July 20, 2015
Translated by Kristina Rus
Fighting continues along the entire perimeter of the front line in Donbass, despite the ceasefire. People are dying, including civilians. The correspondent of the “Russian Reporter” had a heart to heart conversation with a Ukrainian officer on duty, occupying a significant post at the headquarters of the ATO, about the war, the ceasefire, ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ citizens in this war and the desire to end this madness.
— What is the mood now among the officers of the Ukrainian army?
– I don’t think any of them are happy about the war. Being constantly in a battle environment, very few people experience positive attitude. I think the command staff segment, which is always at the front, had already clearly decided for themselves – if they are shot at, they will shoot back. But to go on the attack… well, no one is going to do that and no one wants to. Decent people, who have preserved their dignity and honor, are just looking forward to resolve this situation and hope that our country will have enough intelligence and political will to stop this nonsense and rampage, this fratricidal war.
— Can you name the people in power, able to influence the resolution of this situation?
— To identify these people is very difficult. We are seeing a healthy trend, but, unfortunately, a critical mass of idiotic decisions is a lot bigger. This is where the healthy trends are buried. As well as in populism and senseless bloodshed. Today a slogan prevails among most politicians “War to the last Ukrainian”. And that’s because they illegally occupied a niche in society – first rose on the blood of Maidan, which was subsequently exacerbated by the blood of soldiers and officers, which they ruined in the war with Donbass.
— They say that this war is between Russia and America. What do you think?
– I could talk about this topic, but actually, I just want to go home. Every soldier wants to return to the normal pre-planned human life. Nobody wants to continue to produce victims, shoot to no end, to prove something with deaths. Maybe it is my personal opinion, but I, at least, revolve in a circle of people who share it… I guess, there are difficult questions swarming in the mind of president Poroshenko. In the mind of the chief of staff. In the mind of the commander, who stands on the front line. It’s not so simple. The situation has been drenched in too much blood.
— But the average person thinks that it’s easy to end a war. To do this, you just need to abide by the terms of the Minsk agreements.
— One man joined a voluntary division of DPR and LPR, coming from the Far East. Another one joined the volunteer battalion from the Sumy region. Now they are shooting at each other every day. How can they simultaneously understand and accept the terms of the agreement? If before comrades were killed, injured. How can all of this be stopped with two words of politicians?
— And can you pull heavy weapons? To pull people to such a distance, from which they will not get each other?
– If it were that simple, all wars would be over after ceasefire agreements. But history is replete with agreements, when stuffed politicians gathered in cosy offices. Coming out of these offices, they are photographed in front of reporters, give voluptuous interviews – tomorrow daisies will bloom in place of minefields. Only for some reason the daisies are not blooming. Because every war has certain stages. And soldiers can be lead by the whim of their own emotions – some do not forgive the death of his comrades, some think the losses are irreplaceable, clearly identifying those who are to blame for these losses. But each side is tired of war. People who once participated in the armed conflict, when they had to shoot, and they were shot at understand that the laws of logic don’t apply to war. War is a complex process, and you cannot expect that it will develop according to some plans which have been developed by the General staff.
— And at what stage is the war now?
– This is another stage of creeping schizophrenia. Those who have never been professional soldiers, took up arms a year ago – and in war a year is a lot – and learned that they enjoy this state of affairs very much. They have already started to taste its advantages. A professional soldier who knows about the effects of the first shot, understands that no one wants peace at any price any more.
— No one?
– Officers for sure.
— Who do you mean, saying – “those who have never been professional soldiers”?
— Both sides. Both sides have people who understood that a gun gives you the opportunity to take some presentable niche in society, which they could never have in civilian life in peacetime. For this group of people weapons provide unprecedented opportunity. Some of them just feel like a tough guy, hiding behind some ideological goals. They think of themselves as warriors of light, which are busy bringing the good to the world. However, with a gun in their hand…
— Are you talking about Ukrainian volunteer battalions? Are you not on the same side with them?
— The volunteer battalions, which I personally encountered, stood with us shoulder to shoulder. They did their work honestly, not doing any side things that accompany every war. But I know that there are other examples. All volunteer units merged into the security structures – National Guard, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, some of them joined SBU.
— Do you support merging into your ranks of those who a year ago was very far from these structures?
— The prerogative to give a weapon into the hands of a certain category of people should remain with government. Volunteer battalions, rather, were the cry of the soul of society. But perhaps the time has come when their existence should be legalized. There is a law, and it clearly attributes the punishment for violation of certain norms. It applies to the volunteer communities too. But the establishment of such a legal base is a complex social and political process.
— Is Russia the aggressor or a peacemaker?
— I don’t think about Russia at all. I have enough to think about without it.
— For example, about what?
— The people for whom I am responsible.
— Should the soldier understand who he is fighting with?
— I know who I’m fighting with.
— With whom?
— With the person who shoots at me from the separation line.
