January 6, 2015
Alexey Ovchinnikov for Komsomolskaya Pravda
Translated from Russian by Tom Winter
Komsomolskaya Pravda correspondents went to one of the repair shops of the Donetsk People’s Republic, where they restore war equipment that was damaged or abandoned by Ukrainian soldiers.
By repairing tanks and armored personnel carriers, prisoners help the militia — prisoners who just a month ago were serving in the armed forces of Ukraine. In the yard of the repair station, there are tens of damaged tanks, BMPs [Soviet tracked infantry vehicles], BTRs [8-wheel armored vehicles], “Urals” [off-road trucks], KrAZs [heavy trucks], ZiLs [another type of large truck]. Self-propelled guns are parked in another area, ”Carnations,” and “Acacias” [though named for flowers, these are tracked big guns, and look just like tanks —tr].
A soldier with the call sign “Crocodile” gives us the tour. “Look,” he says, “All garnered from the Ukies — pregnant!”
I don’t get it.
“Well, two white stripes on each one, pregnant!” He laughs. “That’s how we call all the Ukie equipment.” Right then, a T-64 goes roaring by. White stripes have already been painted on it.
“Aha! Another one up and running,” exclaims Crocodile. “We hauled it in a few days back on a flatbed. The engine had died, and the Ukies left it and scattered. We took the machine, based on the T-72, from the Ukrops near Slavyansk; then they got through two checkpoints with it, and we got it!
“Crocodile” again: “Generator on this one is gone — out with it and we’ll take one from a donor.” A couple of fellows in greasy overalls emerge from the tank. They nod at the flank of a broken machine, removed from its base, amidst “brothers,” “donors” they call them, the equipment that is only good for replacement parts.
From the outside, you’d think it was a professional chat in an auto repair shop, two old colleagues on the job, but “Crocodile” adds: “Those guys, prisoners. Until two months ago, they were serving in a Ukrainian armored brigade.”
They are Ivan and Seryoga, from central Ukraine. They don’t seem like torture victims, and they talk freely with journalists, just don’t name their native villages: agents have already called on their relatives, suggesting that their boys have perhaps betrayed their homeland. And there are other relatives that ideological “Greater Ukrainians” could deal with. For these same reasons, they turn away at the sight of a camera.
“We’ve got nothing to complain about,” says tank-driver Ivan. “We live pretty normally, not in a basement; they feed us three times a day.”
“Did they make you do the repairing?”
“It’s boring just sitting around. We know a bit about the equipment, so we asked for something to do.”
“How did you get to be prisoners?”
“They shattered our column on the march, and they took us. We — we’re not regular army; we’re army contractors. I went to the army so I could enroll in the university automatically, and have some privileges at registration, with a year served somewhere. But as it is, I will not see the university, probably…
Not one of us was keen to be here, but they indict kids for refusing to go to war, open criminal cases, deserters, and so on. And the officers were just itching: like they are genuine terrorists at Donetsk; they even murder their own children…
Then they picked us up at night, and we went.
“Your parents — do they know where you are?”
“Oh yeah. They call us.”
Ivan and Seryoga chat, but without taking a break, as they wrench on something, drain oil, wipe down.
“This vehicle,” says Seryoga, tapping an armored carrier, “was in our column.” He is lost in thought, apparently remembering things he’d lived through.
We wish the soldiers to go home very soon, but they do not appear happy at the prospect. We can guess how they will be greeted. Ivan lights up, and once more reminds us not to show his face. I’m afraid the SBU guys ( Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny, Security Service of Ukraine —tr) will wear out my wife. She’ll be here soon, by the way. We’ll probably live here, until my Ukraine will come back to its senses.