Viktor Savchenko in the office. Patrol police, Dnipro.
July 2017
Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

Viktor Hryhorovych Savchenko, Codename “Instructor”, Dnipro City, “Dnipro-1”

I was not on the Maidan, I belonged to “Sofa’s hundred” but I supported it with my soul: a lot has to be changed. The Crimea annexation in March became a detonator. Then they said it would go on and I didn’t want this to happen. That was the main reason why I went to the military enlistment office in early April with my military record. A deputy chief enlistment officer looked at me and said: “You work, so pay the taxes and thus help the country.” Age limit had not yet been raised at that time being 42 years, and I was 45. I was denied. Whatever I said, in response I heard: “Sorry, the law is not on your side.”

Shortly, the information appeared on the internet that “Dnipro-1” battalion would be formed. The ad stated that would be special forces, everything was serious.

When “Dnipro-1” battalion was being formed, I wanted to offer something useful. I knew I could teach someone to drive (a car) better. I offered my training program but this didn’t work out. We went to Mariupol when we were fighting the city off, from July 12th. I did not instruct anyone.

There is another factor that influenced my decision. I have quite adult children. Son turned 27 this year. He was little younger i 2014, and he was a member of the “Right Sector”. They first pressured the regional state administration here, then, it spread to the prosecutor’s office and so on. We were constantly discussing these situations at the table. Then the question was: when will I make a decision and join some ranks?

I said I would only go on a completely formal basis.

I once served in the Soviet army, I can hold a machine gun in my hands and I have a concept of discipline. Therefore, I will definitely not go to such organizations as the “Right Sector”. When I went to the military enlistment office with the hope of formality, I did not receive such formality.

We generally agreed that one should represent the interests of the family (at war – ed.), and one would remain to protect the family. So I decided I should take a step forward and my son should take responsibility for the family. We had such a tacit agreement. When “Dnipro-1” was being created, I was one of the first to attend an interview. There were a lot of young guys competing. A commission was formed out of police headquarters representatives and partially public sector representatives.

There were people who applied for battalion commanders in the commission. Probably, eight commission members. I came and was asked my story. They said, “You understand …, your age.” I replied: “Choose any strong guy and I’m ready to compete with him. I can walk on hands and so on. ” Such was the conversation.

Money was definitely not an incentive. Before that, I normally stood on my feet, and now everything is fine. I was involved in commercial projects for whole my life: own publishing house, other projects. A police headquarters representative said at the first meeting: “What I know for sure, is you salary – 4100 hryvnias, and have no idea what will be next.” At that point, I really wanted a kind of drive.

I was eager to dive into the past, because I had a dream six months before that I was in the army again but I felt in my dream I was not young and came with experience. Usually dreams are not remembered but I remembered this one, and told my wife. And that is exactly how it happened. Really, I came to another formation, with no geek hazing, everything was different.

Ilovaisk, August 2014. Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

It is symbolic I had a machine gun made in 1968, my year of birth, and I reached Ilovaisk with it.

After the interview, I was called and told I was admitted to “Dnipro-1”, I had to get a medical screening, etc. The process of enrolling in the police started. We were told we would protect Dnipropetrovsk city and region and not go beyond it.

But the situation turned out to be completely different. We had to take a two-week course at the university, we failed to take it because there were different movements – classes were interrupted on May 9, this, that and the third. We were delivered a five-day course and we left the region.

We weren’t told we would fight at that time. Then, we realized this over the month: first the Georgians told us how to fight, and then the Israelis.

Naturally, I had to reconcile my plans with my wife, it’s 28th anniversary of being together this year. She knew it was better to let me go. I have no regrets now. I’m glad to be through it.

So we were told that we were leaving in Mariupol direction and there were already disturbances in Mariupol. We did not reach Mariupol, by the way. We were taken to some camp in Dnipropetrovsk region, where we were waiting for three days but the task was canceled.

When we were leaving, everyone was silent. The full bus of men, and the silence, everyone thinking of themselves. A young guy, a former police officer, sat next to me, took a loading case and tried to fasten it. I saw he didn’t know how to do it. He then asked me if I could show him. I was shocked. And before that Georgians just told us how to go into a room, how to cover each other, how to roll grenades. I realized there are many people on the bus who are probably holding the automatic rifle for the first time in their lives.

So, I thought, how we would fight?

The feeling was depressing. 

But a man can’t be afraid for long. I realized that anybody adapts to any stress sooner or later.
Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

When it comes to the exit from Ilovaisk, everything is simple for me.

We came under fire on August 26. There were four mines, and all four passed me.

I acted as a platoon commander almost all the time. Our commander was removed, a new one was not assigned, and I was unofficially fulfilling these duties.

There was rocket fire from Grads at night, we lay down in a basement, and we jumped out when the walls started moving and the windows breaking. Then a guy from “Donbas” — Mega — was killed. We saw everything burning. I realized I would not go down to the basement anymore because the school would fall and you would not get out of there.

I sat in a hallway of a school in Ilovaisk. I said, we can at least jump out there and there. There were the Italian and Vanka Naumenko yet. The three of us sat down, covered with a blanket, and waited for the morning. We were very cold, waited for dawn. And our car was not in the school area, but near a recharging station.

