Photo: Yuri Velichko

Oleksandr Sarabun, codename “Vinnytsia”, “Donbas” battalion, Mohyliv-Podilskyi

When World War II veterans were still alive, there was such a man called Misha who survived the captivity, escaped twice, and tried to return in different ways, but he was almost condemned for being a prisoner. I remember clearly how on May 9, he put on his greatcoat, on which he had a couple of medals, sat near his house, and cried. I asked him, “Misha, why are you crying? This is Victory Day after all!” And he told me, “Boys, the Soviet Union is the worst evil in the world.”

I did not know that history repeats itself. When it all started, I felt that I did not want to go back to the Soviet Union, to the “friendship” with Russia, where there was this superficiality “you are khokhols, and we are Russians.” And when it all started in the Crimea, I immediately decided everything for myself. Either on March 3 or on March 4, I was already in the military commissariat, where I filed an application. I thought that they would immediately send all of us to the war. But it was not the case. During the first wave I was in the military commissariat, we were making copies of all documents, were summoning people once again, and were revising documentation.

July 2019, Vinnytsia region Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

Before the war he had been a builder. He was a volunteer, was fighting in the “Donbas” battalion, was breaking out of encirclement near Ilovaisk. His right leg was fractured by a large-caliber machine gun, and he was captured. Three days later, he and other soldiers were exchanged for Russian war prisoners. In Dnipro Oleksandr’s leg was amputated. In August 2015, he returned to the army walking on a prosthesis and was responsible for the material provision of the unit in the 46th “Donbas-Ukraine” battalion. He heads the “Patriot of Ukraine” organization, which helps war veterans and families of those who were killed. He is divorced and a father of three.

My road to the war was very long. I was sent to the 1st tank Honchariv brigade, wrote down my name with a pencil, without any documents. They left my military identity card in Vinnytsia, gave it to some officer, and he went home. I came to him, and he said, “Take it and go wherever you want.” I went to the Vinnytsia military commissariat, and they told me, “Fuck off, this is not a military service record card, and who the hell are you?!” Then I went to our military commissariat, where they asked me, “Where were you going?” I replied, “To the “Donbas” battalion”, “So get out of here and go.”

I will never forget that “corridor”. There are such special moments which you just remember, and there are some that you will never forget.

I called there and was told that they needed people, there were 5-6 places left, “if you manage to get here in 5 days, then you will join the NCO of the “Donbas” battalion. I arrived at 8 in the morning, said my last name, they wrote it down, and I became the last person enlisted. At that time, they were already forming the “Crimea” battalion rather than the “Donbas”. This battalion was sent to Stare (the village where the National Guard training base was located editor’s note), where they began to form the “Golden Gate” battalion. Then, I do not know how, “Tur” and the deceased Lyonya, codename “Bronya” [Armor], got in touch with “Filin”. Filin said, “If there will be more than 20 people, I will take all of them.” There were 29 people. In the “Golden Gate” I was already enrolled as a platoon commander. I was already responsible (even though I did not know about that at the time) for AKSU and a pistol. I had not even held them in my hands, but they were already registered for me. When I said that I was going to the “Donbas”, they started putting pressure on me at the “Golden Gate”, saying,” this is a special unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.” There was also a cossack Havryliuk. He was making the most fuss there, “Brothers, brothers…”. But he was immediately sent in the right direction, and this was probably the right thing to do.

* Mykhailo Havryliuk is an activist from the Maidan. In January 2014, he was stripped and tortured in the cold by members of the special unit of the internal military troops, who later posted a video of the torture. In October 2014, at the extraordinary election of members of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Havryliuk was elected people’s deputy from the People’s Front party. During his tenure he was not really drafting laws, but instead got married, bought a car and an apartment, went on vacations abroad, and managed to get ashamed by beating up a journalist.

