Author: Olha Moskaliuk
Translation by @VolodyaTretyak (Twitter)
A soldier of the 58th separate motorized infantry brigade named after Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky, platoon commander Heorhii, call sign Armani, is from Kherson. From 2011 to 2018, he served in Mykolaiv. After that, he started a business. But after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he took up arms again and went to war. He tells about his experience of fighting in northern Ukraine back in march, compares Wagner soldiers with other units from the Russian army, and describes the situation in Bakhmut.
The beginning of the war:
(A): At five in the morning, my colleague, the cashier, calls me and asks: “Heorhii, are we even working today? Something happened there,” he recalled on February 24 last year. – “She spoke very quickly, so at first, I didn’t quite understand what had happened. I said: “Mira, don’t worry, everything is fine. We are going out and working. If something really happens, I will know about it” [smiles]. I hung up the phone and thought about going back to sleep, but eventually decided to check the news. So I opened the Internet and saw that Russia had launched a full-scale war against Ukraine.
(I): What did you immediately think of when you read what was happening?
(A): To be honest, before that, I did not believe that there would be a full-scale war and that the Russian leadership would decide to do such a thing. I thought they would organize a provocation, a “muscle game” and that was it. But on the morning of February 24, I realized I was wrong, so I had to adjust quickly to the events that had already begun in the country.
(I): What was that day like for you?
(A): In the morning, I called all my employees and told them not to come to work. I paid them their salaries by lunchtime and took all the food out of the restaurant. It so happened that we had just purchased goods the day before, and if we had left them, everything would have spoiled. So I distributed everything to the neighbors. In the afternoon, the stores were already half empty, and we had problems with food. I also solved the issue of family safety and then got ready and went to the military registration and enlistment office. There was a huge line there. Since I am an officer, they signed me in, took my data, but said: “There are no vacancies for your position. Wait until there is one available. We’ll call you and get you a job.” So they sent me home. I went home. About three hours later, I heard on the news that Russian troops were planning to fly or had already flown to Gostomel, and we were going to capture Kyiv. I didn’t feel quite confident at home without a weapon, so I decided it was better to wait at the military registration and enlistment office to immediately begin my duty to defend the country when a place became available. But that day, it never happened. I slept in the corridor. There were about 20 other guys like me. On the morning of February 25, a place finally became available. We went toward Chernihiv, where our military unit was located. We left in three large buses. Everyone was in civilian clothes. Among us were guys who had never served, and those who had returned to the ranks of the Armed Forces to defend the country…
(I): What did you talk about then? What were the moods and emotions?
(A): We talked about possible scenarios, whether Russians could enter Kyiv. We were modeling situations, what we would do and how we would do it because most of us had families there. Everyone was worried, first of all, about the safety of their loved ones. This was the main issue that was discussed.
(I): Were you worried that Kyiv might be taken?
(A): You know, I didn’t believe they would come to Kyiv. I suspected that they would approach it. But I didn’t think they would take the capital.
(I): You were brought to a military unit. What happened next?
(A): We drove into the forest where it was located. Our brigade received people here. Many of the guys were walking around looking for a place to register and be assigned positions. In the late afternoon, the question of our accommodation arose – where would we sleep? Everyone came in with what they were wearing. Some people came straight from work to the military registration and enlistment office and were dressed accordingly – pants, jacket, hat, and that was it! They had nothing with them. And it was really cold then. We thought we would be accommodated somewhere and given sleeping bags or at least something. But it so happened that there were problems with delivering a large number of winter clothes for the new replenishment. Our trucks were delayed – there was a shelling or something else happened. So we were told that tonight we would sleep in what we were wearing. The guys and I broke some branches in the woods and laid them out on the ground to make it at least a little warmer. We laid down, as they say, top to tail [smiles], leaned against each other, and managed to sleep for two hours because we were very cold. We got up at night and started moving around to keep warm.
(I): But you were given equipment later, right?
(A): We did, but not the next day. Because there were a lot of people, and therefore the need to provide them with supplies was great. Unfortunately, due to the constant shelling of the supply route, we did not have time to receive everything we needed in time.
(I): You were defending the Chernihiv region back then. What were the battles like there?
