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Ukrainian Army officers under 32 explain the meaning of Independence

Ukrainian officers
Collage: Euromaidan Press
Ukrainian Army officers under 32 explain the meaning of Independence
Source: Suspilne
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Ukraine’s front line stretches over 2,000 kilometres. In each area, there are young commanders who enlisted for different reasons – by choice, by calling, and by necessity. All of them are united by the desire to be with “their kind of people, where it’s the most difficult.” Each of them knows the price of Freedom. In this article, 12 Ukrainian Army officers the age of independent Ukraine explain the meaning of Independence.

More and more often, young officers are moving up in the ranks and taking command in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In the first weeks of the large-scale invasion, junior- and mid-grade officers bore full responsibility for independent military operations. They took incredible risks and re-invented military engagements. They were born in the early 1990s, at the dawn of Ukraine’s Independence, and grew up in a free and more tolerant society. Open-minded, educated, and free, they were not cowed by threats, suspicion, or Soviet ideals.

Some of them joined the struggle for Independence in 2014 during the Revolution of Dignity, when Russia invaded Crimea and the Donbas. Others signed up immediately after Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.


Vadym Zhuravskyi, killed in action, 24 years old

Young Ukrainian commanders have become the Heroes of this war. They are responsible for different units; they have gained combat experience in fierce battles. They often give their heart and soul, their health, and their life for Ukraine. ‘Viking,’ we will make your dream come true! We will be victorious!” said Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi, honouring the memory of 24-year-old commander of the 95th Separate Air Assault Brigade, Vadym “Viking” Zhuravskyi, who was killed in combat with the Russian invaders in May 2022.

young Ukrainian officers
Photo: Arsen Fedosenko

Ukrainian soldier Vadym Zhuravskyi was born on 10 June 1998 in the village of Novokostiantyniv, Khmelnytskyi Oblast. He attended the Odesa Military Academy and began his military service as a soldier in the 95th Separate Air Assault Brigade.

At the age of 23, he was assigned the rank of senior lieutenant.

When asked about his dream, the young officer replied:

“To win, to destroy our enemy, to restore our territorial integrity and return home with Victory.”

“Da Vinci”

Dmytro Kotsiubailo, 26 years old, from the village of Zadnistrianske, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast

Junior Lieutenant, Commander of the Da Vinci Wolves Separate Assault Company of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Hero of Ukraine

young Ukrainian officers

“Da Vinci” has been fighting since the age of 18. He took part in the Revolution of Dignity and went to war as a volunteer. In 2014, he led a volunteer platoon and in 2015 — a company. He was seriously wounded in Pisky, Donetsk Oblast in 2014, but returned to the front after full recovery. For eight years he had been preparing himself and his mates for the “great” war.

“At first, our unit was deployed to Zaporizhzhia Oblast in order to prevent the Russians from capturing Zaporizhzhia and breaking through to Dnipro. Then, I was sent to Kyiv, because I have a lot of experience working with artillery. We inflicted a lot of damage on the Russian troops when they started advancing towards Boryspil. We destroyed over 20 pieces of military hardware and a Buk missile system,” says Dmytro.

Dmytro was then deployed near Dnipro and Kherson, and later to Luhansk Oblast. He fought at Lysychansk, Bilohorivka and Zolote. Today, he is fighting in Donetsk Oblast, which he considers his “second home.

In order to become a fighter in Dmytro’s special unit — Da Vinci Wolves — the soldier must meet two criteria: ideology and combat training. Newcomers are accepted.

“It’s not a question of going or not going to fight… Each soldier knows that he/she will fight until the ultimate Victory. But, even we, commanders, young officers of battalions, brigades — everyone can die in this war.”

What is Independence for “Da Vinci”?

“Independence gives everyone the right to speak Ukrainian, wear a chevron and defend Ukraine.”

young officers

“Kudriava” (Curly)

Khrystyna, 29 years old, from Ivano-Frankivsk

Senior Lieutenant, Deputy Commander of a mortar battery of the 4th Operational Response Brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine

young Ukrainian officers

In 2013, Khrystyna was a 19-year-old student in Ternopil when she joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine. She was promised a “classy position” and was put in charge of organizing leisure and entertainment for military personnel.

