Memoirs from combat by Slavyansk: “Notes of a Freedom Fighter”

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




EDIT: The book has been released in English –
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HZPULXS

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.

Notes:
[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
7.62×54mmR
[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!” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZBSGorpLNc

====

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.

[Grim] 

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.

[Handyman]

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.

[Mosquito]

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.

=======

DETAILS

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:
AFRIKA14

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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