— Where did the war find you?
— On our operational site near Zolote-Popasna, where we deployed back in June 2021. This was our sector, where we performed tasks for eight months. It wasn’t high-intensity battlefield, well, static warfare: skirmishes happened, marksmen shot, mortars shelled. You never knew what would happen next. We also had losses there, four guys died. We were getting ready for force rotation in March, packed our things to go home, but in the last third of February we became apprehensive of something bad coming. It had already been in the air. It was clear that preparations were underway.
And on February 24, at 3 o’clock in the morning, the brigade was put on the alert, and everyone took up their positions. The first incoming shelling occurred around 5 in the morning. We came under fire of MLRS «Smerch». There were many wounded on the first day. Our tank was knocked out, and two crewmen died. But there was no panic, only the thought: what to do next. Our brigade commander toured the positions, calmed everyone down, set people to work: «Guys, hold on, everything is fine, we were preparing for this.» For the first two days, their artillery and aviation mostly worked, covered us with bombs, they used «Tochka U» (Soviet Army tactical missile system). Almost all types of weapons were used against us.
— They wanted to mop you up as much as possible, didn’t they?
— Exactly. Their shelling was pinpointing, they knew the location, because the war had been lasting for more than a year… Our guys were ready to stand to the end. There were no cases of desertion, abandonment of a post. They occurred later, speaking frankly, when conscripts were coming. Civilians, who had not served before and took up arms in their patriotic impulse, were called up. Their first explanation as to why they had left their positions was like this: «The tank drove at us — but where is our artillery, where is the aviation? We were abandoned!» You explain to them that our artillery is behind us, that it’s working. Artillery men really worked in three shifts, 24/7. I can confirm this because I was at the command post. Of course, the enemy had a 10-15 times advantage in artillery. We did not count the personnel, but they were just swarming at us.
— So, after two days of shelling, the enemy began advancing like hordes?
— Yes, they were like hordes. We were stationed near Zolote, there was a checkpoint. Of course they destroyed it on the first day, but we had cameras and we could see the road. We see, the convoy is moving: trucks, tanks, APCs, and «liberators» are coming along on both sides. They thought that we would raise our hands and surrender, and people would greet them with flowers. But it panned out differently from what they figured. We busted the f*** out of them then. About 30 units of equipment were destroyed on this day alone. Our intelligence reported that their wounded moaned and screamed all night, and no one took them away. Many of them lay down there. If we compare the losses for the entire period of armed hostilities, we killed the enemy four times bigger than they did. We took revenge for our comrades.
Although there were different situations. There are still many who we could not take away. An entire platoon got killed near Popasna, the enemy entered there, and it was impossible to even take their bodies out… This is war. And parents mostly understand this. The mother of our dead boy calls and asks when we will bring her son. How to tell her we don’t know what was left of him there? You know, at such moments something is gnawing at my heart …
The boys crawled to take their dead brothers-in-arms out, and came under fire, and they remained there. Four our boys got in a car and left, no one returned. We flew a copter in the sky, but there was no traces left. No car, no boys. Two months have already passed, and no one knows anything, whether they are in captivity or alive… When we had already held Popasna for a month and a half, the Kadyrov troops came there. Our intelligence reported that they get instructions (from radio interceptions) not to take POW («prisoners of war») from the 24th brigade. They were really furious with us, that is, we kicked their asses.
— Has the war changed in these six months?
— Russia still sticks to World War II tactics. Nothing has changed for them. Their entire inflated «second world army» is a big propaganda soap bubble. They come in hordes. They have a brigade-combat team, and in this way they push forward. We hit them with surgical strikes. Our tactics have changed a lot. We could not fight like them, because we have less forces and means, as well as a larger frontline. Therefore, we acted in smaller groups, but two tanks and three APCs supported us. Plus, drones helped us a lot. When you can see battlefront, it helps control the fight. This war is not a «Hurray!» and all rank-and-file rushing towards enemy’s positions. Now it is mainly a positional war, a war of drones and artillery. The Russians also had their «Orlans», but all spare parts for them came from abroad. And the sanctions have crippled there a lot. Now they can’t make their own drones because there is no technology — they simply won’t fly with the Soviet Union’s technologies. Imagine what it would be like to fly an old Soviet TVset into the sky with all its parts and microcircuits. So from this point of view they fall behind. They did not expect that we would make such a stand and completely outplay them technologically.
— How did we manage to get this advantage?
— Through encouragement to improve. Before the war, we even received a telegram that said: there are smart guys who can come up with some good ideas and improvements, which will make it possible to save the personnel and make it easier to conduct the war. For example, make the same mounted machine gun portable and use a remote control so that the fighter does not stick out with the trigger. That is, the use of all kinds of innovative technologies was encouraged. The guys made some kind of frame with their own hands, we wrote a request and a committee of professors came, who reviewed, evaluated and made some improvements there. Such measures were carried out at the state level. Because otherwise there were no options. You yourself understand what Ukraine is like — and Russia, which is 28 times larger in terms of its area, and in terms of human and military resources. Today, the whole world admires us, and this is not pathos. Because no one gave us more than three days, a maximum of a week. And we have been holding on for half a year and, thank God, we are doing well. Little by little, I think, by the New Year, we have to expel all that scum. Because the holidays begin then, and Ukrainians are used to celebrating at home.