There were 28 or 29 of us, someone had sent a bus, and we drove to Artemivsk from Stare. I do not know how much time we spent there. I remember that we were going to Ilovaisk for our first battle. We spent the night near a school in Osykove village. There was no weapon left for me, so I was given an entranching shovel. I was looking at it and thinking where I could possibly go with it. And the guys were also making fun of me, laughing, “Well, “Vinnytsia”, congratulations! You will be baptized by fire while holding an entranching shovel.” Lyonya “Bronya” gave me a grenade and said, “If anything happens, this will blow you up.” Then when we were at the base in Kurakhove, “Tar” and “Vosmyi” arrived and brought us two boxes of weapons. I was given an AKS with a grenade-launcher attachment, but for some reason that attachment kept falling off. I fired once, flew forward, and the attachment fell out behind. Then “Tar” found a kevlar helmet somewhere. I still have it at home. The now deceased “Filosoph” [Philosopher] (who was burned in a tank in the 93rd brigade) gave me some Canadian uniform.

August 28, 2014, 6:42 pm. Ilovaisk, the evening before leaving the “green corridor”.
Vinnytsya carries ammunition. Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

I will never forget that “corridor”. There are such special moments which you just remember, and there are some that you will never forget. The first thing I remember is when there was a tough bombing; I approached “Zubr”. He had once been a chaplain at a Protestant church. I told him, “Zubr, pray for us, I have a feeling that not all of us will return from this place.” He took off his helmet, sat down on ammunition boxes, put his hands together, and started praying. Someone sitting on the side grunted, “Yeah, like this prayer is going to help you.” I remember clearly how I hit him with a helmet and advised him to pray for his soul. And the next day he was killed. I saw men carrying his body covered with a blanket. This is when I realized that there is God.

We left early, everyone got into cars. There was me, everyone responsible for intelligence, all “Tur’s guys”. Lyonya “Bronya”, “Monakh” [Monk in Ukrainian], “Ryba” [Fish in Ukrainian], and “Biker” sat beside me. “Zubr”, “Tar”, and “Max” were sitting in the car. There were also some guys from “Kryvbas”, and men from the 93rd brigade were jumping in on the go. They came up and said, “Guys, our machinery was destroyed.” I remember saying then, “Wow, so much machinery, but why didn’t it go there?” But half of it was out of order. When columns were standing in Mnohopillia some officer – shabby and dirty – said, “Guys, they were firing at us so much here that half of the machinery is done.” And another guy asked to get into our car; for some reason he thought that I was in charge. I said, “Then get in, if you need to.” All of them got inside and we started.

August 29, 2014, 6:29 AM. Mnohopillia , the Ukrainian military column is being built to exit. Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

And then for some reason we stopped in the middle of a field. They said that negotiations about some “corridor” were underway. The guys started saying that there had already been a “corridor”, what were they still talking about?! And before that “Tur” said that all bulletproof vests had to be hung on the side of the truck, because if anything happens, “at least you will have an opportunity to hide behind them.” I was sitting near a wheel. “Bronya” and “Monakh” were sitting next to me. Two mines exploded, and everyone started shouting, “What the heck, what kind of a fire is this?” Then the columns started moving. We were leaving, the road was heading into a forest, and they (Russians – editor’s note) were sitting in front of us, waving. Well, probably forty meters away from us. It all looked rather strange, they were waving at us, we were waving at them. I did not think that such a horrible thing would start happening. And when we heard explosions, Lyonya “Bronya” said, “Let’s get dressed.” And Lyonya was without a helmet, because he had given it to “Zubr”. He told him, “Zubr, you are our driver, you need it more than I do.” He actually saved “Zubr’s” life that way, because a grenade fell on Zubr, and this helmet saved him.

We started moving, and I heard that Filin started shouting, “Attention! We have to all break through with a fight. An ambush!” That is, we had been deceived. Then “Tur” repeated the same words. “The column, drive forward!” And the explosions started. One explosion, the second one, more and more; I even could not hear “Tur” anymore. Then I found out that he was gone.

I was horrified and in a temporary stupor: there was a “GAZelle” in the column, and there were two KiAs in it, wrapped in blankets. Either an SPG or a Fagot fired at it. This was a dropside car, not closed. One guy immediately fell out of it, and the one who was closer to me was falling out of that “GAZelle” and burning. Then everyone started to fire in all directions. “Monakh looked through a sniper rifle scope and saw that we had killed the enemy’s renowned colonel, because after the fire I heard them shouting on their walkie-talkie, “Fuck, they killed the colonel!”