“To put it bluntly, I was like a manager of a special club for special people. That’s how my so-called military training began.”

“Kudriava” was not allowed to serve in the 2014 war because she was a woman. Old stereotypes still prevailed in the Ukrainian Army. This really bothered her, so she decided to enter the Kharkiv Academy of the National Guard of Ukraine. She also took advanced combat-training courses.

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, Khrystyna was deployed to Hostomel, Kyiv Oblast where she served in the Operational Response Brigade. Today, she is fighting near Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast.

What is Independence for “Kudriava”?

“Independence is about feeling free wherever you live. It means being able to express yourself freely; it gives you an opportunity to grow and develop as you wish. It’s everything that we’re currently fighting for.”

young officers

“Shyfer” (Slate)

Oleksandr Shafransky, 24 years old, from Rivne Oblast

Captain, Commander of the 6th Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 93rd Kholodny Yar Separate Mechanized Brigade

young Ukrainian officers

Oleksandr chose to continue his studies at the Academy of the Ground Forces. He completed his studies in 2019, and was deployed to eastern Ukraine.

“I come from a military family. Almost everyone in my family has fought in some kind of war: my great-grandfather in World War II, my grandfather in Afghanistan, my stepfather was also in the military. Today, I’m fighting in the Russian-Ukrainian war… there’s no such thing as an easy war. The hardest thing is when you lose your own people…”

“Shyfer” currently commands over a hundred soldiers.

What is Independence for “Shyfer”?

“Independence means not to depend on anyone, in the most literal sense. Neither the EU nor the United States… and certainly not Russia. This will only be possible when Ukraine starts producing its own weapons.”

young officers


Serhiy Volynskyi, 30 years old, from Poltava

Major, Acting Commander of the 36th Separate Marine Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

young Ukrainian officers

On 20 May 2022, “Volyna” and his men left Azovstal in Mariupol and were taken captive by the Russian invaders. He was held captive with other Azovstal warriors in the infamous Olenivka penal colony in occupied Donetsk Oblast (“DNR”) until he was exchanged on 22 September. Currently, he, with four other commanders is stationed in a private house in Türkiye until the end of the war, as per conditions of the exchange.

Serhiy chose a military profession when he was in the 9th grade. He attended the military Lyceum in Kremenchuk. In 2014, 22-year-old “Volyna” was in Crimea when Russian troops invaded the peninsula. He was among the group of soldiers who did not betray their oath and dislocated to mainland Ukraine.

“Then, Serhiy began serving in Mykolaiv, where some units of the marine brigade are based. This is how his dream came true – he became a marine,” says his sister Tetiana.

The Russian invasion caught “Volyna” in Mariupol. In April, 1,000 Ukrainian marines, together with Colonel Volodymyr Baraniuk, left the Illich Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol and were captured by the Russians.. The remaining 200 soldiers broke through to the Azovstal Steel Works.

The operation was headed by “Volyna”; consequently, he took over the leadership of the marine brigade. For over a month, the Azovstal Defenders continued to defend their position; on May 20, pursuant to the order issued by the Supreme Commander-in-chief, they left Azovstal in order to save the lives of military personnel.

“On June 29, when I was at the prisoner exchange, I spoke with some marines who’d left Azovstal. I told them that I was Serhiy Volynskyi’s sister and asked if they had any news. One of them said with surprise: ‘So, you’re his sister? He saved my life; he pulled me out!’ This guy was seriously injured,” says Tatiana.

What is Independence for “Volyna”?

“Serhiy says that when you raise and your son, you’re also raising your grandson… that is, we shouldn’t live for today only; we must think ahead and imagine what our country will be like in the future. His dream is to have a big family, a house by the sea and a dog, and for his son and other children to dream not about the war, but about how they will create a Ukrainian miracle. This is what my brother stands for,” explains Tetiana.

young officers


Alina Mykhailova, 27 years old, from Dnipro

Head of the medical service of the Da Vinci Wolves, a special unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

young Ukrainian officers

Alina saw war in 2014. She was an SOS Armiya volunteer when her friend died. She decided to stop volunteering and move on to something more concrete. She completed paramedical courses and was deployed near Shyrokyne.

