Interview with a Ukrainian (Russian) soldier with a call sign “Maestro” who fights in an artillery unit in AFU. He came from Siberia to join the AFU. He tells about how Ukrainians treat him, soldiers’ life on the frontlines, volunteers, and the enemy.
Translation kindly provided by Volodymyr: https://twitter.com/VolodyaTretyak
Original video in Russian:
(Interviewer): I’m not asking which route you took to get to Ukraine. But can you tell us about your motivation? Have you thought that before February, or was it a quick decision?
(Maestro): I wasn’t going anywhere after 2014. I understood that Russia was going in the wrong direction, but it was a sluggish story. After February 24, I woke up and looked at the news and realized that there were two sides, white and black, and I could not be in neutral status. So I would have to choose a side. Or rather, I didn’t choose it. I understood which side I was on. All I had to do was sell what I could sell quickly. So I sold the car and a few other things and hit the road.
(I): If I understand you correctly, the decision itself didn’t take much time; some of it was just taken up by organizational issues, selling something, moving it somewhere, etc. So do I understand this correctly?
(M): Right, there was a buildup before the twenty-fourth? There was a buildup before February 24, and the situation was tense. No one was expecting it before the twenty-fourth. Well, I guess maybe someone was expecting it. I did not expect that almost all of Ukraine would be bombed. That never happened. Well, kind of… [sighs].
(I): And I certainly didn’t expect it. So the situation is more than understandable. Maestro, you’re in an artillery unit now, so periodically, you fire, and a shell with great destructive force flies toward enemy positions and, accordingly, kills people, among whom may be your neighbors in Siberia, in the city, in the house, your certain acquaintances. So maybe you served, worked, or studied with someone. Does this thought occur to you, or is there an enemy, and you must destroy him without sentimentality?
(M): No. This thought occurred to me at the very beginning, after February 24. It took 30 days to get to Ukraine. During that time, I talked to people, and 90% of the people dropped out by themselves automatically. So for me, they are gone. Those people still in my circle of communication won’t be there. So those people, including very famous people we all know, are no longer there for me. That is to say, to think I would kill someone I know, no. The people who came with weapons, from the Russian side to Ukraine, are absent for me.
(I): I see. I left Russia in March 2016, so it’s been six years. You have been there recently. What happened there? That’s not a question to keep the conversation going. I don’t understand. I’m ready to assume they sprinkled some chemicals in the tap water. So what happened to the people? How did such zombification happen?
This is also a question for me because up until February 24, there were some discussions and arguments. Most of my friends didn’t behave the way, not as common sense, but “what mine, it is gold,” so to rob, to take away is fine, and so on. After the 24th, I was still in this particular city where I had lived for some time. I was surprised. 90-93% of my surroundings had become somebody else. It was also news to me. I don’t know what to say, but it’s an issue.
(I): So you were surprised by a lot of your acquaintances? Here’s the reaction to the behavior of your acquaintances. I realize they’re not intimate friends. It surprised you, didn’t it?
(M): Including intimate friends.
(I): Well, in general, it’s called a civil war. I understand that this term is not politically correct, but psychologically it’s pretty much accurate. So tell me, what about you in Ukraine now? If I understand correctly, you are fighting now, and this is a standard unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It’s not some special unit.
(M): No, these are normal ones.
(I): How do they look at you there? With admiration, what kind of a man? Or with suspicion? “Maybe he’s an FSB spy?”, “He wants to show his accountability.” How do they treat you?
(M): In the beginning, when I came in, I had a hard time moving in. I was tested for a very long time by special services, including a polygraph. And, of course, I was looked at for the first two or three days as a potential spy. But after they checked all my data on the polygraph, they shook my hand and said farewell. Then, after about a month and a half, I was in the unit. This was a training unit. I was in that training camp for three months until I was at the front line. It was different there. That is people there; most people, 70 percent, were cautious. About 15 to 20 percent of the people who have read there, say 100- 150 books, understood everything all right. And it was an even, like usual respect, a normal position. Here, well, most people looked with apprehension until the first hostilities. After the first hostilities, everything falls into place.
(I): I see. It sounded like three months. So you had pretty, well, quite thorough preparations?
(M): Yes, yes. About three months, give or take.
(I): Well, and if I understand correctly, the marching training was not part of that.
(M): 100% wasn’t part of it. [laughs]
(I): And now, let’s move to something simple. I know it’s hot outside, but I’m on the couch. I’m doing fine here. The shower is cold, and so on. So how is your life organized in general? Where you can sleep, where you can take a shower. I’m not talking about the entire army, but your unit. How do you live?
(M): Let’s divide this question into the frontline and the second line. Zero line [frontline] is sleeping bags, mats, dugouts, and wet wipes. The second line is not five stars, of course. But there’s a place to sleep, shower on the minimum. That is, it’s warm outside right now. At worst, there is a summer shower. The minimum is there. If you compare the stars, then it is one and a half or two stars.
(I): That is, when they take you away, take you to these 10-15 kilometers, it is already normal conditions for a person. But where it’s at the frontline, sometimes you can’t even wash your hands with water there, right?
(M): There’s enough water there; you can wash your hands. Wet wipes, 5-6 liters of water per person. But it’s not critical. We don’t work hand-to-hand all day, you know?
(I): Well, you’re an artillery unit, and you’re not supposed to. Is there enough food at the frontline?
(M): Everyone who rotates brings more than enough food with them on rotation. That’s what it is on its own. Almost all people are more or less well off. Plus a salary, plus good quality rations. There is the first dish, second, third, goulash, whatever. Plus, volunteers helped a lot in this regard, I mean medicaments. Wet wipes, socks, underwear, food. Well, how can I say? [laughs]
(I): «Volunteers», the word has gone out. I want to hear a little from you. It all works, and people are transferring money from around the world. What’s that? Does it get to you? Is that something?
(M): Let’s, again, divide this question into two parts. First, let’s take what personally concerns us as a unit of ordinary soldiers. It’s food, medicine, some tactical things, footwear, clothing, tactical clothing, helmets, armor, and so on. Also, gloves, tactical glasses, and headphones. Volunteers take care of that. And the big things like a quadcopter, thermal imaging cameras, and cars are like expendable materials. So the volunteers work on that too, but you need to have a lot of it.
(I): So, the car is an expendable thing in war, right?
(M): I’ll tell you this: it took us three cars to the artillery battery in 10 days. Gone, it went into space.
(I): Wow. As far as I understand, this is such a density of enemy fire.
(M): Yes, Mark, that’s the density. We’re not complaining about density. [laughs]