(A): There is a village in the Chernihiv region called Skorinets, where our unit had heavy fighting in March. We were lucky to have experienced professional military with us, who could fully organize the approach to the enemy and explain how to work in case of a clash with them. Then my brother-in-arms saved a civilian man who was staying there. I respect him a lot for that. Later, he received an order for this act…
(I): Tell us, how exactly did he save the civilian?
(A): When the Russians were shelling the village, they hit a house where a local resident was staying. We received information that he was bleeding to death. The group commander took a few people with him, went there, and provided first aid – he sealed the wound and pulled the man out. This was an example of how courageous and humane the soldiers serving with me are. It really inspires me to do the right thing and not be afraid of danger.
(I): What was the hardest thing for you personally at that time?
(A): In the early days, it was a bit of a mess, because the information did not always arrive on time. For example, we did not know when the ammunition would be delivered. Now, we know exactly what to do, where the enemy is located, and trying to break through the defense. It was a little different then.
(I): Then you fought in the Sumy region. Compared to Chernihiv region, where was it more difficult?
(A): I think it was still in the Chernihiv region. It was there that our brigade had its first clash with the enemy. Since it was the beginning of the war, it was not easy. The enemy was making progress, and we were losing equipment, and, most difficult of all, we saw our comrades dying…
(I): How did the locals react to you?
(A): Chernihiv and Sumy regions are pro-Ukrainian. We saw this when we talked to the local population. We were greeted very well. We went to villages where there were orcs. We had to find out certain information, and they were happy to tell us everything: how many Russians there were, where they were carrying what, what they were drinking, and so on. And when we just passed by people, everyone waved and shouted words of gratitude. It’s very nice! Especially when you’re driving after a hard day, such a reaction makes your day better.
(I): You’re originally from Kherson, I saw a photo from the city a few days after its liberation on your page. Did you participate in this process, or did you arrive later?
(A): I arrived when the city was already liberated. The commander let me go for a day to see my relatives, friends, and acquaintances who had been there all the time during the occupation because they simply could not leave.
(I): What did they tell you? How did they survive the occupation?
(A): Many of my friends in Kherson are engaged in entrepreneurial activities. They say it was very difficult. Orcs could stop you at a checkpoint and take your car. Or they could enter a private house with machine guns and search it. My best friend’s father was kidnapped. Fortunately, he was returned the next day. But it was really scary. The orcs came to their house, where he was with his wife and small child. They put them on the floor and said: “If you move, we will kill you!”. When they told me all this, I was very worried.
(I): How did you feel when you learned that the Russians had occupied Kherson at the beginning of the invasion? It happened very quickly. The question is often raised as to who surrendered the city and why it was not properly defended.
(A): At first, I was very worried about my family and friends – how are they now, what will happen to them? As for the situation itself, I did have questions about how everything happened so quickly. We have been in a hybrid war with the Russian Federation since 2014. We had to know about their intentions and understand that they might want to seize the Kherson region. There are indeed many questions. I think we will soon find out the answer to them.
The situation in the Donbas:
(I): Today, you are in Donbas. On the eve of Christmas, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would introduce a ceasefire for a holiday. However, on January 6, there was an air raid all over Ukraine, and heavy fighting was going in the same Bakhmut direction. How did you feel about this “Russian-style ceasefire”?
(A): We accidentally learned about the so-called “truce” from our colleagues. We did not feel it here. We had intense fighting before, during, and after it. “The Wagnerites did not stop storming our positions. There was heavy artillery shelling. So nothing has changed.
(I): Another deception.
(A): You know, I doubt that anyone believes the Russian Federation anymore. All the words they say are lies.
(I): You mentioned the Wagnerites. It’s clear that these mercenaries are more trained and skilled than the mobiks, prisoners. And what are they like in battle? Are they skilled? Hardy? Are they cunning? Or vice versa?
(A): The guys and I had the impression that they were going on the offensive under some psychotropic or narcotic drugs. So they come out in small groups of 6 to 10 people and just push head-on into our positions. We open fire with our machine guns, but some of them keep running without even ducking, trying to get into our trench. We discussed this situation among ourselves and concluded that even a professional soldier understands that if a fire is opened, you need to take a comfortable position, duck, and return fire. And they just kept running along this trajectory! Four of them fell, and the same number are still moving towards us. Wagner soldiers are much different from the regular Russian army.