There was also a bekha (an armored personnel carrier – editor’s note) there, it was getting out into the open, firing several rounds, and hiding. Well, they had entrenched there well. There was a guy with us in the car, I do not know which brigade he was from. So he took an RPG, loaded it, and hit that bekha. “Zubr” (the driver – editor’s note) was weaving from side to side all the time. It seemed to me that five minutes had passed, and it turned out that everything lasted an hour. And that is when it all began. First Lyonya was killed – a shell hit his head, then “Monakh” started shouting that he was injured. Something hit the car. “Zubr” started leading out. Then there was another shot somewhere in the back…

“Lord, if you help me get out of here alive, I will change my life and will live in a completely different way, I will not do things I was doing before the war.” And God either took pity on me or showed mercy, but I got out of there.

I got down on my knees, picked up either a rifle or an assault rifle, and started shooting. I have no idea where that young boy came from – his weapon either got stuck, or he was reloading it… For six months I saw those eyes in my nightmares after that day. He was so young, fair-haired, with no helmet. He was only wearing uniform and a vest – as if he was going to a demobbing. He was standing there pulling on that assault rifle, and I shouted, “You are done, katsap [an irreverent nickname of Russians].” Bang-bang! I threw a grenade straight at his face. He fell to the ground, and then I heard gunfire and felt severe pain in my leg. “Zubr” stopped the car and I fell out of that KrAZ. My leg fell to one side, and I fell to the other side. Dima “Skiff” ran over to me and started dragging me with someone. Katya, a nurse, and Alina ran over to me. They looked at my leg and saw that there was a hole in it, and fractured bones were sticking out. Already at a hospital, when we were evacuated, it turned out that there was also a hole in the bladder. The girls sat up bandages and made some injection. Sasha “Haydamak” used a window jamb to set up a frame. Then I took it off because there were nails in it. All of this was happening near some huts. I opened my eyes and saw a KAMAZ driving straight at me. The driver was from the guard company; his legs were broken. I was lucky that there was a concrete pillar next to me, so the car hit it instead. Then the guy was pulled out of the car, and this KAMAZ was set on fire. I saw that his legs were broken, but he was alive.

December 2015. “Vinnytsya” in service in the 46th battalion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine “Donbass-Ukraine”.
Photo: Yuri Velichko

“Tar” and I lay there. I had a grenade in a side pocket of my bulletproof vest. I took it out and put it under my butt. I was sitting there crying and told “Tar”, “This is the end, we’re done. “Tar”, I am sitting on a grenade, I will not be captured.” I said, “Sorry, my dear daughter, daddy won’t come back again.” It was so scary. Then I calmed down a bit. I thought, “Lord, if you help me get out of here alive, I will change my life and will live in a completely different way, I will not do things I was doing before the war.” And God either took pity on me or showed mercy, but I got out of there.

“What the fuck are you doing? They’ll kill us all!”

We could already hear shots here and there.

“Who leaves the wounded? You are an officer after all. How can you do this?”

I do not remember what was happening next. I remember some forest, huts, and a small vegetable garden. A tree, a machine gun, two spam cans (a metal box in which ammunition is stored – editor’s note) of ammunition, and two volunteers who were sitting and smoking. They were either in a stupor or simply did not care what was happening. I started screaming and they were not responding. I shouted at them, “Shoot!” and they said, “Get out of here.” They left the machine gun and got into the house. I climbed under the machine gun, started shooting, not seeing anything. I used those two spam cans up.

The fire ceased. I saw Roma rearranging his machine gun, the guys digging trenches. I crawled into the house. There were many soldiers in the hallway, I said, “Fuck, help me, drag me into the house, I can’t go up the stairs.” Some officer yelled, “Pick up the fighter, because he will be killed outside the house.” The wounded Lyonya “Ryba” lay under a tree covered with bulletproof vest, like a turtle. They pulled me in, I almost lost consciousness, because they did not lift me, they just dragged, and then put me near the door.

And I heard in a walkie-talkie, “Enough, just give up and go out, we will not shoot.” There was me and another man lying in the house, but he died. His shoulders were severely injured; there was no chance for him to survive. Meanwhile, explosions started. They were chaotic. One of the shells hit the house. I said, “Fuck, come on, kill us already, just don’t whistle here.” The attic was hit twice. Dima Kulish (“Semyorka” – editor’s note) later told us that the house burnt down. And the man who had died was left there.

