent a night in the ex-building of the Security Service of Ukraine. Nobody talked to us. The Chechens were going around us, because we were wearing a uniform. In the morning they took us to Bezler (Igor Bezler controlled the local police department – Author). He joked whether he should kill us or not. We kept silent, what could we say? Then we were taken back to Donetsk.

We were told that there were soldiers from different battalions. We took all those whom they allowed to take.

The interview failed. Two young girls with an amateur camera came and started provoking us with questions. And we questioned them back: “Why have you, Russians, come to us?”, “What are you doing here?”.

Finally, they said they could not make a proper dialogue with us and left.

We took our soldiers and tried to escape… We took them to the hospital.

I stayed at home for a few more weeks and then went to Debaltseve.

ABOUT THE WAR AND THE HARDEST THING THERE: God save you from experiencing it, hearing it or trying to say it

Previously it was not the war, but an operation. We tried to release our land, towns and villages, conducted raid assault operations. And now it is a real war, which will last for a very long time. It is the war with trenches and the front line, with positions of our Army and the positions of the enemy. It is the war of strategy and mind.

This war gave me friends. I know that I can come to any part of our country (and not only our country) and I will be warmly met. I am not saying it is something romantic, but if you have been at war, you remember about it all the time. My ex-soldiers call me saying they want back. And I take them back.

But I’d rather not do it. It would be better if we do what we can do, and our country would prosper. There are lots of very good professionals, who have not returned from the war and there are many who have been injured. There are even world famous people, not servicemen, who have been killed. For example, Vasyl Slipak, one of the best opera singers, a legend… He’d rather continue to glorify our country…

Every commander has his own methods of work. But you gain them with experience. The battalion is my family. It is not my work. All soldiers are my brothers in arms and I am responsible for them. It is very difficult to tell a mother that she no longer has a son. God save you from experiencing it, hearing it or trying to say it, because it is extremely hard. It is the hardest thing in the world. I am terribly scared of it and have always been trying to preserve the lives of the soldiers. 

ABOUT THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ARMED FORCES OF UKRAINE AND THE ENEMY: I will not forgive any Russian death of my brothers-in-arms

Our Army has become much more professional during the years of this war. I compare it even not with 2014, but with 2016 and 2017. Its professional level, armament, machinery and supply have changed greatly. People have got motivation and now many choose the Army as a profession.

The enemy has the Russian officers occupying senior posts, the Russians are responsible for all human resources appointments. It is the war with the Russian army. And workforce is located in the front line. In 2014 there were “partisan detachments” gathered by the local criminal bosses. Everybody was controlling “his village”. And they quarreled, because they were dividing spheres of influence. But then the Russians understood it had to be stopped and they started to change the local ones for the Russians.

No matter what happens, we are not going to make peace with Russia. No matter what happens, I will not forgive any Russian death of my brothers-in-arms. I buried so many of them, that I can walk and recall everybody during three hours watching their pictures on the wall of Mykhailivsky monastery (a Memory Wall with pictures of the servicemen, who perished in the east of the country in Russian-Ukrainian war – Author). I saw how they perished. How can I forgive that?

If the Russians decide to make a full-scale attack, they will regret. Everything will shoot: every bush, every tree, every branch. Everything will be burning under their feet. We will be resisting and we will overcome it.

Photo: 4.5.0 UA

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