“To Fight by Their Side Was an Honor For Me” – Testimony of a French Volunteer


Translated from French by Tom Winter

Sergio is a Frenchman who went to the frontline at the end of June to fight with the rebels of Donbass until mid-August. He tells us a true testimony which radiates nobility and humility of a man responding to the call of his heart.

A big thank you to him!

“I’m nowhere near being a high-level military specialist; I’m a plain 22-year-old French student with a modest measure of military experience in the French army. I am originally from Donbass, and I still have family there.

What’s going on right now in Donbass is an enormous injustice. Europe and the United States are going after the Russian-speaking people of Ukraine who have the misfortune of not being in accord with Maidan. They pass them off as “terrorists,” and massacre them.

Once you know the truth, you can’t stand aside with your arms folded — it would be cowardice. One who knows the truth of the matter has a moral obligation to act. So as soon as I could I left for Donetsk hoping that my scant military experience could help the local people defend against the aggression of the Ukrainian army.

I got there at the end of June and showed up at the SBU, one-time building of the Ukrainian Security Service. It has become the base of the Russian Orthodox Army. There were weapons for 30 people, but the unit had 200! New volunteers arrived every day, but there was nothing to give them. Most were locals, many of them young people with no military experience, but with the firm will to win. Former servicemen took over the job of leading, but you could count them on the fingers of one hand. For example one veteran first class, from the Ukrainian Paratroopers, became company commander.

I expected to leave for Slavyansk with some other volunteers, but they suggested that I stay in Donetsk to help chiefs to form and organize their unit. They convinced me: I became their instructor.

I had to train people using four safetied AK 74s. Every day, morning till night, different sections would come and I would show them how to use the gun, and also taught gun safety for accident prevention.

Like many heads of a unit, I had a growing accumulation of jobs, and was getting three hours of sleep a night. I was soon in charge of 20 people and took care of their training as well as for the others. Come night, I arranged the watch of four armed guards to cover the building’s entrances.

Later, when the combatants at Slavyansk retreated to Donetsk, our unit moved to a military base near the airport.

Our new mission was to hold the Peski station. We were right at the front. I continued training the guys; the terrain was suited for explaining the basics of combat, so they learned to move about so they could give each other tactical support. They started shelling our block; there were casualties, and I left with a small group to direct our return fire, ensconcing ourselves on a man-made mountain (Donbass is a mining region, and there are lots of these.)

Mid-July, Ukrainian tanks crossed the block position and starting firing on us. Then some reinforcements arrived and we went on a tank hunt. The fighting was going on all around, and there were some cases of “friendly fire” [tirs fratricides]. I ended up with a unit of the Vostok Battalion. One tank came out of a turn toward us at full speed, 25 meters off, and had time to get off some shots at us and cause some casualties before being destroyed.

We finally retook the block post with the help of our own tanks. Next day, the shelling again, spot on, and us with no cover. I had to lie spread out in a ditch since there was simply no shelter at all. All night we were surrounded in a Volvo truck garage. Next door, a service station was on fire, and the fire spread to the woods, but snipers kept us in the building. [“Sniper” is a French word!] Eventually reinforcements arrived and we had to wipe out a massive attack of the Donbass Battalion [Translators’s note: reinforcements: the advantage of being encircled is you have interior lines.] Things calmed down except the Ukrainians began shelling our base and the area all around. We had to evacuate the civilians.

The area was deserted except for packs of stray dogs; we fed them and let them help us keep watch; when artillery started, they ducked into shelter with us. After a few days of this, our base and the factory next to it were completely leveled. You’d have thought it was a film about the Apocalypse.

Later we were joined by the Cossacks from the Don, and we left to establish a base southwest of Donetsk at Novy-Svet. The villagers brought us food every day, mostly fish they had caught, and they gave us information about the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians bombed the town with phosphorous bombs — you’d see them burning through the night. They had just attacked the village, got beaten back, and then they bombarded the town to cover their retreat. This scenario was repeated every day. but when we reached their base and put some mortars on it, they got scared and left! Brave soldiers!

After that, I returned to France, leaving behind men who were organized and capable of managing combat missions against a stronger adversary. My duty to act; done. Now my duty is to inform.

The strength of the Ukrainians lies in the international politics that permit them to do whatever they want, to use heavy artillery against civilians, including weapons forbidden [by the Geneva convention? A reference to the use of phosphorous bombs, I believe]. But the strength of the Russians lies in their spirit! The Russians exhibit a great capacity to adapt, and are ready to endure the worst for a good cause. Such nobleness of spirit is rare in this world ruled by laziness and consumption. To fight by their side was an honor for me.

Translated by Tom Winter

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