July 2019, Vinnytsia region Photo by Maks Levin

Everyone seemed to surrender, soldiers were getting out. Two guys ran over to us, they seemed to be Russians. It was noticeable that those were not separatists. Where would separatists get an AS Val rifle and a cool assault rifle with a fire transfer handle?! Those were young guys, probably 20-25 years old, working under a contract or something. There was a flag of Russia on the uniform of one of the men, but except for that, I could not see any identification marks, since shoulder straps were wrapped in white cloth. One of the man said in Russian, “Oh, there is a wounded guy here,” and the other replied, “Well, fuck him anyway, he’ll walk on his own.” And they ran out of the house. I had goosebumps and thought I would die there.

Then there was a moment I will never forget. I crawled out of the house because the shooting started. I thought that we had to get out, otherwise we would be done. Lyonya, “Ryba” lay there, and there were also some other wounded. “Syenya” (Serhiy Vasylkov) was crawling, wrapped in some sweatshirt, and holding two magazines in his hand (the deceased “Vosmyi” had given him his pistol – either a TT pistol or a Stechkin automatic pistol – before the exit). He lay wounded in the KAMAZ, it is a miracle that he survived. I still do not know whether I got out of there myself, or fell out, or someone pulled me out. So, Syenya was crawling and shouting, “Bitches, don’t even think about surrender, I’ll kill everyone!!!” He was wounded, a missile broke his legs. And he was still crawling and shouting this. He is now safe and sound and lives in Lozova. 

And then I heard a phrase I will never forget. Everyone who could run or walk was there. I crawled to the hallway. And “Gal”, Anatoliy Vynohrodskyi, whom I will consider to be a real bitch for the rest of my life, said, “I was on the talks with the Russians, they gave us 60 minutes to take all the wounded and dead and leave. But I made a decision that we’ll leave under the radar.” I said, “What the fuck are you doing? They’ll kill us all!” We could already hear shots here and there. “Who leaves the wounded? You are an officer after all. How can you do this?” He looked at me, they headed behind the house, and that was all. Katya (a nurse – editor’s note) came running to me and said, “Vinnytsia, sorry, this happens, we are leaving,” and took off.
I cried and said to Syenya,

“What shall we do, bro?” Syenya replied, “Crawl.” “But we’ll die. It’s hot, cause it’s August. Either heat or gangrene will kill us in the field.

He said, “Bro, at least we will die as free men, and not in captivity.”

Then Sasha “Haydamaka” ran over to us and started crying. I said, “Sanya [shortened from Sasha], why didn’t you leave?” “How can I leave knowing that you are dying here?!” How can I live with this?”

I think this was a heroic act, after which “Haydamaka” was accused of being a coward, even though he should have been given a medal. “Sanya, but how are you going to save us? You are alone, but there are many of us.” “Tar” was beaten up and lay in the basement, and there were also “Monakh”, “Syenya”, “Ryba”, and I. He went to the Russians, and they told him, “Oh, you are from the “Donbas”, and he replied, “No, I am from the cops battalion, I fell asleep here at a checkpoint and woke up in the morning, there were explosions, and I was the only one left here.” They said, “We’re not interested in cops.” He said, “There are wounded there.” The Russian officer “Lisa” first wanted to refuse, “How will I take your men, if so many of my men are already wounded. My men are dying, and you offer me to take yours.” Sanya replied, “Take them. At least they will die with the Russians, cause otherwise they will be tortured by separatists.” He said, “Okay, bring them here, but if they die, this will be it.”

When they were carrying us, I had to throw a USB stick, a SIM-card, and a cell phone away, because they checked everything. There were a few things to find. “Syenya” shouted, “Fuck you, I won’t give my chevron away, I’ll kill everyone.” I said, “Bro, you will buy a new chevron, but you can’t buy life. If they find out that you are a volunteer, they’ll kill you.”

They thought that they were fighting with the special forces. They shouted, “Who are you?” I said, “I’m just a builder.” “And where did you serve before?” “In the Army.” There were 1,000 of us there, and they counted 5,000.

