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    June 8, 2016

    Memoirs from combat by Slavyansk: "Notes of a Freedom Fighter"

    Fort Russ
    June 8th, 2016
    Original by Vitaly "Afrika"; edited by Tatzhit

    EDIT: The book has been released in English -

    I'll post a book fragment first, then the biographies of the participants, then the details about the author and his book. The last section contains a link to more chapters of his memoir. - ed.

    Notes of a Freedom Fighter (Prologue)

    June 14th, 2014, Donbass region, Eastern Ukraine (Battle of Yampol - ed.)

    [author, September 2014]

    Judging by the sound, something big and heavy is coming at us from the northwest. F**k, the bad thing about being a rebel fighting against the government army is that you don’t have “something big and heavy,” and they do. A loud sound, like a lot of layers of some rough fabric being torn at once, drowns out the hum of the approaching armored vehicles. Then again, closer this time.
    “It’s a KPVT!”[1] Grim warns. “Everybody stay sharp,they are coming!”

    I peer into the thicket so hard my eyes hurt. Adrenaline isn’t gushing from my ears yet, but my heart is pounding and my palms are sweaty (hooray for wearing gloves). The only thought inside my head is “Dear Santa, don’t let me screw up!" Another sound of "torn fabric" changes into a shattering crash when a KPVT’s heavy bullets rip through the pines 10 meters to our left.

    “Sniper, you alive there?!” Grim shouts.
    “Still am!”
    “Okay! Watch the thicket, they’ll try to come through there!”
    “Got it!”
    The roar of the engines seemingly stops getting closer. Several more bursts of KPVT fire tear through the forest, but the armor is clearly shooting blind. F**k, where are their infantrymen...?

    “Bitch!!! Take this!!!” A mix of Grim’s swearing and PKM[2] fire pours out from our right flank. In response to that, a few small arms bullets whistle out of the distance and hit the pines above our position. Damn, what am I supposed to do?? What if I’m needed on the right flank?? But what if I go there, and they attack here?? Finally, I decide to stay at my position until further orders.

    “Sniper! Come f**king here!! Mosquito, to the left flank. Watch the thicket!”
    I squeeze past Marine and Mosquito to get to the main position. No one peeks far out of the trench – the boss is carefully observing something on the opposite side of the road, and Handyman is simply sitting on the ground.

    Grim briefly explains the situation: "They are coming from the north side! Keeping to the gullies so I can’t get them! There are more of them at 1 o’clock, in the thicket! You try to get them, and we will cover you!”

    Meeeh... Well, an order is an order. After selecting a more or less comfortable position, I start to scan the 12-to-1 o’clock sector. The view is obscured by the forest, but the trees are far apart so I can see something. Damn, it’s torture to work as a sniper from a squad’s position. If I live through today, I’ll find myself a nice position in the forest, 200-300 meters from here. So... Nothing-nothing-nothing-BANG! My eye barely catches some movement through the scope, and my index finger immediately responds.
    I wonder, how do they shoot semi-auto sniper rifles so rapidly in movies? I lose my target after a shot, so I need 2-3 seconds to find it again. Well, probably it’s a matter of habit.

    “What?!” Grim shouts.
      “Some movement in the thicket!”
     “Did you get him?!”
      “Hard to tell.” Realistically, there wasn’t a chance; I had jerked the trigger too sharply and spoiled the shot.
    “Sh*t! All right, keep looking!”

    I try to pop out a bit, and immediately the Ukes on the other side of the road open fire on our position. The bastards got within 50 meters of us, they’re right on the other side of the road. Because of the terrain – we are five meters above them and separated by two slopes, two ditches and an elevated road – there is no clear line of sight between us and them, and we can only trash the trees above each other. And that’s exactly what Grim joyously starts to do, sending half a belt of PKM rounds toward the enemy.

    Assessing the low efficiency of his efforts, he grabs his AK and launches a couple of GP-25[3] grenades for good measure. The Ukes, seemingly impressed by our firepower, cease their attempts to suppress us by fire and switch to occasional “bothering shots”. 
    That would be a good development, except that the engine noise starts getting closer again, and to meet the source of it properly we need to use the RPG[4] – which means standing up from the trench, and that makes one an easy target for the enemy. Besides, the Ukes’ fire from 12 o’clock intensifies again,including the f**king KPVT with its 14.5mm bullets and occasional shots from God-knows-where, and all of that is whistling unpleasantly close to us. One consolation was that the group of Ukes on the other side of the road apparently did not have UBGLs, otherwise they would have made our life much more “fun”. I wonder, what the heck is the rest of our company doing?