– That’s it? You have no common image of an enemy?
— Now do you want me to demonize or visualize the enemy?
— At least at the level of DPR and LPR.
— According to a clear definition of the country’s leadership, LPR and DPR is the territory of Ukraine temporarily occupied by armed bandits.
— Two weeks ago I was riding the train from Lvov, in a platzcart car. There were eighteen year-old mobilized guys. If you didn’t send them to die, then at least to fight the enemy. But if the officer of your level does not see a clear image of the enemy, then how do you explain to them – who is the enemy and what they are going to die for?
— …Enemies are people who prevent the government structures from reaching the legally defined borders of our state. No matter in what uniform – blue, green, with a gun or a laser sword. They do not recognize the laws of my country, and prove it with uncivilized methods, and with the help of weapons, which they turned against their country, where they had the honor to be born and to live.
— And what are the civilized methods?
— If a legislative framework of the country where you reside is unacceptable to you, you take your loved ones, sell the apartment and go to the country that suits you. You like Mordovia? Go to Mordovia.
— And what if it is ninety percent?
— On a given territory? …Then you need to choose deputies to local councils, the Verkhovnaya Rada, lobby their laws. This is civilized. Civilized is everything, which we can emotionally talk about in spacious offices, even if in this office there will be a broken face of a deputy. But when out of flower beds in the center of town they make tombs to the unknown soldier – it is no longer civilized.
— Did you start thinking so emotionally after participating in this war or have you always thought like that?
– I have always thought so emotionally. I knew that our country is multinational. That there’s freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. Just wasn’t ready that it will be defended so revolutionary.
— I will tell you something. Sometimes on the outskirts of Donetsk they find unexploded shells with twisted fuses. With words “Helping as we can”. How do you feel about that?
— I took a note of it and felt sad.
— What’s sad? Shouldn’t we be happy that someone does not want to shell a city?
— Doesn’t want to shoot?
— Does not want to kill.
— Well… No one cancelled the alternative service. You can go to those hospitals where lie the wounded without hands, without feet, to clean the buckets. Just go and clean a bucket. To say “I’m tired of the deaths. I can’t do it anymore. I am the worst gunner”. And find another use. If you’re a soldier and you’re in the trenches, your business is to fight.
— And what if it’s one of the soldiers, I saw on the train? Plucked from a poor family living in a village?
– Tell me any country ready to go to war on its territory. When in two villages, split by a separation line, live people, who yesterday went to each other’s homes for New Year, Christmas and May 9th, if you wish. How can you prepare for this?
– For what?
– That tomorrow I’m going to kill someone I went to school with. Because he watched too much TV, and I watched too much TV.
— What, in your opinion should the war end with?
— All wars end with peace – even if flimsy and shaky. Even with the countless number of disabled – physical and mental. Even with an abyss years long between former classmates, fellow students, cadets of military schools.
— Peace on what terms?
— You ask this question to the person who took the oath to his people. There is an official position of the government. It is clear: DPR and LPR is the territory of Ukraine temporarily occupied by illegal military formations, which we cannot control. How it will end? Probably some sort of political solution. While the first Minsk and the second Minsk lead to at least a finale of the active phase of the war, when everything flies, whistles and explodes. When a tractor driver, plowing the field, looses both legs and wheels from the tractor. If the patient is shaking in agony, it’s silly to think how to treat him – with oak bark or chamomile. You just have to stop the agony and save his life.
— The population of Donbass is afraid that the victory of the UAF will mean for them a personal persecution. Many families have militias. A lot of the population supports DPR and LPR.
— Let them support it. However, despite their support, they still send their children to study in Kiev, and on vacation to Odessa. And do not fear that at the first UAF checkpoint their children will have their heads cut off and have it eaten right there. Whatever you call us? Ukrop?
— …The armed forces of Ukraine is not a bunch of punishers. These are people who already had enough fighting with their own people for a year, skillfully warmed up by someone. Let’s go back to medical terms. The patient still struggles in agony. His body has not even gotten a clear diagnosis. Oak bark can’t help it… You want me to say: “The Armed forces of Ukraine are very bad, they shoot in the direction of Donetsk. And the young and developing republics DPR and LPR are doing absolutely fine. Because if you got hit on the right cheek, you turn the left, but don’t answer with a package of Grad”. But there are losses on both sides.
— You repeatedly said the words – “your own people”. When shots are made in the direction of Donetsk, they strike not the military, but residential houses. Residents of Donetsk – are they your people?
— Perfect. Let’s maybe talk about where do the comrades from DPR choose their firing positions? I speak of evil – as the process of war. We have already raised the issue that when one of the volunteer battalions walks into the village, they do things soldiers shouldn’t do. But I can name examples with the participation of the young warriors of light of the young immature republics. Stepping into a village, which they are going to defend and to conquer, to bring them light and peace, what do they do? Why do their people – the locals – hide in the cellars?
— Because there is shooting.