(I): What are Russian soldiers like?
(A): They are not like that in the offensive – they assess the situation more adequately. If we are outnumbered, they can retreat, bring in more men and equipment, and then re-attack. But the Wagner guys are doing the opposite: they were sent in a group of six to attack us, and they are still coming. It seems as if they were told: “Either you take this position now or don’t come back alive.”
(I): The instinct for self-preservation is absent, as is critical thinking and humanity.
(A): Prisoners still follow the Wagnerians. As I understand it, they were promised freedom. And this is the highest motivation for them. If they received life sentences or 15 years in prison in Russia and were promised amnesty for participating in the fighting, they would be more motivated than those who fought for money.
(I): But both come home in black bags, if they return at all.
(A): That’s exactly right. I doubt that anyone counts them at all. Most of them are considered missing and will definitely not receive any payments.
(I): That’s how their relatives won’t get a Kalina.
(A): [laughs] Exactly! I also think they are unlikely to get it.
(I): If you compare, is the enemy building up its forces? Have they become more? Or perhaps fewer?
(A): We don’t see them getting smaller. We would feel it by the intensity of the fighting, the number of assaults and shelling per day. I think many Russian prisoners can still be recruited and sent to us.
(I): There are about 140 million Russians, so given their standard of living, there is a lot of antisocial element there. That’s why they send us packs of them. My military friends tell me: we put them down, and then immediately, new ones arrive. It seems like a horror movie – an uprising of the dead.
(A): In the Bakhmut direction, it is really like that.
(I): By the way, in a recent interview, you said that Bakhmut resembles a movie about the Apocalypse…
(A): Because the town is completely destroyed and empty, almost all the houses are bombed. Sometimes you drive down a broken street, and you see single people walking around looking for food or shelter, and it really strikes you. At night, we saw children warming themselves by fire pits and cooking with their parents. It really looks like something out of a horror movie.
(I): I understand that in Bakhmut, you saw the worst picture during the full-scale war?
(A): Indeed, fighting in the field and the city are different, and Bakhmut is one of the hottest spots right now.
(I): Why are the Russians keen on Bakhmut and sending so many forces here?
(A): Bakhmut has a very convenient transportation interchange – roads to Druzhkivka, Kostiantynivka, and Kramatorsk. From there, the road to Sloviansk opens up. That’s why this town is important to them. If the orcs gain a foothold here, it will be easier for them to plan an offensive on Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, which are very important to them. But we will not let them do that.
(I): Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said there have already been several turning points at the front, including the liberation of the Kyiv region, Zmiinyi Island, Kherson, and a breakthrough in the Kharkiv region. Do you think the turning point is still ahead? What will it be like?
(A): Our next major offensive will be this turning point. After all, Kherson has become a symbolic loss for Russia because it is the only regional center they managed to capture and hold. I believe that in the coming months, events will bring Ukraine a strategic victory.
(I): The head of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budanov, predicts that the most difficult battles will take place in March and assures us that a major offensive, which you have just mentioned, is planned for spring. Are you already getting ready? Obviously, it will not be easy.
(A): We understand what we are talking about, and looking at the map, we realize how difficult it will be. It will take a lot of effort and resources to realize this goal. But its realization will bring us a very good result.
(I): We have already received the necessary weapons from our Western partners…
(A): True. But we need even more! [smiles].
(I): You are an athlete, a master of sports in mixed martial arts. A week before the full-scale invasion, you wrote the following post: “In business, as in sports, no matter what the outcome of the fight, you have to respect your opponent. But if someone is playing an unfair game, the approach to such an opponent also changes.” What is your approach to your opponent today?
(A): The main thing for me now is what I must do and fulfill my functions, tasks, means, and environment. There is a goal to which I must go without stopping. And I treat the enemy only as an enemy. I do not allow myself any other emotions, especially during combat operations. Because unnecessary emotions get in the way.
(I): Are you making plans for the future?
(A): Of course! I plan to celebrate the next New Year at home in Kyiv. The guys and I hope 2023 will be a victorious year for all of us. That’s why we are so determined!