Vadym Yanovych. Photo: Illia Yehorov
In the beginning of September 2014, just after the Ilovaisk tragedy (outside of a city near Donetsk, where hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were massacred under fire), the filmmakers from BABYLON’13 headed by the director Lora Artiugina went to the Dnipropetrovsk hospital where the wounded worriers from the Donbas volunteer battalion were recuperating. A year later, some of the conversations were incorporated into the documentary How We Became Military Volunteers.
However, much important material is still left off-screen because even a full length film is not enough to contain all the events which were happening at that time. There are people from a variety of professions in the battalion which was created just as the warfare in Ukraine started. Among the soldiers, the filmmakers met a pastor serving in the ranks of the battalion as a sniper who raised a lot of questions about life, faith, religion and morals during the conversation.
“My callsign is Pastor. I am really a pastor of a church. I am one of the “Pobeda” [Victory] Church pastors.”
How his wife let him go to war
When I saw a recruitment ad for Donbas battalion, something leaped inside of me. It was not like I was hurt, but it was a state like “Who, if not me?” I believe that it came from my heart. As a priest, usually I resolve all issues with the help of God. My heart’s desire was to go. I started to pray “Lord, if I have to be there, give me an answer”. I told it to my wife. I know her, if she says “yes”, it means that it has already been agreed with the Holy. She said “Give me a day”. Time passed, and she said “I prayed and received nothing from the Lord. But … when should I get you ready?” And I clearly realized that she’d blessed me and let go.
How he became a sniper
I prepared a bag, a tracksuit and went. I’m not old, but at 47 to do a three-kilometer cross-country run [laughs]… I always was coming in last. I thank God that the commanders treated me kindly. Some time had passed and I was gaining discipline. I went through it properly, together with others. Then it turned out that I also can shoot well. When I was given the first six bullets, four of them struck in the top ten. I was surprised. After some time, they gave me a sniper rifle and decided that I should be a sniper. And in point of fact, during all of the departures I was shooting with a sniper rifle.
The Bible and the war
Let me lead you through some discourse. In the Bible, the word “to kill” has two basic meanings. The first one means to deprive a person of life for profit. For example, when David killed Uriah with someone else’s hands, to take possession of his wife — it is one word. When the prophet came to him, he says “You killed.” And when David killed Goliath, there is also written “cut off the head and killed”, but another word was used. So in the Ten Commandments there is a word that implies a selfish purpose. Everywhere at all times Israel has fought, and everywhere in the Bible it is said that God is the God of Hosts — the Lord of Sabaoth. He is the God of hosts. Therefore, to protect the homeland is not a sin. When there is warfare, death is a given.
How it was to be a sniper
If you ask how many have I killed, I’ll tell you “none“. Not because I was aiming bad. It’s just that in my combat experience I haven’t often seen the enemy in the sight. Why? Because he also hides, is also in cover, and also shoots from it. I just had to send bullets in that direction. Snipers sometimes do not get a bead. And I tell you, more often they fail. To get it, you have to be very close. I do not exclude good optics, good technique, but most of the time it’s only psychological pressure. Therefore, for example, when we were mopped up and when I was starting to fire, I believe for sure that they heard my rifle working there and also got scared. Although I did not kill or hurt anybody, I belive it had an affect during the battle.
Where was God when the battalion colors were consecrated and at the same time soldiers were dying
God was at his place. You know, when you ask such questions, “Where was God?” … A little kid is left out on the road; a car hits him. “Well, where was God?” In this case I will ask you, “But where were his parents?” With all that going on, you do not think about another person — of Satan. Satan is the enemy of souls. He hates us, people, as the image and likeness [of God – Ed.]. So sometimes when something occurs, all somehow sinned against God, but no one thinks that there is also Satan, who also participates in the being and life of people. Therefore, I don’t see any astral connection between events when our colors were consecrated and our soldiers died. I would not add God into it.
About Orthodox separatists
They do not protect their homeland, even when a Luhansk citizen associates himself with Russia. There is no Novorossia. There is a question of Orthodox paganism. I do not know if there is such a term, but I let it go. I will clarify, in particular, Russian paganism. Of the Moscow Patriarchate. It is completely permeated by paganism and occultism. If there will be somebody from the Moscow Patriarchate, he will even find a scripture that justifies everything. The reason of the stiffness in Orthodoxy is the hand of the Moscow Patriarchate. Have you noticed that among guys who preaches Orthodox of Kyiv Patriarchate, there is nobody, not a single priest, who will tell you to kill for the sake of something. For the Fatherland it is normal. I mean that there are no such extremes like the inscriptions “kill” on the walls or “kill a Russian”.
Every worrier is meat in war
If you go to war, you’re already meat. You know, I asked one guy, he was a little bit kicking up a fuss, I asked him, “Why did you come here?”. “Well, I came to defend my homeland”. “So if you came to defend your homeland hadn’t you known that military duty and war are related to death?” Did you know that? Of course he knew. So what happens? You go to war, you do not want to die, but nobody wants to die. You want to kill an enemy, but have you asked the enemy if he wants to die? No. Or you just want to come to win something and then to say “bring me a document of participation in hostilities”?
To be ready to die
To be prepared to die is the normal state of a warrior. I’ll tell you more; I’m already dead. I remember when I was in the subway. I was going to the last station, Heroiv Dnipra. I had noticed some kids sitting there; it’s Kyiv, life. I was sitting and suddenly it occurred to me: “I’m going to die. Really”. I do not want to be killed. Yes, I want to do my duty. I want to go. But the fact remains the same. I volunteer, I am aware of it. You know what decision I made? To die now. Do not stick to life, but to die. And when I came to the camp, it was very easy for me, because I’m not afraid to die. So I think if you go to the army and you want to survive, well, everybody has such a desire to survive, but if this desire dominates and gives you more cowardice, and you cannot do your job, then you’re in the wrong place.
Less than a month after this conversation, the pastor recovered from his wounds and returned to the East.
The short documentary with the Pastor (with English subs)