— Why are people in Donetsk caught after curfew and mocked? Prohibited from drinking alcohol? What kind of freedom is this?! If alcohol is sold, why can’t I use it? Because a man armed with a gun, should decide when and where do I go? I live on my land! I walk in my city! Drunk, if I want to! Why should I sit in a cellar for breaking the rules, not prescribed by the Constitution?!
— What is the Ukrainian army doing now?
— What do you mean?
— Maybe got some new American equipment and learning to use it?
— The army has three states, combat training, combat operations, everyday life. The army is now engaged in combat training, which it has not been involved in for twenty-two years, for which at this stage it is paying a big price. And did the army receive new equipment… Yes.. From the best manufacturers in the world. But not to destroy their people. But to make it clear to those who are trying to further inflame the situation, that it will be hard to do.
— Make it clear to whom? That’s why I’m asking you to visualize the enemy. In Donetsk – your people?
— Those who are civilians?
— Those who are in the militia.
— “Yours” — what does that mean?
— Are you a Ukrainian?
— Of course.
— They are Ukrainians too. I am a Russian. For me it’s harder than for you to call them “his people”. Are they your people? The people of Ukraine? Yours personally?
– …And why do they invite the a great helpers from Buryatia? Can’t the Ukrainians hash it out with the Ukrainians themselves?!
— Americans come to you too.
– Americans will take up arms and stand beside me in a line up? America is too rich of a nation to allow its soldiers to die on foreign soil. There are no Americans in my unit. In our country illegal military formations are banned
— Do you think the militia – with Ukrainian passports – is too numerous to call it a formation?
– It seems to them that there are a lot of them. Actually, they are lonely. And no one wants to help them except for Ukraine. If they lay down their arms, then they will be needed to restore what they had done.
— Do you believe that?
— I certainly do.
— Believe that Russia will allow it?
– And why am I supposed to think about Russia? …… Let these militia who spit on the laws of their country, change their swords to plows. Stop the kopanki [illegal mines]. Stop cutting high-voltage lines. And they shoot at their fellow citizens. Ukraine is a country, recognized by all the countries of the world. And who recognized Transnistria? Except Zimbabwe?
— When is the next round of war?
— Well, if the country’s leadership, which leads the negotiation process, will continue their intense rest on vacation, the next round of escalation will be soon. And when – knows only the God of war.
— In Odessa there were recent arrests. Do you know anything about this?
— Recently, the country’s secret service did a lot of work. Many of their activities very effectively influenced the suppression of the development of certain formations the type of DPR and LPR. Have you read about the Bessarabian People’s Republic? And about the Kiev one? …We don’t want people dying en masse in Odessa as they are now dying in the Donetsk region. No one wants the children to play in the sandbox with artillery shells.
— Their parents think so too…
– But they say we are to blame, yes? In parliament there is an entire opposition bloc from Donetsk and Lugansk. They don’t produce anything except a silent consent with the new laws. But these are the chosen people, the best representatives of their communities. Something needs to change. Shooting at each other is not the answer… You know, officer – is a status. Officers come out after training at the higher military school. Morally and psychologically officers are being prepared for war as a job. He is told – if incompetent politicians lead to the need for us to carry out our responsibilities, these responsibilities lead to losses.
– So you are ready for losses?
— You cannot be ready for them. And, especially, to the death of civilians. But there is a psychological preparedness that the war is not pretty. But I am talking only about the segment, which has the status of an officer. I don’t lie to myself with the thought that the man who is hiding from shelling in a basement will see me as a friend and liberator. Likely I’m his enemy, from whom he hides with malice in the heart, most likely in his own basement. He thinks that someday the truth will be on his side. But he will endure and be silent while I have a weapon in my hands. It’s not very good, because he is a citizen of my state. So it is doubly hard. It’s hard for me to think that we are holding some line of separation, that we have temporarily occupied territories. It’s hard for me to understand that the guy who talks to me in one language and has a passport of the same color with mine, shoots at me, and I have to shoot at him. But I must shoot at him. Not because I am so bad. And not because he’s so bad. But he broke the law of his country. You cannot take up arms! Even if there are tens of thousands, as you say.
— Would you like the ceasefire to turn to peace?
— Very much so. Because then I’ll stop burying my comrades… Do you consider it a weak argument?
— Were the lives of your comrades worth the territorial integrity of state borders?
— I will not answer this question.
— Answer this question.
— The answer will help you better understand yourself.
— I don’t have hate for anyone. I know the price of my command to my unit to start shooting.
— That is, their life was worth it?
— I didn’t answer your question and I am not going to… All of my friends were professional soldiers. They made their choice long before the war. They loved their profession and were preparing for this war, which they did not know about… If they are not here with me now, it means they have done their duty. Unfortunately, in war, soldiers die. But who will fight, if not a soldier?
The views or opinions expressed in this article may not represent the position of the translator or Fort Russ