February 4, 2015
Katerina Yuzko – Liva
Translated by Kristina Rus
Vitaly is staying in one of the clinics in Kiev, where the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine go through physical and psychological rehabilitation. The “ATO veteran”, who is only 22 years old, is diagnosed with a PTSD. The volunteer soldier talks about what has changed in his attitude towards the war since he got to the front.
You went into the National guard as a volunteer, although the war was starting. Why?
Now its very hard to say why I did it. Yes, I consider myself a patriot of Ukraine, but was not interested in politics. Even went to Maidan only a couple times. My friend has long been fond of nationalist things. Even before Maidan he constantly went on all sorts of nationalist marches, attended the concerts. Other friends, too, were into it. When it all started, they went as volunteers – and me too. Let’s just say – I couldn’t not support my friends. Although we still ended up in different places. Well, anyway, it was interesting at first. It was cool – the military theme, weapons, uniform. I never served in the army.
And what did they say at work and your family when you decided to go into the national guard?
I didn’t have a job, and my parents were shocked, of course. Back then there was no meat grinder, I somehow calmed them down. Said, that everything will be over soon, there will be no “serious” war, they will make noise, scatter, and I’ll be back home. Thought so myself.
Are your friends live?
All alive and also at home. But one had a hand amputated. Learning to write with the left one.
How did the locals treat you?
In the village mostly retirees remained. The majority of those who are younger, have already left. There never was DPR in this village, but many clearly sympathized with the seperatists. We were treated poorly. I was attacked immediately by the old ladies in the store, shouted to me about the “junta”, about “fascists”, that we bombed Lugansk, and fired at hospitals. We were not welcome, in short.
And were did the young people go? In the militia?
I think fifty-fifty. Some went to fight for the “Separs” [Separatists], many people moved away from the war, not to go in the army or be taken into DPR.
Have you had conflicts with the locals?
There were, of course. We lived in tents, and then a few guys decided to stay in a house of one grandmother. The house was big, but her children left when it all started. Offered the grandmother money, to help around the house. Grandma refused out right. The boys flipped out, and moved in anyway. Grandma complained to the commander, but she was told to buzz off. Then grandma began to throw fits every day. After a couple days the guys could not take it anymore and left themselves.
There was another unpleasant incident. Came a local man with a wife, they took their children to Primorsk, and were taking belongings out of the house. The man immediately arrested, suspected as a “separ” [separatist]. In the village everyone knew him, a lot of people came to us, asked to let him go. Wife called to the resort, where their children were, to confirm that the man was there all the time. But he was still taken to Pavlograd. Don’t know what happened to him after.
In general, we didn’t feel like we belonged there. This is clear. And I went to defend these people. Cognitive dissonance. Very soon I ceased to understand what we’re doing there. Wanted to talk with the locals – what they want, why the need for “separatism”? But there was no contact. Although people are like us. I did not notice much difference.
Were there cases of looting?
Well, our people will never pass something if its in the wrong place. Everything happenned. Moreover, we got accustomed to it somehow gradually. You go into someone’s backyard, without the owners, ato take, for example, a shovel for construction, a bucket or an axe. And then you take something else. Useful in the household. It was called “trophies”. Locals knew, had seen, but were afraid to interfere. In the neighbouring village at night, while “under the influence”, a shop was broken into and emptied.
Drank a lot?
Very much. This is a problem, decay has spread. Everyone was freaking out, and used the “whitie” [vodka] as treatment. Although there was not a lot of money, but there was always vodka. I never drank so much. I used to have a small limit – a couple beers on Friday and Saturday. At a wedding or a birthday party could get wasted. And in ATO literally everyone got drunk at the first opportunity. Totally wasted. There were some days that if “separs” came, we couldn’t even get up. I had memory blackouts from those days. Although I would rather forget what happened next.
Is that when you got to the front?
– Yes. In August our offensive quickly began, we covered mortar installations, that supported those who went to Ilovaysk. Entered a village with the mortars, where a fight was still going on. Many houses destroyed. Nearby a machine gun is shooting, and a woman is pulling a body down the street. We shout: “get down!”, “get down!” – and she does not hear or understand. Then they brought the dead guys from different battalions. Took them to Zaporozhye. Started talking about a “cauldron,” that we can get surrounded, that the Russian troops are ahead. Retreated at night, running, I didn’t even understand where we are going, panicked all the time that we will walk directly into “separs”. Already when got away, came under fire. “Separ” artillery worked the road. We were lying in the field, and the ground was popping under the body. Like an inflatable mattress. Ringing in the ears, everyone screaming.
Did many soldiers die?
Oddly enough, all of ours are live. Two wounded. We carried them in our arms away from this place. Made it in time – the road was hit again.
I did not get a scratch. Even was ashamed here in the hospital: here the guys are with serious injuries, and I’m not handicapped. Although, on the other hand, if everything was normal, I wouldn’t be here talking to you, right?
Are you going to return to the ATO after treatment?
When I got here, I was sure that I would return. Now it seems to me that all of this is a mistake. And a stupid war, and all this chaos around it. Mistake. There was a kid here – since the summer, wounded, and now the assholes from the enlistment office brought his parents the summons. This is not good for anyone. Scary to think what will happen next. Time to bring it to the end.