Confessions of a combatant: Joining the LPR militia, surviving an airstrike, battlefield psychotherapy
Written by Victor Pleshakov AKA “Don”, translated by Tatzhit.
Part one: How to go to war.
Get on a train and go – how else? But… this is a very simplified explanation.
What are the details?
What should happen, so that a guy who never served
in the army, not too young anymore, sitting in the glorious city of
St. Petersburg, suddenly rushes wildly to the station, buys tickets to
Rostov on the first available train and in the train car tries to
collect his panicked thoughts, scratching his miserable noggin with
– What I’m doing, eh?! –
We will emphasize that this man is not an exalted dreamer with a maniacal gleam of “universal justice” in his eyes.
Just a typical citizen. Not an overachiever, of course. But
family-apartment-work-hobby, it’s all there. Everything is clear and
planned – if not for the next twenty years, then for three to five years
What was the problem? What the hell did he want?!
Well, to hell with it, with analyzing the causes. This can be expressed
much easier. Blame the easy access to first-hand evidence in modern globalized world, and an archaic vestige of the “mysterious Russian
soul” called conscience.
Heavy fighting in the Donbass steppes. Krasnodon, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk.
The numbers of dead nationalist soldiers and “zombie-suicide separatist
mercenaries” climb into the hundreds.
Number of dead civilians is not really counted by anyone.
Europe expresses polite, unaddressed confusion, clearly looking sideways
towards the Kremlin. Lavrov shows well-measured emotions.
White nights, no sleep at all, the stomach seems to harbor a permanent,
uncomfortable sucking chill. Not hurting yet, but something eating at me
inside. Eat-drink-sleep. Ulcer or conscience?
Done. I can’t! It Hurts. Very much. And it’s not an ulcer.
Tear off a scrap of some receipt. How fortunate – my darling is away. Sloppy, rushed scribbles.
“My love. I am going to Novorossiya. If you can understand – good. If
not – I get it. Decide for yourself. If anything happens, make sure
munchie doesn’t forget who her father was. Bye. Kisses.“
Sixth of July.
On the train.
In the morning, turn on the phone. One text message.
“Your daughter will be proud of her father. When I see you, you’ll pay for this. Be safe. Kisses.”
[Pretty sure this is the author, almost a year the events described. Picture from a video where he sings a song:
PART TWO: Guys, who’s last in line to be a “terrorist”?
I leave the station. Well, now what? Okay, taxi drivers know everything
as usual – “go to the Cossacks in Novocherkassk”. They are rumored to have
hidden paths to the other side, and in general, they seem to be fighting
there for a while.
On the second floor, in a fenced-off corner cubicle, a typical
aged security guard sits yawning, wearing a captain’s insignia. Turns
out to be a centurion of the Don Cossack Army:
“Yes, we are fighting. Yes, we occasionally take recruits to the other
side. But not everyone, only the Cossacks. And you can come. Join our
growing ranks, take our oath and go forth to glory. ”
To my timid question:
– What if I’m not a good fit for you?
An immediate response:
– Do not worry, dude. We have our… methods of making men. Small
offense – a whipping, commensurate with the act. A big crime – firing
squad. Works great.
My next question, along the lines of: And if you aren’t to my liking? – died in my throat.
– Well, well. – I tried to find a compromise. – Can you just tell me a
path in the right direction? Well, who to talk to, at least? After all, I
know nothing of local geography.
– I do not know either. – The brave centurion suddenly lost interest in
me. – Why would I bother? I get paid five grand to sit here and answer
the phone. There are rumors that Izvarino customs checkpoint is now held
by the militia. What’s really going on – no one knows. But worth
trying. Maybe it is.
– How to get there? The buses are still running.
– Why are you still sitting down? End of the road. – The driver turned his wrinkled face to the only remaining passenger. Me.
Got out, squinting at the sunset filling the blue sky. Not good.
Wandering around a warzone at night, figuring out how to get to
Gorlovka, where Strelkov is rumored to have retreated, was not a warming
thought at all. Someone will shoot you, and you won’t even know who.
Oh well. I’ll figure it out at the Russian customs. Worst-case scenario,
I’ll hang out on our side till the morning, maybe pair up with someone.