— For more than four months you fought in Donbas, now a month in the South. What are the peculiarities of warfare here and there?
— There were defensive battles. We were sitting in the trenches; the enemy was advancing. His tactic was as follows: the tanks come out and start firing at everything above ground level. Everything is levelled to the ground. Next, the artillery works, and then the infantry advances, under the cover of the same tanks. As I said, nothing has changed since the Second World War. But the problem was that when there were many wounded and killed and only 4-5 out of 30 personnel remain, we couldn’t physically withstand the influx of a hundred. Therefore, we dropped back, meter by meter, sometimes 20 meters, retreated, dug in, because there was nowhere to hide. Then those trenches and dugouts were destroyed, there was no way to stand. So we retreated little by little. Our current tactic is offensive. Now they are sitting in the trenches, and we are advancing. The biggest trouble and problem is that they are entrenched. During these six months, they filled their positions with concrete.
Defense and offensive are two different types of combat. During the offensive, there are very high losses, because you go forward, you get under enemy fire, and those who fire at you are sitting in the trenches. In addition, now they have taken into account all their mistakes, they also raise drones into the sky, see who is advancing, and then artillery starts pounding. However, in the last couple of days, we no longer feel such superiority of their artillery, as we did before. When we were holding Popasna, our gunners, for example, fired 5 shells, and 40 came in response. They had a very big advantage. Now they are already starting to save.
— Are they running out of ammunition or do they have problems with logistics?
— Both. And what ammo is delivered is not enough. The fact that bridges were blown up is a very big advantage. Let’s hope that soon the Crimean bridge will also be blown up, and then we will be able to boldly move forward. Their morale is already lowering. Their army is based mainly on mercenaries: Wagner Group, Chechens. Those who deliberately went to earn money. The Buryats did not even hide this. We got captives from Siberia, the Altai Territory. We asked:
— Why did you come here?
— They promised us 60 thousand rubles, and otherwise where can I earn such money. I didn’t kill anyone; I was on the third line.
— How much were you paid?
— 20 thousand, they said the rest we’ll get later.
That is, they are not all keeping well, and we only benefit from this.
But in general, it’s not much fun. Because you lose comrades-in-arms, you lose people who slept by your side and share food. And it is very tough. If, God willing, our conversation comes out, I want parents to hear: it’s a shame when we are reproached – «you have survived», «why are you alive»… It’s so unpleasant. When we lose our comrades, it is a so terrible loss for us. Well, but we have to move on. Because if we give up, we will lose the country.
— You recently went home on vacation. What are your impressions?
— To be honest, I felt like Tarzan who had arrived in civilization. Something like that. It’s so unusual to see so many people in civilian clothes. They just walk around, music is heard from somewhere, shops open. No one hides, no one dodges or leapfrogs. No shooting, no explosions… It was unusual. I came home — and I really like loud music — but I didn’t turn on anything at all. Here, in the war, you have to be constantly ready, constantly waiting for something, listening to every rustle and sound. And in civilian life, it then comes to the surface.
– Don’t you feel exhausted from the war?
– Well, there is fatigue. Of course, I want the war to be over as soon as possible, I want to go home, see my children, and somehow get out of a habit of staying sharp in case of incoming strikes. Sure, I want. But only after victory. Our boys died so that our children could live well in a peaceful country, so that there would be no war. Therefore, so far, we are holding ground, we must hold ground.
— Is the war with Russia for a long time or will we manage to break it? How do you feel?
— I have only one feeling — Russia should simply withdraw to its borders by 2014, liberate Donbas and Crimea. When will this happen? I think in the nearest future. Russia will not stand for long. I hope it all ends this year. I already mentioned that one should be home for the Christmas holidays.
Of course, these are optimistic plans. But if our partners continue to help, it will not last for long. When we retreated after the defense for recovery and new people came to us, we were afraid that these people would not have to sit in the trenches, but go into the assault. We were worried if they could. But a few days of the offensive showed that they not only could – they go, take positions, knock out that scum, and the armored assets can’t keep their pace. Even the equipment cannot go as far as an ordinary soldier. If we have weapons, ammunition; artillery, aviation work… Today, thank God, our aviation flies every day. So that you understand – sometime in April, the first news came that our plane would fly so that we would not shoot it down. And then we all climbed out of the basement to see what our plane looked like. At that time, we did not have aviation support. Aircraft performed their tasks in other sectors of the front. Our heroic boys from the 24th brigade took the blow and restrained the horde so that fewer troops went to Kyiv and Kharkiv. And we coped with that task. Now we will give them the bum’s rush. And I hope that will serve them right and they will never dare to come to our land again. Leave us alone, we are building our state ourselves!