    “Chief, tanks!” the sharp-sighted Handyman calls out.The three of us intensely peer between the trees.

    Grim reacts quickly: "It’s an APC![5] Kiddo – the “pipe” [slang for RPG-7]! Afrikaner – suppress the thicket! Both of you, stay clear of the backblast!"

    Yeah, a great warning, sure. How the f**k can I “suppress” the thicket with a sniper rifle, while watching the back end of Grim’s RPG at the same time? Well, to hell with it. I peek out, studying the forest. Meanwhile, Grim stands up out of the trench and starts aiming the pipe. Handyman and I start dashing around to avoid the back end of the RPG, which makes our attempts to suppress the Ukes in the thicket rather sporadic. The enemy isn’t blind and, having noticed Grim’s courageous torso sticking out of the trench, begins shooting. After a few bullets whizz by a couple inches above his head, Grim ducks back into the trench and, using rich expressions, gives his feedback to me and Handyman about the quality of our covering fire. Being used to his manner, we do not pay too much attention to his well-deserved reproaches, and begin to shoot at the bushes on the opposite side of the road, and the forest behind them.

    Simultaneously, an RPK[6] starts hitting the same bushes from our rear – as it turned out later, it was Nomad who couldn’t take sitting in his trench and moved closer to us. Grim sends two GP-25 grenades in the same direction, and Ukes’ fire dies down,except that someone starts screaming hysterically, "A-ah-ah-ah!!!! I’m shot!! A-ah!!!! Help!!! Help me, guys, please!!!” Curiously, he was yelling in Russian, not in Ukrainian. Where the hell was his patriotism at that moment?[7]

    We send a few 40-mm painkillers from our UBGLs to alleviate the poor guy’s suffering (don’t know if it helped, but he shut up at least), and then we are distracted by the APC – which had crawled up to 200 meters from us and continued to approach slowly, firing short bursts at the roadblock to our rear. Grim grabs the RPG again, but sets it aside a few seconds later. “Only two cucumbers [slang for rockets], damn it!" he explains. "We have to save them in case they send tanks. Sniper, why the hell are you sitting on your *ss? Go and watch the 10-to-2 sector!"

    As you wish, my lord. I climb into the firing niche and begin to study the slope in the designated sector. Nobody, nobody...and what is that...the deafening roar of a PKM (the muzzle less than a meter from my head) hits my ears so hard that I instinctively duck to the bottom of the trench. Grim keeps sending short bursts of armor-piercing/incendiary bullets through the trees at the approaching APC.
    "You f**king imbecile! Are you insane?!" I respectfully express my dissatisfaction with the commander’s actions. Grim simply keeps shooting, with the facial expression of a child who has received a long-awaited gift for Christmas. The belt spent, Grim throws the machine gun to Handyman for reloading, grabs his Kalash, fires a magazine and a UBGL round into the thicket, takes back the PKM and fires one more entire belt of APIBs[8] at the APC.

    And then it stops. Stuck in place. I mean the APC, not our commander – though he looks inhuman sometimes, I wouldn’t call him “it” due to subordination. There is neither smoke nor too much damage to be seen, but the engine stalled, and it’s not moving or firing. 7.62x54R can penetrate an APC in the side, much harder to manage with angle and distance, but ~200 API rounds could definitely disable one... Or the crew could have panicked.

    The U-infantry also fell silent for a couple minutes, probably wondering what the hell happened.