There must be other …. wanderers like me, after all.
Booth at the barrier, a short dialogue with a dashing border guard armed with a bayonet on his belt.
– What’s next, bro? – Trying hard to appear careless, I greet the
soldier, handing him a passport. – Who’s there, militia or …?
– Well, a little over a week ago, it was held by naziguard* for sure.
Now, looks like militiamen took it. But actually, this is my first
shift. So, you know. If anything, run right back. If you can, of course.
So far, six others went today, I didn’t hear anything. I mean, they did
not return. Okay – good luck.
– I’m walking like I’m on stilts. – Thoughts flashed back and forth in
my head. – And if naziguard are still there? Play dumb and ask … Damn,
what do I ask them?
There! From a glass booth, thirty meters from the customs, a colorful
figure in shorts on impossibly hairy legs slowly stepped forth, an old
Kalashnikov slung across the chest.
– Got a smoke?
My eyes got downright glued to the faded St. George ribbon tie directly to an unwashed wifebeater.
– Here you go.
– Joining us? –
– Well, yes. Where is the commander? –
– Over there, in a blue trailer. Callsign – Grandpa. Enjoy.
– Knock-knock. – My voice duplicated the fist and I stuck my head inside. – May I?
A lean man in shabby camouflage, with a black bandanna on his head, nodded and looked at me with interest.
– Joining the militia? – He half-asked, half-stated the obvious, slowly evaluating my appearance.
– Well, yes. – I agreed. – Can I go to Donetsk today? –
– To Strelkov? – Hint of a smile flashed in his eyes.
– To him. So what?
– No, nothing. Everyone wants to join Strelkov. – He seemed to be amused by the conversation.
[Picture of a man described as “the famous Grandpa from Izvarino”, 4 months after the events described. Source: https://youtu.be/jKd2jdQPW9M?t=12 ]
– Is that bad? – I raised an eyebrow.
– No, that’s fine. – Grandfather did not object. – Only you will not go
to Donetsk. Or Gorlovka. Or even Krasnodon. Two kilometers away, Ukies
cut the highway and are hammering everything that moves with arty and
autocannons. Did you serve?
– No. – I reluctantly owned up to it.
– It’s OK. – He sighed. – Seventy percent of people here did not serve.
Here’s the drill. If you want, stay with my unit. If you want, wait for
the highway to be cleared. But it’s not gonna be tomorrow, for sure. A
– Will you give me a gun? – I gathered my resolve, ready for anything.
– Of course. – He shrugged. – What’s the point being here without a gun?
Not much choice of course, but we’ll find you something. What’s your
– Victor. –
– Callsign? –
– Well, let’s say Don. –
– Where you from? –
– St. Pete. –
– Respect. Okay, let’s go. – He got up and walked toward the customs building, not looking back.
– Once you get a rifle, find Beekeeper. Tell him Grandpa sent you. You
will join his section. And look for a place to sleep. Generally, there
is no problem with space. Only mattresses. We got nineteen people here
for the whole checkpoint. Food is no problem as long as there’s gas left
in the cylinders. Guys will show you which side of the rifle bullets
fly out of. Don’t be shy. There are no Rambos here. And who are you
really – will become clear after your first real fight. Which will
probably be tonight.
Sergeant! – He called to a pot-bellied old man. – Open the stores. I brought a newbie for you.
The guy readily opened up his closet for us.
– Well, what have we got in stock? – He flipped open a crate. – Here are
your choices. Saiga hunting rifle, Simonov carbine, SVD sniper without a
scope, folder 7.62 AK without a strap and a fixie** 5.45 AK with one.
Take the fixie. We’ve got three magazines for it. And a carrying strap,
of course. –
I carefully pulled the rifle out of the box. Sergeant helpfully gave me a
mag pouch and thumbed the pages of a school notebook, then silently
looked at me.
– Passport? – I guessed.
– What use is your passport to me? Name, last name, callsign. I’m gonna write down the rifle serial number, as well.
– Take as much ammo as you need and go. – He slammed the book shut. I looked around. Grandfather was gone.
– Go to the lads. They are there, by that thing. – The Sergeant pointed
in the direction of another inspection booth and, swaying on his feet,
disappeared around the corner.
