Ostrog city. July 2017
Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

Chernykh Vitaliy, codename “Fitil”, born in 1993, senior lieutenant of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Right after my graduation I appeared at the war of 2014. At our military school we were supposed to receive a vacation leave and only then to be sent to a combat duty location, but at that time there was such an exacerbation that we had to go right away. Young lieutenants were gathered in Cherkaske, there we stayed for several days, and then the unit commander called and asked whether we were ready to defend our Motherland.  My friend and I replied that we would go. They filled up staff vacancies; we were told that our task would be to mine with remote operation. At that time no one was mentioning any booby traps, it wasn’t allowed to use them; although the separatists were often using them.

My first combat engagement happened already near Pieski, when this town didn’t belong to us, when it was neutral. In such a way we were moving ahead liberating two-three settlements a day.

I took part in the assault on Avdiyivka, we also dropped in the airport but not for long, for about 2-3 days, when everything was still calm there, but mine-strewn.

I had one teacher, a soviet type of a person, who once said: “You are killers. But you are going to kill not for money but for your country”.

So there it was in my mind, thus I knew that if it was necessary then it meant that it was really so. Was I a volunteer-fighter? Well, one can say so. Something is changing but in a very complicated way.

Now I am on combat duty at the military registration and enlistment office. And everything is just the opposite – decaying. Mobilized people are asking: “What for should I be on combat duty? Three years ago people went there and they were betrayed so no one will go on that duty anymore”.    

Vitaliy Chernykh. Ostrog, July 2017. Photo by Maks Levin

When everything (the conflict – edit.) started I was a student and was watching it on TV. The first loses were even among our graduates. The main stimulus is to go in order to prevent it from coming to your home. Ukraine is an indivisible and integral state, so I understood that I had to save it.

I was not supposed to be in Ilovaisk as we were mine pickers. We were brought there on the 8th of August when the assault was planned. We were in the third-fourth column. I remember when we discovered that shot KAMAZ, and the mine-infested bridge which I demined.

Then was the battle action near Mnohopillia, August 10th or 11th, and we dropped back as they were perfectly dug-in. 

1On the 14th or 15th of August Khomchak ordered to take the town from three sides, I was coming with “Donbas” as my commander had ordered me to do.

I was astonished by their blindages: 1.8 m in depth, from the top there was a reinforced concrete slab, on the slab there was a log, on it there was one more overhead cover and on top of everything there was 0.5 m of soil. Even if we had shot them with the nuclear weapon we could have never thrown them way from there. It is possible to do only with infantry.
Photo: Maxim Dondyuk

There was one moment which I remember well. I was sent to Hrabske from Ilovaisk to bring a company of “Azov”, it was 7.00 in the evening, the sun just started going down. But they refused to go with me explaining that it was already “dark” outside. Then their commander came and said that they had been order to go back to Starobesheve. And later it turned out that they went to the ceremonial parade in Kyiv. They had decided that it was too hot for them in Ilovaisk.

What I did to help Ilovaisk outlast was to explode the railway track. With Yurko Dobryi and Roman Zinenko – they were covering me.

At that time I was all the time with Filin (the battalion commander of “Donbas” – edit.), he was my commander because Semen (Semen Semenchenko – edit.) had been wounded.

I also clearly remember how it was at school: the locals were hypnotized: they were thinking that we would eat their children. I am giving her (a local woman – edit.) my last combat ration and she is asking me: “are you going to eat our children?” Well, of course, I’ve come here with the only aim – to eat your children.
Photo: Alexander Glyadelov

From the 28th to 29th of August I was already living in a house near the school, the owner allowed us to. We were cutting hens and eating jam because we had run off our combat rations and we were trying to survive in any way possible.

At first we decided to go out in ZIL, then we got an out of order VAZ-2103 Zhiguli and repaired it, however later on during our leave, near Mnohopillia, it was stalling.