In 2016, she joined the Hospitaliery Medical unit and worked with the 1st Assault Company of Right Sector volunteers. There is a rule for medics and paramedics – they must be replaced after three months of service. However, Alina decided to stay with her unit in Avdiivka and organized a medical service for the company. She left the Donbas only for holidays. In 2019, due to extreme fatigue, she returned to civilian life.

“On February 18, I was in Munich at a security conference. My boyfriend, the commander of the Da Vinci Company, called me and told me to return to Ukraine. At that time, they were deployed near Shchastia, Luhansk Oblast. On February 23, I was in the Donbas.”

Alina decided to return to the front, but this time everything was different.

“I used to say that I wasn’t afraid of war, but now it’s on a completely different level. When a Kalibr missile flies over our base, and then another base, where we lived for five years of the war, was totally destroyed by an aerial bomb… I didn’t feel safe anywhere. Some people adapt quickly; others need more time.”

What is Independence for Alina?

“When the war began in 2014, not everyone realized that the Russians wanted to take our territory and our lives. Only now do we understand that we’re fighting for our Independence. Therefore, we must win. We’re paying a very heavy price for our Freedom!”

young officers


Serhiy Kondratenko, 26 years old, from Kharkiv Oblast

Senior soldier, platoon Commander in the 49th Karpatska Sich Separate Rifle Battalion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

young Ukrainian officers

From 2016 to 2019, Serhiy served in the rapid response brigade, which trained military personnel according to NATO standards. In 2017, he was deployed to Svitlodarsk Bulge near Debaltseve.

At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, he was in Irpin, fighting together with the local Territorial Defense Force. Later he returned to the Donbas in the ranks of Karpatska Sich.

Today, “Kondrat” serves in near Kharkiv and has 30 soldiers under his command.

“I returned to the army after a three-year break. Because Russian troops came to my home, and we must chase them out. We need to do our work here. The more people do their work professionally, the faster we’ll drive the Russians out of our country.”

What is Independence for “Kondrat”?

“Independence means to be free.”

young officers

“Livsha” (Leftie)

Andriy Verkhohliad, 27 years old, from Lviv Oblast, grew up in Zhytomyr Oblast

Major, battalion Commander in the 72nd Black Zaporozhtsi Separate Mechanized Brigade

young Ukrainian officers
Photo: MoD Ukraine

Andriy Verkhohliad was killed near Svitlodarsk Bulge, Donetsk Oblast on 22 June 2022.

Andriy’s father is a colonel of the Armed Forces. His mother says that she wanted her son to choose a civilian profession, but he didn’t listen. He entered the Academy of Ground Forces, and after graduation was deployed to the Donbas.

In 2018, he met his wife Maryna, a military medic.

“He was great with people and war was his element. He was always surrounded by his kind of people. He handed out tasks and always demanded to serve in the most difficult spots.”

Andriy was stationed and fought in Kyiv Oblast from 24 February 2022. When the Russians retreated in early June, he was sent to the Donbas.

“On the day he was killed, we talked a lot, discussed some household matters, but after 6:00 p.m., he disappeared. Apparently, the enemy had launched an assault in the area; Andriy’s company was in a very difficult situation. We hoped and believed that it would go well. But, it didn’t… when they finally got his body, I felt I was falling… I crashed and they had to glue me together. Then, someone picked me up and threw me down again… You know, Andriy and I met near Svitlodarsk Bulge and that’s where he died. There is something terribly symbolic here,” says his wife Maryna.

What is Independence for “Livsha”?

“We must win our Independence; but, we have to work very hard. Every Ukrainian should understand that our Independence is worth it. Because it’s the most precious thing we have,” said Andriy in an interview last year.

young officers
Photo portrait: Viktoriya Yasynska

“Maliuk” (Kiddo)

Mykhailo, 27 years old, from Lviv Oblast

Senior Sergeant of a rifle company in the 49th Karpatska Sich Separate Rifle Battalion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

young Ukrainian officers

Mykhailo had no military experience. When the large-scale invasion began, he underwent basic combat training – tactical tasks and shooting in his native city of Stryi. Today, he is in charge of about a hundred soldiers.

“I arrived in the Donbas at the end of April together with my friends from the Sichovi Striltsi Sotnia, Stryi. We all joined the Karpatska Sich… For me, the most difficult thing is the lack of sleep. There’s no time for a good night’s rest. You fall asleep, and suddenly you hear – boom-ba-ba-boom. Nothing’s simple here.”