– Private Don! Congratulations on joining the ranks of the valiant
Novorossiya militia! Yay! – I chuckled and went to meet “the lads”.
Things seemed to be falling into place.
PART THREE: Izvarino Alarm Clock.
They were wonderfully nice …
Loosely shaking tanned satin thighs, slyly draped in transparent,
weightless silk gauze, tantalizingly toying with tight bosoms, swaying
to the beat of the dance, gleaming wet dark eyes promising crazy and
One of them, young and impatient, threw her arms around my suddenly
stiff neck and s-slowly, with a wide motion, put her sharp little, pink
tongue and coral lips to my ear and searing it with her breathing, on
the verge of a moan … hysterically screamed with Beekeeper’s torn
– IN-CO-MING!!! Aircraft, screw it!!! Men, all to the trenches Fast-ah!!!
In a split second of tearing myself out of a corrupt web of immodest
dreams, my disturbed mind and lips very vigorously expressed my
completely vulgar attitude towards Vitaliy AKA Beekeeper, the unknown
flyboys, this war in particular and my sad fate in general. And then
hushed down, feeling how, at most half a mile away from my bed, someone
very large and evil tore a giant sheet of thick canvas to shreds –
And then the howl of the afterburner of an attack jet gaining altitude hit the ears.
[An airstrike on Izvarino on July 13th, very close to the time of the story. Possibly the very same one.
The adrenals habitually jerked and instantly threw the body out of
sluggish sleep with a generous dose of adrenaline. I found himself
approaching the familiar trench position and, jumping into its
protective cool, belatedly noticed another terrible noise of torn canvas
– heard, but not registered in time. Already much closer. Three hundred
– F*ck! –
I reflexively dove to the bottom of the trench, trying to establish at least some order in the chaotic functioning of the brain.
– Rifle, mags? With me. Already good. RPG-18s I left here yesterday. Yeah, here. Awesome. And what time is it, I wonder? –
Feeling that I’m lying on a working jackhammer, then understanding that
this is just my jumping heart, I stood up and, carefully craning my
neck, peeked out into the daylight.
The chubby yolk of the rising sun has
just come unstuck from the horizon.
– Sh*t, not yet past 6 am! I did not even sleep a couple of hours?! Damn
it all to hell … and thirty-three submarines! Where Shura? Where is
everybody? Okay, later. –
Sensitively scanning fearful silence with my ears, I sat down, leaning
back against the cool reliable parapet, and slowly pulled out the first
of today’s cigarettes out of a totally flattened pack.
– Oh, let’s smoke – boomed a disheveled presence of my new partner, Vitalik.
– Who else is where, did you see? – I regretfully parted with my precious pack.
– Beekeeper on left flank. Three more with him. Shurik in the next cell
on the right. I’m in the next one over. That’s it. – Smacking thick
lips with pleasure, he released a thick cloud of smoke.
– Our Marine is having serious fits, you know. We’re short-staffed as it
is, plus that guy… the weakest link, so to speak.
Oh, here that flying
bastard comes again.
I looked at the sky. Seemed empty. A-ah, there he is.
– Ra-aa-ta-ta. – Another familiar convulsion shakes the air.
But much further away.
On autopilot, I hunch over, ducking my chin to the sternum. After a moment, I straighten back up.
– Quit badmouthing the dude. He is now losing his virginity, you know.
Under fire for the first time, it’s … life-changing crap. – Feeling
like a seasoned veteran, I launch the cigarette butt on a flat
– Let’s go, support … our brother in arms. – I rose and walked to the right along the trench.
– Yup. Hot brotherly love…. – Vitaly grimaced. – Mark my words – he is
not a fighter. When I heard him talking – Somalia, Somalia, when he came
in like a Rambo, show off… “M-ascow is na-mber one…”. Go wipe his
snot yourself. I’ll go to my position.
– Hi. Well, how did it go? – I greet Shurik with deliberate cheerfulness. He nodded in response, frantically gazing around.
– Why are you so nervous, Shura? Relax. We will all die someday. Hehe. – I took my first crack at trench psychotherapy.