    Grim is already thinking aloud about how we can flank around the stalled APC, cut it off from the rest of the government forces and take it as a trophy. Well, you never know, it could work. Alas, the calm does not last long – the second APC opens fire toward us from somewhere behind the
    first one, then U-infantry swarm the thicket ahead, just a couple hundred meters from where we are, and immediately open fire. Judging by the sound, at least two SVD[9] snipers are among them, too. 
    I try to do something, firing at any movement in the thicket, looking for “colleagues”, but honestly, I doubt very much I hit anyone, except accidentally. Shooting at unmoving targets at a quiet, leisurely shooting range, and shooting during a battle at hazy figures briefly peering out through the trees – those are two very different things. Especially when those figures are firing back at you, and with mortar shells exploding all around. The need to re-tighten the loosening scope mount after every 3-5 shots also doesn’t inspire confidence in my accuracy. However, based on the fact that I am still alive, I can conclude that the opposite side has "experts" of similar caliber. 
    The second APC, under the cover of infantry and mortars, moves to the first one. The mortar shelling intensifies. Judging by the timing and spread of the explosions, we are being shelled by light infantry mortars located right beyond a nearby hill. Quite accurately, too – the shells are landing just behind our trench. They’re probably afraid of hitting their own, that’s why there are no direct hits on our position. With a sense of relief, we take cover in the bunker. Handyman still manages to jump out between the barrages, to scan the area for some Ukes creeping closer during the shelling. As expected, they aren’t that crazy. Our Kiddo is a real imbecile sometimes. In a good sense. He reports that the Army is towing away the damaged APC using a second one. When some Nonas[10] join the shelling from a few kilometers away, it becomes clear that the fun is over for today, the Ukes have admitted the failure of their attack and are pulling back to their camp at the T-shaped crossroads. ...
      While all of us are relaxing after combat (even Grim grumbles something unintelligible, but apparently approving), the restless Handyman runs to the main crossroads. He returns, shouting: "It’s a f**king mess there! And two dead! It just flew into their dugout!"

    Curiosity prevails over fatigue, so I go to see. So...
    “F**king mess and two dead”, indeed. The checkpoint is completely destroyed (direct tank fire, no joke), and the surrounding area – well, not the lunar landscape, of course, but the forest was whittled down somewhat. I come closer to the blown-up bunker. Since some genius had built it with an entrance as wide as the bunker itself (in other words, there were only three walls), the two guys inside had no chance when the shell landed right by the entryway. Damn shame. One guy was literally torn to shreds, and the second was not much better. Apparently, they had died instantaneously.

    While walking, my habit of analyzing things latches on to the impressions of my first real combat. I come to the conclusion that we – the entire company covering the crossroads – were just lucky that the man in charge of the outpost had turned out to be Grim.[11] Otherwise the bad guys would’ve quickly reached the crossroads, after which, judging by the activity of the remaining platoons of our company, the fight would have been over.

    After dinner we go to the other side of the road, finding boot prints, empty cartridges, bullet holes in the trees, and some bandages. And traces of blood, which is a satisfying thing to see.

    At sunset, Grim looks at Handyman with cunning Italian eyes: "Son, I know you have it!" The mysterious “it” turns out to be a hidden bottle of homemade hooch, bought in a nearby village. The first shot is for the dead guys. The second one is for our squad, because we acted properly
    in our first fight, everybody survived, no one chickened out or fell into a stupor. After that, the drinking stops, so I go to the half-blown-up kitchen for water. War is war, but you’ve still got to brush your teeth and wash your feet, if you intend to keep going until victory.

    [1] The KPVT is a 14.5×114mm version of the KPV heavy machine gun for armored vehicles. It has roughly twice the power of a .50 cal, and often uses high-explosive ammo. It’s more like an autocannon than a machinegun
    <unrelated video of an APC firing the KPVT - ed.> 
    [2] The PKM is a 7.62×54mmR modification of the PK general-purpose machine gun
    <PKM perforating a BMP-1 husk at a shooting range. APIT ammo is a problem for light armor - ed.>

    [3] GP-25 is an under-barrel grenade launcher (UBGL) for the AK series of assault rifle
    [4] RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher
    <and this is why you should watch the back end of your mate's RPG - ed.>

    [5] Armored personnel carrier
    [6] The RPK-74 is a 5.45×39mm light machine gun, a modification of the world-renowned AK-47
    [7] The two main reasons for the Donbass rebellion were: 1) the decision of the Ukrainian government (after the coup d’état of February 2014) to ban the official usage of Russian in local
    government, mass media and high schools, and 2) oppressive economic policies (raising
    taxes, enormous administrative regulation, seizing of people’s lands for fracking
    projects, etc.). Basically, the only difference between the people of Donbass
    and farmers in Oregon is that the federal government isn’t trying to make the
    Oregonians speak Ebonics instead of English. Well, not so far, at least.
    [8] Armor-piercing incendiary bullets
    [9] The Dragunov sniper rifle, a semi-automatic sniper/designated marksman rifle chambered in
    [10] The 2S9 Nona is a self-propelled 120 mm mortar based on the aluminum hull of the BTR-D airborne multi-purpose tracked armored personnel carrier
    [11] “Grim” is the old militiaman in the famous photo, where he’s holding a children’s toy from the MH17. The mass media slandered it as “looting”, of course, but he was merely saying “Look, they
    killed children!” –