They brought us to the Russians. I saw our broken KrAZ lying on the ground and two burned bodies. Later I found out that those were Andriy “Bravo” and Lyonya “Bronya”. And there was a sweet and mawkish smell. There was a piece of burnt body on the grass near the road, and there was a cracking sound inside it. I do not know who that was. I sniffed and asked, “What is it?” One of the men said, “This is the smell of a burnt man.” I still remember that person’s smell, ant it brings tears to my eyes…

“Lisa” said, “Well, now your life depends on this “Gal”, where the heck is he?” And later he was walking around and telling everyone how valiantly he got almost 40 people out! Soldiers ran over to us, “Who is this?” “Who is this?” And someone said, “The wounded ukrops from Ilovaisk.” The men shouted at him, “Fuck, you should have killed them, they had killed so many of our men!” They started recording video on their cell phones, and someone told them, “Did you think they were a sheeple? They are warriors, they know what they are dying for. And what are we doing here?” I thought, “Holy shit! A Russian man is saying such things.” 

September 4, 2014. At the scene of the shooting of the Ukrainian military in the “green corridor”.
Photo: Anatolii Boiko

It was getting dark. They said that they would take us to Rostov, would give us some medical treatment there, and that we would be tried as the enemies of the Russian Federation. The Russians did not conceal the fact that they were the Ulyanovsk Airborne Force squad, showed the AS Val rifles, told us that they had been waiting for us for three days. They said if it had lasted for one more day, they would have just left. When we were asking about the “corridor”, they replied, “No one was actually going to let you go.”

I asked them to give me some injection, because it hurt a lot. They even gave others water and cigarettes. But they did not want to give me anything. “At least give me a piece of tourniquet to fix my leg, I understand that I am an enemy for you, but there must be some kind of a code.” They gave a piece of tourniquet after all and I fixed my leg with it. 

There was one man there, who said, “Well, ukrop, your leg is getting black, they will either cut it off, or you will die before they exchange you.” And “Ryba” told him, “So finish us off. You thought I’d beg for mercy. I knew where I was going to, I’m a warrior.” He said,

“Here is the difference between us and them – we bury our men, and they do not even beg for mercy. They are ready to smell corpses of their men, so that only to be with them, whereas we bury our man in a forest, like dogs.” 

And then they said, “Lucky you, ukrops, you will live, we have an agreement to exchange you.”

When I was taken out, I was slowly growing weaker. I was losing conscience all the time. It was September. We were taken to a field hospital near Zaporizhia by a “chopper”. Doctors were running around, one of them was constantly falling, turning the wounded over. He said, “Fuck, how many of them are there?” And the doctor told him, “If you continue to talk shit, I will send you to where they came from, just continue to carry them.” Then I was brought into the operating room. There was a woman in a surgical coat there, I told her, “Mother, can I just die already, this leg is torturing me so much.” And she told me, “Son, hold on, where is your phone?” I said, “I threw everything away when we were captured.”

And the leg began to look like cola, it was very dark and already stank. The doctor said, “What stink is it?” “It’s me, doctor, it’s my leg.” He said, “Wow, bro, gangrene is already starting. Can you call home? Where’s your SIM-card, where’s your cell phone?” I had been there for three days, and I kept the SIM-card in my mouth during all that time. It is a mystery how I did not swallow it and how it did not dampen. I took it out, the woman went to check whether it was working, and when she came back, she said, “You won’t believe – you have 170 sms and 190 missed calls.” 

Out of all the phone numbers, most calls where from Alla Serhiyivna, our mayor’s wife. She was the only person who knew that I was in Ilovaisk. She led me through all the battles like a mother. My sister, brother-in-law, daughter, and many other people had also called.

Then we were brought to Dnipro. I was thirsty and cold all the time. They carried me in an ambulance. There were two young women there. I said to one of them, “Hold my hand, I want to die so badly, and you’re so beautiful in your white coat.” She started crying, “Don’t die. How old are you, 40?” “No, I’m only 35,” I said. 

And the other woman said, “Dear Lord, what did you go through there, that you aged so much in two weeks?!”