For “Maliuk,” Independence means living in a country where there’s no war, a country with an extraordinary government

young officers

“Lysytsia” (Fox)

Viktoria Kravchenko, 30 years old, born in Germany, grew up in Odesa

Major, adjunct professor at the Ivan Chernyakhovsky National Defense University of Ukraine in Kyiv

young Ukrainian officers

Viktoria is an ethnic Bulgarian, from a military family. Her father serves in the Air Force. Her grandfather was also a pilot and crashed in 1993 while performing a flight task.

“The army is my element. I didn’t hesitate when the question of my future profession came up. I wanted my grandfather and father to be proud of me.”

Viktoria also served in the Air Force; however, after the birth of her child, she decided to devote more time to academic work.

“I was a senior officer in the Department of moral and psychological support. I was responsible for the mental state of the entire military personnel.”

What is Independence for “Lysytsia”?

“It means Freedom. A free Ukrainian nation… when you’re not afraid to fight for what’s important and meaningful, when you’re not afraid to defend your position.”

young officers


Dmytro Dudka, 25 years old, from Kyiv

Junior Sergeant, Commander of the 1st platoon in the 3rd company of the 2nd Battalion of the Special Operations Forces Azov Regiment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

young Ukrainian officers

“Zhostik” has been fighting since he was 20 years old.

“The spirit of adventure brought me to the army. I still feel ashamed that I missed the start of the war, because I was studying at the university.”

On February 24, 2022, Dmytro was supposed to travel to Avdiivka; he planned to join the Da Vinci Wolves assault company, with whom he had fought before. But his commander told him to stay in Kyiv. Here, he and his friends joined the Azov Regiment – a new unit created on the basis of the Territorial Defense Force. Today, “Zhostik” is fighting near Zaporizhzhia.

“At first, communication was the major difficulty. We were all volunteers, from different backgrounds and regions. In my platoon, the average age is 25, mostly young men who came to enroll in the Azov military training camp. Everything was done on the run; there was no time to delay. We received our first combat mission and left. Later, the unit was incorporated into the Armed Forces.”

What is Independence for “Zhostik”?

“It’s the legendary spirit of Freedom inherent to all Ukrainians, the spirit that has helped us fight for our Freedom for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

young officers


Pavlo Halas, 31 years old, from Lviv Oblast

Senior Sergeant, Commander of a reconnaissance group in the 11th Separate Battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine

young Ukrainian officers

Pavlo served eleven years at the National Guard training center in Zolochiv, Lviv Oblast. He resigned in 2021, but re-enlisted as soon as the full-scale invasion began. He fought in Sumy Oblast.

“Many men in my unit are older than me, but age has never been a problem. Everyone knows that we’re here to carry out the same tasks. If we dig a trench, then we do it together.”

Pavlo says that the most important thing is to maintain his men’s fighting spirit because success in battle depends on it.

What is Independence for Pavlo?

“Independence means being free, when you have freedom of speech and freedom of action in your country. Many people are deprived of these basic human rights.”

young officers

“Hariachyi” (Hottie)

Artem Horiachkovskyi, 25 years old, from Dnipropetrovsk Oblast

Captain, Commander of the 2nd tank company in the reserve combat group of the 93rd Kholdny Yar Separate Mechanized Brigade

young Ukrainian officers

In 2014, Artem entered the Faculty of Tank Warfare at the Hetman Petro Sahaidachny National Ground Forces Academy in Lviv. He has been fighting since 2018. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, he led a tank battalion.

“In the spring, we were positioned near Derhachi in Kharkiv Oblast. We engaged a column of Russian tanks in battle and stopped their advance.”

At first, “Hottie” was worried about his age, but soon realized that professionalism is more important in the army. He says that the death of his comrades-in-arms, losing men in combat missions on the front line, is the most difficult.

What is Independence for “Hottie”?

“Independence means not depending on anyone, expressing your opinion freely, living and working for your family and for your country.”

young officers

Project developer, photographer: Alina Smutko

Photo editor: Viktoria Kurchynska

Producers: Nataliya Shimkiv and Anastasiya Isaienkova

Idea, project editor: Khrystyna Havryliuk

Source: Suspilne
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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