Yuriy Biryukov, an adviser to the President of Ukraine and the founder of the volunteer military support group Wings of the Phoenix, gave an online interview to Hromadske where he spoke of his combat experience at the Donetsk Airport, the status of army provisions, martial law, the ceasefire, and the likelihood of a full-scale Russian invasion.
The fallen of the 79th airborne brigade
During the past 24 hours three soldiers were killed. One died yesterday — he was killed by a sniper. Two others were also killed by a sniper last night. Mayor was killed immediately. We did not manage to save the others.
The situation at the airport is fairly monotonous and unchanging: there is daily shooting, daily attacks, and, unfortunately, our boys are dying, though infrequently, thank God . Not only the 79th brigade but the Right Sector as well. Just recently an 18-year-old boy was killed, as well as artillery specialists who provide cover for the airport.
My personal opinion: (it would make sense) if we could exchange the airport for some territory, especially for populated centers. If we’re talking about some barren Donetsk steppes then there would be no reason for the exchange, but for populated areas it would be better. From a strategic perspective, the airport no longer has any value. Soldiers sitting inside the terminals and the control tower are controlling only the closest range. It is not a critical point for defending the front.
Currently the exchange or surrender of the airport is not being discussed at higher levels in the government.
Combat activities at the airport
I was there for a while and not as a tourist. There are not enough people inside, so when the attacks began they put me in a firing position. The guys know the level of my training and they know I will not panic and make sloppy moves. I cannot imagine a situation where everyone is fighting all around me and I’m sitting on a couch.
Provisions for the military
For some reason everybody seems to think that only the soldiers in the ATO zone need provisions. But this is absolute nonsense because we also have troops in the vicinity of the potential Transnistrian conflict, in the region of the Crimean isthmus, where there is constant potential conflict, and near the northern border with Russia.
Currently almost everything produced in the factories is going to the ATO zone, and this happens daily. Every day the minister of defense receives a report on the previous 24 hours and the number of warm uniforms delivered and to which units. Therefore the situation is monitored daily. But then there is little that depends on the Ministry of Defense because the supply agreements have been signed, payments have been made, and the delivery times agreed on. Right now I cannot ask the person who signed the contracts why he did so because he resigned practically the next day after signing them. All the agreements have been signed for delivery dates in December 26, 30, 22. Therefore, we will have this silly gift for New Year.
In fact, the ATO soldiers are currently fully dressed in warm uniforms. Absolutely everyone has received warm clothing. However, they were given jackets and trousers of the old model. But few people are aware of a certain detail here. This clothing was not issued from the stocks of the Ministry of Defense but from existing stocks in the military units. And then it was revealed that for 23 years good quality items were mysteriously disappearing from these stocks until finally nothing decent remained. According to documents, these items either burned up or were completely eaten by mice. This business of old stocks is opening up quite a bit of work for the for the military prosecutors. All these events have revealed massive theft that lasted for 23 years.
I informed the president of all this yesterday. His reaction was not to be quoted. Such words are usually not allowed in the media.
Provisions for one soldier in active service costs UAH 14,000 plus pennies. A contract soldier requires UAH 15,000+ the first year. A contract officer, UAH 18,000. The lion’s share consists of bullet-proof vests and helmets — almost UAH 8,000. There is still the sleeping bag and the patrol vest, which, in my view, go at an inflated price. All this comes out to around UAH 10,000. A soldier should receive these four items and then check them off when returned. In any case, none if this should remain with him. We have a terrible problem with this. A soldier thinks that if he was issued a bullet-proof vest, then it becomes his personal property. To date, 43,000 bullet-proof vests have been supplied to the army. As of November 1, 5,200 are considered lost. To replenish them we need UAH 28 million.
I never understood the rationale for introducing martial law. Few people are aware that, first of all, the president cannot simply introduce it by decree. For martial law to be declared, there needs to be an appeal by the National Security and Defense Council, then the president issues an order and the Verkhovna Rada needs to approve it. Currently we do not have a fully functioning Verkhovna Rada. And what would change? We could not produce tanks due to the lack of specialists, and no matter how many times you introduce martial law, you will not produce a tank in a confectionery factory and you will not produce Armed Personnel Carriers (APCs) in a mechanic’s garage.
Those who do not admit to the necessity of a ceasefire at this time either have not understood what has happened in the east, or they are not very smart. A hundred people have been killed, but tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, could have been killed. We were on the verge of a full-scale military conflict with the regular army of the Russian Federation. This is why equipment is being repaired every day and why people are training on the firing ranges and why clothing is being sewn. Without a ceasefire the country would not have survived. At the time the full-scale invasion began there were 5 battalions from the Russian Federation — this means several thousand people. At the end of August we had nothing to fight with. The losses of armored personnel carriers stood at 70%. Tank losses at 60%. Now the regular troops have started to receive new equipment. The 25th airborne brigade began to receive BTR-4 armored personnel carriers and the 95th brigade will also receive new units.
I was in a terrible state this morning — three of my friends had been killed. But I know that if we had been in an active phase of conflict, they would have numbered 30.
There will be no invasion before winter. This is my personal opinion, but it is very difficult to predict the actions of a completely insane person — Vladimir Putin.
The Russian army is better and it is better equipped. But they are the aggressor, and we are defending ourselves. And the number of casualties to date indicates who fights better. Therefore I don’t think he will risk it now.
I think one of the restraining factors is the position of Europe. It has strongly restrained our side as well, not giving us help and forcing us to conduct peace initiatives. Similarly, they have tacit leverage over Putin. They understand that in the event of active military conflict there would be a big question on the delivery of gas.
Transcribed by Nikita Serhiychuk