Ukrainian Deserter to Novorossia: “Only a Third of Ukrainian Army Wants to Fight, and They are From Western Ukraine”

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Ukrainian Army at work

January 1, 2015

Elena Aleksandrova, Rashit Romanov for Kp.ru

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

Vladimir is not telling us his last name, is not showing his face, or say what unit he served with. His family is still on “that” side, and he fears for their lives. He deserted from the Ukrainian Army to get to the Donetsk Republic, and it was a conscious choice of his. He told our correspondents about how the call-up works in Ukraine and what is going on in the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Vladimir: They came for me right at home. And said how much I would have to pay to avoid being mobilized: 1,000 dollars. There were four of them, and the conversation was a short one: either you give us money or you come with us to the mobilization center in five minutes. And three hours later I was wearing the uniform only because once upon a time I underwent a military orientation at the university and received an officer’s commission. They had no right to call me up at all because I never actually served in the Ukrainian military. I was never drafted and in any event my specialty did not correspond to the job in which they placed me.

Interviewer: So there are people who gave the 1,000-dollar bribe and avoided service?

Vladimir: Of course. There are people who are doing this right now. The people who serve are those who had nowhere else to go. Those who have no work and have nowhere to live. And that’s 90% of the Ukrainian Army. People who understand what is happening are doing their best to avoid service.

Interviewer: How long did you serve?

Vladimir: One month. The rest I spent in a hospital, due to the state of my health. Conditions at the training camp were harsh, and I caught pneumonia. I did not fight.

Correspondent: Are Ukrainian military commanders being obeyed?

Vladimir: Not at all. Especially among those who participated in combat. This is no army. I don’t even know what to call it. It exists only due to volunteers. If it weren’t for volunteers, everyone would run for home. They simply think they are better off at war than at home. Plus they are being paid for it, which is something they would not receive at their village.

Correspondent: What kind of pay?

Vladimir: It depends. The junior enlisted in the war zone receive between 5-6 thousand hryvnia. Moreover, those who were mobilized and deserted still receive half of their salary. In other words, you can simply stay home and receive money even though you are officially considered a deserter.

Correspondent: Do they pay on time?

Vladimir: Yes. At least in my unit they did. There were no delays. Of course, I can’t speak of the last month.

Correspondent: How much are officers paid?

Vladimir: I received 4 thousand hryvnia, though in a war zone it would be twice as much.

Correspondent: What about other forms of support? Food, uniforms?

Vladimir: There is practically no support from the Ministry of Defense. 90% of support comes from volunteers.

Correspondent: Is it true that many of the mobilized don’t know how to use their weapons?

Vladimir: I’ll say even more: half of those who are in the combat zone still don’t know how to use them. It’s the truth.

Correspondent: How many fight due to their beliefs?

Vladimir: In my opinion, no more than a third. And they are all from Western Ukraine. Those from the South-Eastern parts fight because they were threatened with prison.

Correspondent: And how are the relations between the mobilized individuals and volunteers? Do they fight each other?

Vladimir: They not only fight. When drunk, they even shoot one another.

Correspondent: So they drink?

Vladimir: Oh, do they drink! All of them. Both the privates and the officers. Especially during the ceasefire. They have money but nothing to spend it on. So they go to the nearest towns and get drunk. They are fed by volunteers, who also bring cigarettes.

Correspondent: Are there desertions?

Vladimir: On a large scale, around 30%. They often leave with their weapons, so as to have something to sell. Some are caught, others are not.

Correspondent: What is the age of the soldiers?

Vladimir: It varies. Some are over 50, there was one aged 62. Though they had no right to take him, since the last mobilization wave was limited to 60 years of age.

Correspondent: Did you encounter any foreign soldiers in the Ukrainian Army?

Vladimir: No. I heard of them, but never met them. There are some detachments from Poland. But I don’t know where they are based. They are mercenaries.

Correspondent: How did you end up in the Donetsk Republic?

Vladimir: I deserted from the army in order to cross over to the DR.

Correspondent: How did that happen?

Vladimir: I drove here to visit my father. I live in a different city. I was not stopped at a checkpoint because I was wearing civilian clothing and had appropriate documents. So I passed through.

Correspondent: So you simply wanted to leave the Ukrainian Army or wanted to fight on the side of the DR?

Vladimir: It was a conscious decision which I made while still in hospital. I established contact with DR and discussed by defection. They gave me one condition: come here and turn yourself in to them.

Correspondent: So now you will fight against those with whom you have served?

Vladimir: Yes, and so what? They would shoot me without even thinking about it. They wanted to shoot me just for the fact that my father is from Donetsk.

Correspondent: Do the Ukrainian soldiers know that they are killing mainly the civilian population?

Vladimir: This is an interesting question. The military leadership does not tell the soldiers anything. The soldiers simply shoot but don’t see where their bullets and shells land. They are told to shoot, so they do. They are not told what the target is, only its coordinates. And they do not know what effect their fire has.

Correspondent: What is the attitude toward the ceasefire in the Ukrainian army?

Vladimir: They are glad to have it. They would love to lay down their arms and go home.

Translator’s Note:

One always has to approach with caution any report from an anonymous source, but this one rings true in every respect. “Vladimir” does a good job of explaining the problems facing the Ukrainian army, which any army drawn from a society as divided as Ukraine’s would face. Just as thousands of Ukrainian soldiers stationed in the Crimea simply became Russian soldiers following Crimea’s joining the Russian Federation, so in this case there will be thousands of Ukrainian soldiers who, even if compelled to serve, will nevertheless take the first opportunity to desert, often weapon in hand, to Novorossiya. The Ukrainian government’s insistence that there are Russian forces operating in Eastern Ukraine is in part motivated by its desire to cover up this sad fact.

One of the interesting aspects that “Vladimir” brings up is the question of who is actually funding the Ukrainian military. Much of the funding comes from private sources, in other words, the Ukrainian oligarchs. It is doubtful that the average Ukrainian citizen has all that much spare income to contribute to the war effort. However, as the saying goes, “whoever pays the piper calls the tune.” In practical terms it means that the individual Ukrainian army formations owe their loyalty not to the commander in chief, President Poroshenko, but to whoever happens to be paying their expenses at the moment. This goes a long way toward explaining why Poroshenko seems unable to control his own military. Even though he may have signed the Minsk Agreement, he cannot discipline his own commanders simply because his not government is not the entity maintaining the army in the field. And individual oligarchs may have their own views on the ceasefire.

The final item of interest is the reference to the “foreign fighters”, Poles in this instance. There are reports, even photographs, on Polish nationalist web sites showing Polish fighters in Ukraine, fighting against Novorossiya militias. If true, it may be that Ukraine will do for the fascist movements of Europe what the war in Afghanistan in the ‘80s (or the war in Syria right now) has done and is doing for Islamic fundamentalism around the world. These “foreign fighters” in Ukraine no doubt want to return one day to their home countries and apply their experiences. Once they do, Europe may see a wave of fascism not seen since the 1930s.

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