– Oh, no. I’m fine. It’s just all very sudden. And most importantly, it
is unfair. – Hurrying to talk, he swallowed words. I showed keen
– Freaking A. Some bastard like this nails you, and you won’t even know
where from, boom and that’s it. You’re gone. Completely. And you won’t
even see his filthy mug in the end, not to mention being able to shoot
– Forget it, Shura. Everyone feels this, their first time.
– Yes, I understand. – He exhaled, gradually recovering. – It’s just different from what I imagined. Do you really not care? –
I vaguely shrugged.
I could not really tell him how, evaluating how my excess winter weight
does not “work” in the harsh realities of this war, I decided to fast – a
couple of weeks without any food, to gain the needed lightness and
agility. Not the first time I’ve fasted.
And how on the fifth day of fasting, after spending two hours in the
trenches under a full-power mortar barrage, I visited our “boys room”
with great enthusiasm and need, and produced an
amazingly generous amount of “solid waste”.
– I do not know how to explain it to you, Alex***. Just believe my words
– you’ll get over this. Do not let your imagination run wild … and
hold on to your balls. Hehe. – I cheerfully continued my attempts at
gentle psychologic rehabilitation.
– And, in general, who are we? Free people in a free f*cking country.
Pissing yourself a bit? Well, okay. It happens to everyone. Piss
everywhere you like. Overhead, in your pants, all around… do not deny
yourself the pleasure, friend. Just don’t forget your mission in the
Shura joined us last night, immediately after evening formation, when
Grandpa announced that twelve of us are going to hill 9/2 for the night,
and the rest will enjoy the dubious pleasure of holding the customs
checkpoint. And then, catching signs of a slight confusion in the ranks,
expressed by a radically critical assessment of mental abilities of our
high command (all of it in most vulgar terms), he judiciously
– Do not sweat it, guys. If tanks attack after all, fire off everything
you got, evaluate the effect, and if we’re still screwed, trot on to
Russia. Just do not forget to get rid of weapons. But smartly. So we can
find them later. –
And that was the plan everyone agreed upon.
The customs checkpoint was manned by our section, so, a little later, the glorious Marine Shurik ended up with us.
Having received the “folder” AK that I rejected, and dressed in dapper,
brand new camo, thoughtfully brought with him from the capital, he
looked, frankly, very dashing. …
In a brief conversation, with thoughtful and weighty phrases, he told us
about his recent, glorious past as a Baltic Sea Marine. … Me and Shura
stood guard from two to four am.
Well, you know the rest …
So here I lay, under a shabby acacia tree, hiding from the fierce rage
of our favorite star. I lay, scratch my belly and physically feel how,
like sparkling sweet droplets of amber honey heated by the sun, the
precious minutes of silence reluctantly slip into eternity, each one
full of unexpected and seemingly bottomless silence. Can not get enough of
It’s Good …
Guys already came back from hill 9/2, stressed and extremely pissed,
carrying a sluggishly resisting Ara, nearly dead after an extremely
strong shell shock.
Already, having received some special shot in the behind from our
worried medic Marconi, he passed out here under the bushes, after
swearing aplenty in three languages at once and vomiting seemingly his
entire internal capacity of greenish foam.
Already our “venerable community” has issued a summary of the outcome of
this mission (I can not reproduce it here, even after most heavy
editing). Although it would be useful to read for our generals. Well, at
least no KIA.
Lingering thoughts, lingering bulks of my comrades around, lingering
hope that this is it for today… Eyelids stick together, chin helplessly
slides down the chest, wet from sweat, the body spreads like jelly on a
quilted jacket that somehow appeared out of nowhere.
Consciousness finally says “gurgle” and sinks into oblivion…
They were wonderfully nice …
But looking at my face and sourly assessing the complete absence of
lusting male’s tremor, they showed offended grimaces and, weightlessly
circling, left to search for a more grateful object. And only one, the
youngest and the most impatient one graciously slipped next to me,
understandingly looked into my eyes and gently touched the corner of her
lips to my stubble-covered cheek. Goodbye…
– Incoming! –
Three-four seconds of whistle and a subsequent explosion of a heavy
mortar in the village below instantly turned our rookery of relaxing
seals into a panicked mass of nervously jumping gerbils, frantically
running every which way to reach the safety of their holes.
