Levko is a 19-year-old student who joined the Maidan movement after the student beatings in November 2013. He stayed on the Maidan with most of his friends, travelling back and forth between his hometown in western Ukraine. When the war started, Levko joined the Azov battalion and has been in the front lines since June 2014…. His company is currently stationed in Mariupol.
He’s a quiet and restrained young man who has little praise for the current government, but places great hope in young people like himself. Here are two of his stories….
About Mariyinka …. and my baptism of fire
My first posting was in Mariyinka, my most vivid memories.
Someone shouts an order: “Five minutes… Get ready for combat!” And you throw on your heavy bulletproof vest, pull up your protective knee pads (which keep sliding down to your ankles!), grab your weapon and ammunition and run to your KamAZ, which instantly drives off somewhere into the darkness, carrying you to meet the unknown. Your ears are throbbing, your heart is racing, and your hands are shaking. Here it is… your first battle. Joy mixed with anxiety; cold sweat breaks out all over, my body shakes and trembles….
The KamAZ arrives at a checkpoint; we get reconnaissance maps and orders. So, this is Mariyinka. Our column of KamAZs stops just before the town; suddenly we’re under heavy fire! The enemy is far away, not visible, and you don’t see them as a real threat. Several guys launch an attack, but our unit stays back in reserve. What a strange feeling… you’re standing here, while over there you hear the sounds of war – firing from tanks, shelling, machine gun fire, heavy artillery hits…
It’s our turn now. We’re ordered to move forward and destroy the separatist’s checkpoint. We advance in battle order behind a T64 tank. We pass one street – it’s all clear. The next one – all clear. We turn at the intersection, and then bang – our tank is under fire! We hit the ground and try to assess the situation. The tank opens fire and tries to roll forward. We follow…Kalashnikov bullets whistle by us, grenades fired from separatist rocket anti-tank launchers explode nearby. That first sensation of fear disappears and you keep moving forward, always forward – a moment that each of us will never forget.
A soldier’s view changes with time – it becomes cold and deeply hidden, profound and secret; the world seems simpler. Here, there are no lies, no show-offs, and no rotten people. There’s just you, your comrades-in-arms and war. At any moment you may die or get injured. You can lose friends. You have a moral responsibility before your comrades, so you don’t even think about retreating. It’s difficult to convey the joy that men feel when they advance into battle. After several assaults, we destroyed the checkpoint.
Maryinka was a very important step in the history of our battalion. It cleared the units of everything that was superfluous and left a scar on our collective memory. Our men understood why and where they were going. The regular army troops had tried to capture Mariyinka six times. But, a handful of enthusiasts and patriots with fire in their eyes and ancient sovok weapons seized Mariyinka in a few hours. This was an amazing example that fighting spirit and strong will can decide much more than regular soldiers and logistical support.
I devote these few words to Staf, a soldier who lost so much in this war. Victory is ours. We shall overcome…..
About the Ilovaisk hellhole
“Oh, what a terrible pain in my back from all this heavy equipment, my unwieldy vest and lying on such uncomfortable benches!” I think to myself. I want to fight… after all, we were promised tanks and helicopters in support.
But, instead of the promised equipment, we received an old tank that managed to make five distant shots from our lines on supposed enemy positions.
Then, the tank left, and we only had time to see the bare-chested tanker who yelled to us sarcastically: “Good luck, guys!”
That incident didn’t break our will and determination. The tank left and we moved forward in our “comfortable” KamAZs and our guns and ammunition.
Once we arrived at destination, we were met by a heavy volley of enemy fire. We set up position in a nice-looking yard, where bullets whistled by as we quenched our thirst with delicious grapes and apples. Our men had been stationed in this building for some days and we’d come to help them out. We sit under the gazebo, eating grapes and talking, waiting for further orders. Aksion was with us then (he was killed later on). I saw him there for the last time. I was surprised, because he wasn’t wearing a bulletproof vest or a helmet, and when I asked him why, he replied that he felt more comfortable without all that protection.
Suddenly, we heard explosions, either from mortars or grenades, and saw that three of our comrades were wounded. We ran for shelter, we were given first aid and all the lightly-injured fighters moved quickly back into the battle line. Some of us took up defensive positions in the nearby buildings; others went on the offensive.
After several hours of violent fighting, we were forced to retreat because we lacked heavy hardware and had no chance of breaking through enemy lines.
Two of our friends were killed in this battle…I’ll never forget these moments; they are forever engraved in my mind.
We can only hope that the deaths of these heroes will not be in vain.