I was brought to the operating room at the hospital. The doctors cut us – “Senya” and I – on two tables. They said, “Life or death? If we leave the leg, there is no guarantee that we won’t cut it off in a year, but there will be inflammation of the blood and you will die. Or if we cut the leg off, there is a chance to save you.” I said, “How will I live without a leg at my age?” But I signed a document in which I consented to leg amputation. “Cut his vest and belt and take them off him.” I took him by the hand, “Take them off. But I will not allow you to cut the vest and the belt, because those are the only things left from Ilovaisk.” He said, “You do not look like a dying man, you are so strong that I cannot even take my hand away.” I still have that vest. I had been going to a construction site in it, it was covered in putty a little bit, and I got through the war in it. I said to my kids, “When I die once, give it to a museum.” However, they did cut my pants, but kept the vest intact. They also cut my shoelaces, took my boots off, and the socks were already gone, as if they had dissolved. They poured something resembling hydrogen peroxide on my leg. That was all. Then I woke up without a leg.

July 2019, Vinnytsia region Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

On the third of September volunteers came and brought me a cell phone, I called my brother-in-law and said, “Serhiy, I’m okay, my leg was cut off.” Then I heard something falling to the ground. My sister lost consciousness. Later she was undergoing treatment for a year, because she had seizures. She fell, Serhiy brought her to her senses, and she said, “It is good that you are alive. One can live without a leg.” Then I called my ex-wife and said, “Please tell the daughter what happened and that I am alive, just without one leg.”

I came home. I was in a lot of pain, I could not handle it, so, I made injections of nalbuphin and tramadol. I became a beginner drug addict. I tried to kick the habit on my own. I switched to two injections a day and was mixing nalbuphin with analgin. My sister and daughter had most trouble with me. I was threatening my daughter with a knife. Then I told her, “my dear, daddy is not making injections,” after which I hid somewhere and made an injection. It was a pity that she saw that.

Photo: Yuri Velichko

Once I got really scared, because I mistook something meant for toothache for analgin. I made an injection, everything went numb, I started crying. My brother-in-law took a look at the ampule and said, “This is supposed to be injected into teeth, to numb them. At least mind what injections you are making.” And then I could not sleep at night, I had nightmares. 

The kid (daughter – editor’s note) was sleeping, I was looking at her and thinking: “Damn, what will happen next? I’m a disabled person, without a leg, and a beginner drug addict, I have a young daughter – what can I give this child?” I decided that I had to quit. At two o’clock in the morning, I called my brother-in-law and said, “Serhiy, the situation is as follows, we need to go to Vinnytsia, I’ll be kicking this habit, because I’ll either get on the bottle or die of overdose somewhere in the bushes.” The next day we went to a narcologist in Vinnytsia and talked to a doctor. He took a look at me and said,”I do not see the point in putting you into a hospital. If you got to this point from four times a day on your own, then you can do this by yourself.” He prescribed me some pills. I still made injections of nalbuphin, but slowly kicked the habit.

2016, Mogilev-Podilsky, Vinnytsia region Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

Then I went to a Walking School in Austria. I came back from there on a prosthesis, leaning on a stick. I decided for myself that if I was taught to walk the way I wanted to, I would return to the ATO zone. I watched a video about an American man who was without two legs. It was told there that disability is “not a shortcoming, it is a challenge to yourself and the society”. So I thought I could find myself in this fight. And there was a desire to revenge all those who had been killed. I did not know that the war would become so calm, I thought we would drive them all the way to the Ural.

I came to Petrivka, and one general told me, “Vinnytsia, if you want, stay here, we will find you a place to live, you will peruse papers in the headquarters.” But I replied that I wanted to fight on the prosthesis. He looked at me closely, “I respect this, but I don’t know… Filin is forming the 46th brigade from the members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, if you want – here’s Lermontov’s number, call him.” This was in March. I called him, and he said, “Hello, and who are you?” I said, “My codename is “Vinnytsia”, I was one of “Tur’s” men, “Vosmyi” was my commander, I would like to continue service.” He said, “You don’t have one leg?” “What kind of an amputation was this?” “On the thigh.” “I’ll give you Filin’s number, you will talk to him, if he agrees to take you, then come.”

«Filin told me to come in April. I was so inspired, I only had to lie to everyone that I was not going to the war. I started telling them that I was going to a warehouse and that it was 100 km away from the war zone. On April 10, Lermontov called me, “You can come, we are ready to take you.” I arrived on April 16; there were probably 30-40 people in the battalion, 10 tents. I came to Filin’s office, and he said, “Vinnytsia, frankly speaking, I do not know what to do with you, but since you are already here, you will not be receiving wage in the beginning, because nobody has yet come up with a job for the disabled.” And at that time the state was giving me UAH 2,700 of allowance. For four months, the battalion commander was arranging for some post for me, and during that time I started climbing on armored personnel carriers and tanks, and fell off them several times. I could not get rid of my stick for a very long time. Without it I was walking straight, whereas with the stick I was tilting over. I was struggling for two months before I threw that stick away and learned how to walk without it.