Shot-whistle-boom, shot-whistle-boom. More. More. More.
– Oh wow! – I stubbornly dug my forehead into the bottom of the trench,
trying to bury myself just a little deeper, in search of safety.
From the direction of the poultry farm, three kilometers away, deep
voices of tank engines roared. There, for the last week, the
nationalists had three SPGs**** and an unknown number of tanks and APCs.
– To battle! – Beekeeper exhaled as he ran past me along the trench.
I, very slowly, got to my knees, turned in the right direction, listened
once again, then stood up and, crouching, trotted briskly to my
Caught my breath, checked my simple gear, finally got out the flattened pack of Marlboros…
– Oh, let’s have a smoke. – Something very heavy suddenly fell on me from above.
– Vitali! You bastard! – I nervously reacted.
– When are you gonna quit running along the parapet? Can’t you stop showing off? –
– Do not worry, Vitek. – He pulled out a completely flattened cigarette out of the pack.
– They will not attack in the afternoon. … They aren’t that dumb,
after all. They’ll tease our collective clitoris for half an hour with
the shelling, that’s all. And trying to hit the customs from their
position, three clicks away and uphill, is a lost cause. If they’re dumb
enough, they can even hit Russia, then return fire will flatten them. –
– Why are the f*ck are they mortaring the village then? – I still could not calm down.
– So you, soldier, would not relax too much. – Vitali chuckled.
maybe they have some other reason too. How would I know? –
[village of Izvarino burns from the shelling, likely a day or two after described events. Source: https://youtu.be/FGtGhlx0O5U?t=81 ]
Beekeeper appeared from around the bend of the trench, and sat down with us for a moment.
– Unclear situation in the henhouse, guys. Turns out that last night,
two of our guys brazenly rode there on a motorcycle, right down the
road. Did a U-turn, shot off an RPG-7, and bolted. A few minutes later,
repeated the trick. Two young kids from the fire station. Freaking
cowboys. – He shook his head with approval.
– As a result, Ukies are down a tank. Confirmed. Not a big deal, but
nice. Now nazzies* realized they’re actually trapped. They are stronger,
yes, but they can only come and go if we let them. They can only go
down the road, and what if we decide to ambush from the bushes? They
don’t have the nerve for this. And trying to move in the dark would be even worse. Neither aircraft nor
arty could support them then. So that’s the situation. Now we will see
what will they will decide to do about it. Okay, I’ll go on. Keep an eye
I decided to visit Shura. Vitali spat at his feet, shifting his
monumental behind for a more comfortable position, and I realized that
he clearly decided to let me play the role of Mother Teresa.
Shura was lying flat on the bottom of the trench. He was shaking so badly that
the only thing I thought was – is he epileptic? Glancing at me with
mad, empty stare, he forced a wry, frozen smile and gingerly folded his
legs, sitting up on the ground. I silently sat down beside him.
– Why are you so nervous, comrade? – I gently began to rehabilitate him. – You’re having a full-blown fit! –
– I always do that when I’m nervous. Since childhood. – He sadly made up an excuse.
I stayed skeptically silent, swallowing another question about the
disregard of the Marine medical board towards the health of recruits.
Digging into details was not the priority at the moment.
– Today, my wife called. – Shura began in a sad voice. – Something about
overdue loans. She’s screaming – come, figure it out. At work they may
fire me, I’m afraid. My vacation ends the day after tomorrow. I wrote
unpaid vacation request when I left. Looks like they did not approve it.
– Sanya***, listen. – I gathered my thoughts, having waited out another
shot-whistle-boom. – Depression during the shelling, and after it, this
is all normal. Just simply wait it out, you’ll get over it. What are you
so broken up about? You are a normal guy, a fighter. You’ve got
everything one needs. You’ll make it work. Do not make hasty decisions.
You’re the one that will be ashamed of them later.
You must understand – we, by and large, do not care if you’re here or
not. No one dragged you here, and nobody owes you anything. And you do
not have to explain anything to me. If you want – keep fighting, if you
want – leave. You’re your own master. But you will also have to live
with your decisions. For the entire rest of your life. –
– So, he’s done? – Extended paw of Vitali extorted another cigarette.