    Here, I'll add the biographies of participants, from another part of the memoir - I think they're rather illustrative. Remember that these men were in the (presumably) one of the most combat-ready units of the Slavyansk brigade, which at the time was the largest and most combat-ready resistance group:

    Grim –
    Despite his largely unimpressive appearance and age of fifty, a real Man of War. Born and bred in one of the southern regions of Ukraine, he is proud to be a descendant of Italianimmigrants of the 18th century to Novorossiya. He has an Italian surname, and even some relatives somewhere in Italy, which he went to visit once. A man of strong conservative views, a sincere Christian (Orthodox), a Russian patriot. 

    He went to Kiev to the Antimaydan there, and lost two half-fingers in clashes with Maydan activists (someone tried to cut off his arm with a chainsaw). The only person in our squad with real serious combat experience (and one of the two in our company, thesecond one being Prapor).

    He fought as a volunteer for Transnistria and for Serbs in Bosnia. Knows perfectly how well to use a rifle, a machine gun and a grenade launcher. When he has a knife (or even if he does not) a lot of tough guys would be wise to avoid physical arguments with him, too. Before the war he was a brigadier of longshoremen.

    My communication with him rather quickly became unimaginable without quips like the "Monkey,crawl back up your tree!" Or "What, is it customary in Africa to..." (Then followed some stuff, which, in his opinion, I got used to doing in Africa). I, however, retorted without much hesitation with something like, "The opinion of the Arab community is very important to us," or "It would’ve been much easier for you to understand, if your head wasn’t a solid piece of the same wood." But this was all friendly banter.

    Handyman –
    Young blond lad from some small town near Donetsk. A slacker and a troublemaker like no other, while unbelievably handy, thrifty and highly inventive (for which, in fact, he received the nickname). Before the war, he worked as a plumber. Despite his young age, he had twice visited certain government facilities, both times for joy-rides. Shows some “gangster” behavior, but within permissible limits. Can show examples of outstanding (I would even say, too outstanding) courage, but stubbornly sleeps on duty, despite regular “reprimands” from Grim. 

    He considers himself a Russian, but his main motive for joining the militia was "Donbass won’t kneel before Kiev and Lvov." To put it short, he is quite a unique personality.


    Mosquito – A coal miner from Makeyevka, almost forty years old. Quiet, tranquil, stubborn, can hold a grudge. Fond of friendly get-togethers over a beer. From the first days of the Rebellion was a party to all active events, including the capture of the Donetsk Regional State Administration. Political views – a moderate, left-leaning conservative. He was constantly worried that his teenage son, whom they sent to some relatives in Russia after the war began, would return back to join the militia (that, in the end, did happen). Basically a common man, of the kind that built our whole country.


    Marine - A retiree from Donbass. He served for three years in the [Soviet] Marines, being enormously proud of that fact. Often tried to avoid heavy lifting, using age as an excuse (that was understandable, but, sometimes, annoying). What's funny, he got really offended when someone else showed initiative like "Marine, do not lift that log, you’ll have a backache again." In such cases it became a matter of principle for him to prove that he was still strong. Loved to cook, often went to the forest to pick mushrooms, despite frequent shelling.

    So, a Russian blogger I talk to wrote a book about his experience fighting in the UA civil war, and translated it into English. I have his permission to share some of it.

    Here's a link to an older version of the book, chapters 1-10 (basically a third of the whole thing).
    The translation there would be slightly worse, but still very readable:

    The whole e-book can be obtained from the author quite cheaply, but he's still thinking how exactly he will set up selling English translation, and talking to publishers. If/when it comes out, I'll add the book title here, feel free to look it up.

    Also, obviously, the views in the book represent only the author, and not me. We agree on some things, and disagree on others.

    - Tatzhit


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    Item Reviewed: Memoirs from combat by Slavyansk: "Notes of a Freedom Fighter" Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Tatzhit Mihailovich
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