“I signed a contract in 2013 and served in the Main Department of Reconnaissance. In the evenings I went to Maidan. My friends perished there, so I could not just leave it. When the war started in the east of the country, I moved to Rivne and wrote reports asking to be sent to the front. At first I was sent to a military training centre “Desna”, then to the 25th battalion “Kyiv Rus”. And in a week, in August we were in Debaltseve”, Vasyl says.
Combats for this town in Donbas seemed the most fierce for him comparing to the other combats during all years of the war. At first the Ukrainian Army was moving ahead, but on 24 August after the occupation of Ilovaysk, it stopped and started to defend.
When Vasyl was in Debaltseve, he turned 20 and lost his brother (the family of Stefurak had four sons, two of them came to defend Ukraine). Vasyl learned that his younger brother Stepan, a serviceman of Voluntary Ukrainian Corps “Right Sector” with a nickname “Twenty Fourth”, was also on the front only one day before his death.
“He always said he was in Ternopil, where he studied. But in fact, he had come to the front earlier than I did. My brother perished on 22 September 2014, when I was in Debaltseve. He told me he would visit me once, but he would not…”
The car, in which Stepan went to Pisky for reconnaissance, blew up on a mine put by the enemy. He was killed, but his brother Vasyl continued fighting now for two of them.
“It was not difficult physically. But when the boys started to perish, it was very difficult morally. Before the New Year we all had a chance to rest from the front as we had 10-15 days of holidays. In February 2015, when the terrorists captured Donetsk airport, we were sent to the same positions in Debaltseve again, only a few other territories were added, for example Ridkodub and Nikishene. Our unit was defending our positions in Debaltseve till 15 February. The militants used artillery round the clock, all day and all night, the pauses between the volleys were 5-7 minutes. A few divisions were fighting against us using multiple rocket launchers “Grad” and barrel artillery”, Vasyl recalls.
But the Ukrainian servicemen were not going to surrender, they were ready to fight till the end. They did not know that they had been already surrounded by the enemy.
“We learned about it, when the first column of the 128th brigade moving towards Debaltseve was destroyed. It was on 9 February at 7 o’clock in the morning. Then there was a command to leave. We tried to do it several times and all was in vain due to heavy artillery shellings of the enemy. They were controlling our movements with drones, and we could not react properly, because Minsk agreements had already been implemented and we had taken our artillery away accordingly“.
On 15-16 February Vasyl’s unit managed to leave. The servicemen formed a column and under the cover of two armored personnel carriers they were transporting wounded and killed. But when they entered a village of Nyzhnie Lozove, they got into a treacherous trap of the enemy.
“As soon as we went to a ravine, it turned out that the road had been mined and everything started to explode: cars, people… At the same time the enemy started to shoot. We also opened fire. Only 15 of my brothers in arms managed to leave that trap safely… I was wounded in a shoulder”, Vasyl says.
After that he stayed in a hospital and had a new rotation to Popasna. During all this time his girlfriend Olena has been supporting him. He met her in Maidan. After Debaltseve he decided to marry her, and they got married.
Now a young family of Stefurak has a 2,5 year old son. Soon Vasyl will graduate from the Hetman Petro Sahaidachnyi National Army Academy. As an officer he will head one of the brigades and will go to Donbas again. His eight brothers in arms with whom he was in Debaltseve will also graduate from the Academy soon.
“I am in the war until it ends. When we win, maybe I will leave the Army”, Vasyl says.