– Not entirely sure. – I sighed, taking out the very thin pack. – Maybe
he can still snap out of it. You know, honestly, if not for my fasting,
I’m not sure that I would not soil my pants a couple times. When will I
get completely used to this? And are you any different? –
Vitali sighed, pondering the answer.
– Well, but you did not, right? And you will not, by now. Right? –
I wisely kept silent. What’s gonna happen next in this war?
You never know…
And then, in the dark, during the next “battle”, I finally lost Shura.
Just let him out of my sight. And shouting in the trench, we have not
heard his voice. It was only on our return that the Sergeant told us
that before dinner Shura came to him quietly, gave back the rifle, and
gradually, trying not to attract attention, moved on to the Russian
We have designated Beekeeper as the scapegoat for losing a soldier.
– What do I have to do with it? – Victor was amazed.
– If you yell so horribly in the morning, about every stray attack
plane, everybody will leave. – Tyumen summed up the debate, as always
appearing out of nowhere with his inseparable SVD.
– No, you need to lean to the ear of each dozing soldier and gently
whisper – “Hello, bud. Aircraft incoming. Time to f*cking rise and
shine.” – So commander, in short, you make a crappy alarm clock.
Izvarino alarm clock – sucks like everything here! –
We had a long and happy laugh, making good-natured jests about each other, sincerely glad that’s another day of the war is over.
And all of us are alive.
And the victory is a day closer.
And it will certainly happen – Our Victory.
And that is as true as the fact that sun will rise tomorrow.
And that everyone wants to survive tomorrow, as well.
Survive tomorrow, my ninth day at the war.
* naziguard, nazzies – can refer to National Guard, which was basically
formed by distributing weapons to extremist streetfighters who overthrew
the elected government, or to nationalist army in general.
** folder – rifle with a folding stock, fixie – rifle with a fixed stock.
*** Alex – Aleksander – Aleksasha – Sasha – Sashura – Shura are all
versions of the same name. Like e.g. Richard and Dick are the same name.
Russian language %)
**** SPG – Self-Propelled Gun, armored tracked howitzer.
a) Izvatino militia two weeks before the events. The author is not
there, but some characters probably are. Ignore the horrible music.
b) Izvarino village defenders inspecting the damage from a mortar attack, possibly the very same one described in the story.
FROM THE TRANSLATOR: BACKGROUND INFORMATION
I feel that certain background information about the history of
volunteer movement is necessary to fully appreciate this story (and to
forestall the any trolls claiming this didn’t actually
happen and all volunteers are actually Putin’s Elite Chechen Spetsnaz
GRU Bears in disguise).
_The key point here is that Don’s story is nothing unusual_.
I’ve studied a lot of history of post-USSR civil wars and this could
have happened in any of the conflict zones over the past 20 years, or
really in any similar conflict over the past two centuries.
The story is always the same: power-hungry nationalist extremists take
over the capital, the new government deploys paramilitaries to quell
dissent… There is little difference between Ukrainian “nazzies” of
today and Georgian mhedrioni / Moldovan “nationalist volunteers” from two decades ago, or say Cypriot National Guard circa 1974 (or even British Black-and-Tans in 1920s Ireland).
The resistance forces are also always the same, formed from all comers – be it 2014 Ukraine, 19th century South Africa, or Texas 1835 (where, by the way, Santa Anna also claimed that the resistance was mostly composed of masquerading American agents) – holding their own Alamos against impossible odds and often winning.
This, of course, does not rule out the possibility that some non-state
or state actors may run training camps across the border, run
recruitment campaigns, or even “discharge” volunteers from active army
But many men come to these wars just like Don did, as lone wanderers.
The website artofwar.ru is filled with hundreds of memoirs by authors
from both sides in many similar conflicts, and a lot of them start out
just like the one above.
Another memoir coming. Stay tuned.
Pictured: PMR militia in Transnistria 1992 and one of their Alamos.
Attacked during peace negotiations, 30 lightly armed Cossack volunteers
defended Bendery City Hall against a ~mechanized battalion. They held