Vadym Borsyak, a soldier of the 74th Reconnaissance Battalion defended Donetsk Airport in October 2014. We tracked him down as soon as we identified him on Serhiy Loyko’s photo. Borsyak explains why he volunteered, how they pushed back attacks, what he was most afraid of, and why he calls his wife a Cyborg.
When it started getting bad in the Donbas, I decided that I had to go. I couldn’t stand seeing other men fighting, while I was sitting on the couch and watching the war on TV. I didn’t know where I’d end up, what would happen to me, but I went knowing that there was a real war.
I went to the recruitment centre in May 2014, but they didn’t take me as only men under the age of 40 were being mobilized, and I was 44. They accepted me during the third wave of mobilization.
I spent a month training in Novocherkassk, and then ended up in the 74th Reconnaissance Battalion. We entered the ATO zone on August 31, took the village of Slavne, dug in and got ready to defend our positions. Our group also went to carry out reconnaissance.
One day, the commander announced that volunteers are needed to defend Donetsk Airport. About 20 soldiers volunteered from the battalion, and I was one of them. If you have to go, you go!
The airport was a frightening and terrible place. We understood that it was a one way ticket. We went there knowing that we might not return, that it might be our last fight. But, it turned out that it wasn’t so scary. When you get there, you feel a certain thrill that’s stronger than fear. War makes you feel high; war’s a drug… I’m pretty well convinced of that.
When I arrived the airport was in ruins: there were no windows, holes and burnt tanks everywhere; the men looked awful and dirty, dressed in ragged clothes. My duty was to guard a position in the new terminal.
We fought around the clock; first they attacked us, then we attacked them. Continuous shelling, artillery, tanks, Grads. We were allowed only an hour or two of rest. We slept fully dressed in our bulletproof vests.
Fighting begins… we wake up and immediately grab our weapons. There were times when we didn’t get any shuteye. The adrenaline rush was so high that we didn’t feel tired.
War is war; everybody starts shooting, something whizzes by and explodes, somebody loses consciousness… we drag him back, call the medic, apply a tourniquet, injections… we call for the “box” (ambulance). Everything happens in a split second. This may sound cynical, but these wounds and injuries are part of our job and we all knew that!
We didn’t have many serious casualties in January… maybe two hundred or less in the two weeks I was there. However, the airport’s very big, and we didn’t know what was happening in the other end. We didn’t have time to think about it; every man had his sector and had to hold it.
I remember that the atmosphere at the airport was heavy and depressing, especially at night. Everything destroyed, the wind howling, metal poles dancing and squeaking above our heads. Darkness falls and two long-awaited minutes of peace and calm.. it’s like being in a horror movie.
My family helped me tremendously. My wife phoned every day and I crawled into the shelter, put a sleeping bag over my head so that snipers couldn’t see the phone light, and talked to her. She was terribly worried and distressed; I think she lived through a more difficult time than me. I believe she is a true Cyborg.
We knew that we were fighting Russians; our intelligence sent in reports: today, we’ll be attacked by a Russian landing-assault brigade. The command headquarters kept mentioning some kind of truce, but that didn’t happen.
I suffered a concussion on October 15; something flew over and landed right beside me. I was thrown to the ground, and plaster and bricks covered me. I lost consciousness, and then came to. But, it was impossible to leave so I stayed.
Not once did I say goodbye to life and the world. I tried to hold on and survive. I wasn’t afraid… However, we felt fear when we had to leave.
We knew that we had to travel in APCs for about 5 kilometers over flat terrain, almost like sitting ducks… under separatist fire. You knew that you’d spent two weeks fighting in the terminal and you were still alive… and here they tell us we have to leave and maybe die on the way. It was very scary and sad…
When you get into an armoured vehicle – you might think you’re a real Rambo, you may be fully trained and prepared – but you can only pray because you’re sitting in a “tin can” and there’s no way out. You’re leaving, but if something hits the vehicle… you’re dead!
We could only sit and pray. I phoned my friends and asked them to pray, too. “We’re leaving now. Ask God to help us get out alive.” I told them.
Another group arrived on the last day; we spent 24 hours teaching them the rules of the game: where the attacks would be coming from, how to behave, where to go, where not to go… in short, how to survive. The next day, we waited all day for the “swallows” – that’s what we call armoured vehicles and we call soldiers “parrots”… for example, 28 “parrots” travelling in three “swallows”.
We learnt via the radio that three “swallows” were on the way. One broke down along the way, and the second had to pull it back. One APC arrived and only eight people got in… including me. We drove without headlights. Bullets were flying all around; explosions everywhere.
We arrived at the “green corridors” – now that’s mocking and degrading for our army and soldiers. The military command is responsible for this. How can it be possible to go through enemy “customs” while you’re still at war?! Who could make up something like that? This is inadmissible!
That’s when I realized that they’d surrender the airport. That’s when we should have surrendered it and left without sacrificing so many lives. That’s why I didn’t go back. It was beneath me… I didn’t want see those separatists and I didn’t want some Motorola or other going through my pockets. I think our command acted unprofessionally.
When I went to war, I wasn’t thinking of my country. I fought for my family, for my piece of land so that war wouldn’t go further, so that no one would harm my wife or children, so that they could live in peace…
Today, many people ask many questions about the war… Did you really have to go? I think they’re just plain scared, or they want to join Russia. You know what I tell them? Leave, and never come back!
I went to war so that the “DNR” wouldn’t come here and start messing things up… those bandits – Givi and Motorola and all that Russian dirt that was handed weapons and paid to make war. All the ideas come out of Putin’s brain, not Zakharchenko’s. Maybe they were idealists at the beginning, but now there are no principles or ethics in the “DNR”.
When I think about separatists being granted amnesty, frankly, I feel sick…
I returned from the front a changed man. My soul has aged. Sometimes I feel very sad about everything. There are moments when you think: “What’s the meaning of life when people act like animals, killing each other.”
Do I consider myself a hero? I don’t know. It was just as tough in Ilovaisk, Debaltseve and Savur-Mohyla. This war is very hard on everybody.
I don’t understand… Is our military command so poor that whenever they start something, we land up in hell? It’s tragic because ordinary soldiers, junior officers and real commanders stand to the end, but we keep losing… only tragedies. It’s wrong.
Our military command seems to think that we’re paper soldiers that they can set fire to. But for us, ordinary soldiers, human life is the most valuable thing in the world.
There were only soldiers defending Donetsk Airport, no majors or generals. There was one senior officer with us, and he fought at our side.
At times I feel nostalgic, sometimes I even want to go back there, but I understand that my family needs me. But, I’ll go again if I have to. No matter what kind of government we have, no matter what’s going on in the country, this is our country and we have to manage things ourselves. I cannot let foreigners come here, even if, as they say, they’re our Slavic brothers. Let them deal with their own problems and we’ll deal with ours.
The 74th Reconnaissance Battalion defended Donetsk Airport from September to the very last day. We were granted the Order of Courage, the request went through all the instances of the Ministry of Defense, but the President’s Administration says that we don’t deserve this award. Apparently, the president thinks that only the dead should receive medals, but the men who suffered, carried out heroic deeds, and survived, should wait…