Private homes near the school where the Ukrainian military was based. Ilovaisk, August 28, 2014 Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

On the meeting Filin ordered me to leave with “Dnipro” at 4.00 in the morning with the headlights off. When we were leaving for Hrabske we were being shot from left and right. There were no loses in Hrabske, we reached Ahronomichne where we were being covered with mortars. We thought that these were the separatists but later it turned out that these were Russians.

We started moving to Starobeshevo and entered some village, we turned right and everything began… They were shooting from all the sides. I saw that everyone started going into a ditch. And there I had a soldier saying:

“Comrade Lieutenant, let me shoot!”

“My dear, start not just shooting, but firing with everything possible”.

Finally something had hit our car and four of us got out of it.  We jumped onto Ural, but again something had hit it and we were thrown away by the explosive wave.

Two of us jumped onto BREM car (armored repair and evacuation car – edit.): one didn’t have enough time to do so and my soldier got lost somewhere. Then we jumped back to look for them – I cannot leave my people. And again something hit this armour – all died. It happened when we tried to go through the third entrapment. 

“Fitil”, covers the dog’s ears to keep out the sounds of battle. Fight at the 2nd block post near the school, Ilovaisk.
August 26, 2014. Photo by Maks Levin

Then there was some silence, I got onto tabletka (the UAZ-452 – edit.) belonging to “Donbas” battalion, there were 19 of us sitting literally on one another. We reached a high point between Katerynivka and Starobesheve. We had lots of WIAs in the car. I personally had 2 wounds: one from the AGS on my arm and a bullet wound on my lip, – but my adrenalin level was so high that I felt nothing.

So, we stopped on that crossroad; regrouped into the cars and went off. While descending for 1.5 min we received three more WIAs. The colonel of the 51st brigade fell off, one fighter received a through bullet into his head, and then two KIAs – every one of them received a bullet. My soldier also died: he received 6 or 7 bullets into his bullet-proof vest.  

We drove down and they were shooting in us. Finally in Katerynivka only 9 of us were left in the car. Aviation, “Grad” – a terrible rattle was all around. It seems there we were fed with potatoes, it was impossible for me to drink water because of the wound on my lip so I was pouring it into my throat. I collapsed, at 11.00 in the evening I was woken up: we needed to go out of there. One senior lieutenant introduced himself to be an intelligence agent; we went out of that house and ran while it was still dark outside. Then he changed his mind and said: “It’s better to be in captivity”. Russian snipers were all around in camouflage net and ghilie suits, they were echoing one another.

There were five of us and we were navigating by the stars. Cell phones were turned off, we were walking till 9.00 in the morning, and then we reached the highway Novoazovsk-Starobesheve, had a nap in the wood line and continued our way to Olenivka where the 51st brigade was located. In the evening we were picked up by the 74th separate intelligence battalion and brought to Olenivka.

Then I made a telephone call, some people came from our military unit and took me to the camp at PPL. That’s how I found myself in Kharkiv hospital and in three days I was sent home – by plane we were taken to Rivne hospital. And there I met my wife…

My classmate invited me to her place and there I met my future wife. She escorted me everywhere.

Vitaly shows traces of injuries. Ostrog city, Rivne region July 2017 .
Photo by Maks Levin

I received the Order of Bohdan Khmelnytskyi and many other awards. In 2016 I was recognized as the best commander of the engineer and sapper platoon of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

What do I think about the war now? I think it is not an antiterrorist organization but a war and we must advance. Yes, it is extremely complicated for the economy and our population. Even if there were no Russian army approximately 400 thousand people would suffer. All the enterprises should start operating under the war conditions.

Our country is divided. We cannot look for compromises. We must fight and prove that we are right, in particular at courts and in The Hague. We must do everything correctly so that our children know that it was the liberation war. So, that it may become a lesson for our descendants: we cannot trust anyone and we must think about ourselves. I hope the authority of the country understands that it must care for the army and transform it. Without those soviet methods as they are doing it today.