December 2015. ” Vinnytsya “in service in the 46th battalion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine” Donbass-Ukraine “.
Photo: Yuri Velichko

I put on a bulletproof vest, a helmet, jumped into an armored personnel carrier, fired an RPG, an SPG, and a DShK. I tried walking in a swamp with a DShK on my shoulder, but I got stuck in the ground, the leg was lifeless, like a frog.  At the Alliance (military training – editor’s note) I climbed to a height of 20 meters on a prosthesis. The guys went across a ravine, whereas I went forward, holding an assault rifle in front of me, without a bulletproof vest. Velychko (Yuriy Velychko, who was the photographer of the “Donbas” battalion at that time – editor’s note) looked at me and said, “Oh, these will be some priceless shots” and took some pictures of me. These shots, as motivators, were everywhere on the Internet. I was told, “We won’t take you, cause you won’t be able to climb there.” “Yeah, right, you wish I wasn’t able to climb!” I would not climb over the ravine because it was very steep, so I decided to climb across gas pipes.

I was told, “Vinnytsia, why are you here, I do not understand.” I am drawn there. The last time I came to the battalion I stayed there for 10 days, and all that time Lermontov was trying to put an “explosive belt” on me and send me to a checkpoint. He asked me, “Vinnytsia, why do you live, you have no leg”. This was his black humor. And I said, “Great, I have no leg, so let’s make me a suicide bomber and send me to die, or what?!”

December 2015. ” Lermontov ” and “Vinnytsya”, 46th battalion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine” Donbass-Ukraine “.
Photo: Yuri Velichko

Alyona Solovyova invited me to Mariupol to take part in the Games of Heroes “Power of the Nation”. She told me, “You’re an interesting one, so come.” But I did not succeed at the first competition, I overextended myself. I am not a professional athlete after all. I tried, but fell and dropped out of the race, did not make it. I decided to try my hand at sports instead. I started attending a local gym.

I am currently studying at the Vinnytsia University, I will be a junior social worker. I will be defending my diploma paper on Monday, and then I will transfer to jurisprudence. I think I will receive the rank of a lieutenant when I will be approximately 42, and then I will be registering guys like me.

I sent my son to undergo compulsory military service. He told me, “Cover for me.” “How will I cover for you? I served myself, I was in the war, and you want me to cover for you. I you want, then do it yourself, I won’t cover for you.” He said that he would serve, but only in the unit where I served, in Petrivka. But in the end, he decided to sign a three-year contract. He signed it, and 8 months or a year later went to the ATO zone. In a manner of speaking, the son replaced his dad.

There you understand how short life is. A bullet flies, 3-4 seconds and you are done. And if you survive, you can live wisely with your family. Before the ATO, my son argued with his mother, could even yell at her. When he returned from there, I asked him, “How’s your mother?” “Mom is the best.” He said, “I came under fire there, and now I love everyone and want to live.” I thought that I realized the same thing.

I still have an old crucifix from Ilovaisk. I already fixed it with a rod and glued it. When we were in Kurakhovo, people came and gave us those crosses. But I did not wear it. It fell off the day before the “corridor”. At that time Andriy “Bravo”, Lyonya, some other guys, and I were sitting in a pit. I said, “Guys, my crucifix fell off, I have a bad feeling.” Andriy replied, “Vinnytsia, it’s bad that it fell off, not everyone will get out of here”. And see what happened…

We have not overcome them yet. The war is not over. It will be over when they lay down their arms. But if we lay down our arms, there will be no Ukraine.

But if we lay down our arms, there will be no Ukraine. They will either tear us to pieces or just split us in half. I think it depends on each and everyone. If we band together and drive them away from here, we can succeed. Everyone says, “Why don’t they end the war?” And no one asks, “Why doesn’t Putin get out of here?!” I do not regret that we have shown that we are indeed a great nation, that we have hammered such an aggressor country. On the other hand, the price is very high…