The equipment that burned down after the shelling in the yard of the Ilovaisk school. Photo: Maks Levin

I went to check the car. I slipped in there, and on my way back, something banged from behind, and I flew. I was carried away for two meters away, probably. I fell to my knees and didn’t move.

 found out later, in Dnipro, what happened. Sania went behind and saw how it was. A mortar ranging bomb fell right behind me. I was hit by explosive wave and a frag got stuck in the bullet-proof vest. There was also shell-shock.

I felt neither panic nor fear at first, only great surprise. I tried to get up, and only then realized I could not get up. Probably both legs were broken. I started crawling. Another bomb activated. But I heard no whistle, I was deafened.

I felt something hot pierced me. There was a feeling of soft penetration into my neck. The third mine finished me, I realized that was all. I was crawling, running out of steam. The Italian was crawling ahead, and I was behind him. The distance to the door was not very long, but it seemed to me that we were crawling for eternity. My arm was also broken, I did not feel it. I rattled with one arm, but somehow managed to crawl.

I reached the school but couldn’t move any further. The Italian was dragged in and I was somehow picked up.

If before I felt I was losing fainting, my strength came back then. There was our company commander Sania Doc. They started examining me in the dusk. I said I had a tourniquet in my pocket, and he was also shell-shocked, heard nothing. He was running, looking for a tourniquet. I put pressure on the arm and told the boys to apply a tourniquet on legs because the blood was just pouring.

I was dragged by the stairs, handed over to girls. The speed of aid was crucial in my case. I was lying for 2 hours, my hands were completely numb.

Victor is brought to the basement of the school. Ilovaisk, August 26, 2014. Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

We, Italian, me and Sania, were brought into Sprinter without glass and doors at 5 pm. We had an APC ahead as an escort.

There is a checkpoint right out of school, we just recaptured on Independence Day. I was in attack group of 20. We stayed there for two days, waiting for augmentation, then we were brought out.

We drove directly to this checkpoint, which was already occupied by “separs” (separatists – tr.). I realized that there was someone new at the wheel, and he went straight there. It’s hard when you’re lying like a vegetable. We were brought to the school in Mnohopillia through fields. There were doctors in the gym.

I felt not bad when I was lying, I was injected a lot. The guys couldn’t get us out of the car and put me upright, I fainted. I regained consciousness in the gym, everyone was running around. They provided first aid, removed tourniquets, started bandaging.

Victor is assisted in the basement of the school. Ilovaisk, August 26, 2014. Photo: Markiian Lyseiko

Nobody knew how we were going to get out: we knew there were two rings of entrapment. They even talked about going to the Ilovaisk hospital, which was already dominated by separs.

A nurse man said, “But you will simply rot down in a few days here.” And I relied upon my fate.

Then they decided to take us to Volnovakha and they would break through. We were brought in, an ambulance followed us, KIAs were taken out immediately. We were escorted by an APC.

We passed the first encirclement relatively easily: we fired but not much, the second encirclement was worse.
We were constantly thrown up. The guys from “Donbas” were troopers, they selflessly pulled us out.

Photo by Maks Levin

Brought to Volnovakha. Those wounded not that badly, were given some aid. They did almost nothing to me, took me out in a “tabletka” (UAZ-452) to Rozivka.

Earlier, I transported the wounded to Rozivka as well. I had no idea I’d get there myself.

I was impressed that it was just a tent from the outside, and sterile inside, serious equipment. I was X-rayed, a case conference gathered.

They knew there would be a helicopter for Dnipro, but they decided to operate under general anesthesia. They were removing fragments from my neck. The doctor said I was a lucky man – one frag stopped in 2 mm from the carotid artery. The throat was completely punched.

I was operated at Mechnikov hospital three times. I spent four months in hospitals having great desire to recover I started walking in two weeks. I thought my arm would not function but it recovered.

I am glad that the front line has settled but I understand it can shift anytime. Tanks can reach Dnipro in a day. I’m only afraid for my relatives and friends. And I’m not scared myself, I’ve overcome this barrier. You always want to live but you have to know why and how.

Photo by Maks Levin

I even feel more will to live. I realized that much depends on you. We probably downsize our significance a little. Everyone bears his part of responsibility. It doesn’t matter what you think: whether you did this or not, you just have to live. Maybe you even live for someone just to look at you, and not to make any mistakes, take an example from you. Maybe that is our mission.

At first, I returned to “Dnipro-1”, where I was engaged in transport, I wanted to fulfill my idea of teaching staff. It turned out a little differently, but I’ve managed to introduce some control measures, and now I have been working as a chief of patrol police transport department for a year and a half.

I have adapted to the defects I have because of injury. I could walk on my hands, do push-ups on the bars. But not now – my arm hurts.

The leg is constantly twisting but I know I have to constantly control myself.

I would go back to war, if there was any escalation. I caught myself thinking I wanted to come back a year ago. But there is no need now.

First of all, everything is brought into some accordance. There were volunteer battalions at that time, hinged on them. Once in 2014, we drove to one station and saw our army: ammunition boxes were open, scattered, bare-chested, dragged the automatic rifle, under “this thing” (intoxicated – ed.).

And now my nephew and friends are enlisted by contract. I know it’s getting a little better. People like me are not that needed right now. We need young, active guys.

My commercial projects have not gone anywhere: this is my wife’s business, I’ve lost interest in commerce. I’ve never thought I would be a civil servant, but now I find it interesting, I see myself here.