Pavlo l Rozlach is Lieutenant Colonel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, commander of the 3rd BTGr of the 80th Airborne Brigade.
During the large-scale Russian invasion, the paratrooper, who was wounded in 2014 in Peski and received the Order of Bogdan Khmelnytskyi III degree for the defense of Donetsk airport, did everything to prevent the capture of Mykolaiv and then held the defense of Siversk for a month. For this, the People’s Hero of Ukraine, well-known by his call sign Medvid [bear in English – remark], received the second order of Bogdan Khmelnitsky and “For courage” of the II degree. And on the Day of Ukrainian Statehood, which was celebrated for the first time on July 28 this year, Pavlo received the distinction of the “Cross of Military Merit”.
Pavlo spent two years of his civilian life building a business. But his commanding nature and understanding of the situation in the country prevented him from fully immersing himself in his own affairs. And his friends, obsering the reserve officer, understood that he got bored… At the beginning of last winter, Pavlo Rozlach received an offer to become the head of the airborne unit in Chernivtsi. Then, after a short pondering, he agreed. And, as it turned out, very timely. So he had time to get acquainted with the personnel, to conduct training at the training ground just before the full-scale offensive.
Original source in Ukrainian:
About the beginning of the war:
(Rozlach): The news of the full-scale offensive caught me at the Shirokiy Lan training range in the Mykolaiv region. We were transferred there from the Yavoriv training range because the command understood there could be an offensive. That is why we were in the south of the country. On the night of February 24, I returned to the unit from Chernihiv – my wife had surgery. I was passing through Brovary when a rocket hit the SDF command building. So I immediately believed that it was severe. And I saw with my own eyes what was happening. My battalion of the 80th brigade aimed to defend Mykolaiv. We were assigned the lines. As soon as we occupied them in the evening of the 24th, we were sent to take control of the Kakhovka hydropower plant.
(Interviewer): Where did the first clashes with the Russians take place?
(R): The village Kozatske. It was already full of the Russian army, tanks, and BMPs. We started to storm the settlement, but the enemy had already put up tank emplacements. We rolled back. We asked for artillery fire. And for three days, we fought for Kozatske. We destroyed 12 armored vehicles using Stugnas.
(I): Were you amazed by the number of the enemy?
(R): They were coming in waves. They broke through us on the third day when we ran out of antitank missiles, Stugnas. But even then, our fighter shot down four enemy BMDs and one tank. The number of Russians was high, but they were bunching up in a group. And the artillery hit them hard, precisely because they were concentrated in one place. So they drew conclusions from that. And now they do not drive in giant columns anymore. We had to go back when 40 units of armored vehicles with tanks were heading toward us – about 12 were tanks. There were also new Combat Vehicles of the Airborne (BMD-4) with 100-mm guns. And we couldn’t hold them back. So we chewed up that column and started retreating to Voznesensk. So the KA-52 helicopters came in behind us and hit the column. From the opposite height, our tanks worked. We, like rabbits, drove away in APCs, looping the field. It was like in the movies.
(I): How many casualties did you have at that time?
(R): In that period, eight were dead and about 16 wounded. Some of the injured were still being taken to Kherson. We could not take them away; they remained in occupation. We exchanged some later. Someone evacuated along the Dnipro. There was this operation – our officer was rescued by boat. After our Victory, we will tell you in detail how it was.
(I): Kherson community turned out to be quite pro-Ukrainian…
(R): People there are very cool. Honestly, I did not think that Kherson people would behave that way. Real patriots.
(I): You rolled back near Mykolayiv. What was the goal of the Russians in those places?
(R): To move as far as possible along the central roads and highways, part of the enormous column went to Voznesensk, and the second part went to Mykolayiv.
(I): The large column moved to Voznesensk?
(R): I could not count them! The columns of a hundred armored vehicles moved in three directions. My battalion stood on the second line because I was pretty beat up. The second battalion of our brigade was in charge of the defense of Voznesensk. My fighters had to get actively involved in the confrontation when the Russians overturned the landing for a crossing of the Ingul River. They used a helicopter to drop a company of paratroopers somewhere. They have been moving for a long time. They had heavy arms, machine guns, mortar, antitank weapons, and mines. When we collected their armament, a whole tractor-trailer of stuff came out.
We received information about the landing from the locals. It was confirmed. Four Russians were found in one village, more in another. These paratroopers seized civilian cars and used them to move around. My 1st Company searched for them, found them, and fought them. It was very hard. I had ten men killed. The platoon commander, Senior Lieutenant Khomenko, was given a posthumous Hero of Ukraine. A very tough guy. But the Russians suffered losses too. We killed 34 people. The Russians didn’t even take them away. The wounded crawled out, and helicopters flew in at night and took them away. And 200-s soldiers were left behind.
(I): Why was it possible to prevent the occupation of Mykolaiv?
(R): It was a competently planned defense. And Russians were not very stubborn. They suffered losses – and immediately ran away. They had enough strength to fight and probably did not want to die. How was it? We knocked down the first three tanks – the remaining crews jumped out and waved white flags. So they prepared themselves for surrender because they had a white flag. We got some young contract soldiers. They said, as in other places, that they didn’t know where they were going. They all had the same song. The city could defend itself thanks to the collaborative work of everyone who took responsibility for it. I saw General Dmytro Marchenko leading the defense of Mykolaiv. This is a talent – to unite and motivate people in this way, to clearly set tasks. He had under his command the patrol police, Territorial Defense, conscripts of the 79th brigade… The rear remained there. And he successfully and accurately defeated the Moskals with these rears. That’s cool.
We spent a week near Voznesensk and went to Nova Odesa. Then – Sukhy Yelanets, Kashpero-Mykolaivka, where their grouping was. We saw that a thousand cars were parked there. But it was necessary to dislodge them from there somehow. And I no longer had armored personnel carriers, SUVs only. So we used the ambush method to drive the enemy crazy. The senior commander’s artillery was working. Russians suffered many losses there. Somehow we could not take off for a long time [UAV]. The enemy’s electronic warfare did not allow it. And at one moment, it rested. It cannot work constantly – the equipment heats up. And our “Leleka” [Ukrainian UAV] passed. So I was impressed by the amount of equipment and its concentration.
(I): How did you drive the enemy crazy?
(R): Ambushes were carried out with “Javelins” and “Stugnas” in several directions. And they started working simultaneously. They had the impression that they were surrounded, because we were around them, they were in a semi-circle. The neighbouring battalion was also doing the same. And it helped us to conduct efficient actions. At the same time, their convoys were attacked. In the intercepts, we heard panicked reports: “here we were attacked, there they attacked us”. And they began to retreat. They fled all the way to Kherson. We advanced behind them. But carefully – because they mined the paths behind them. And it was not clear whether anyone stayed in the settlements. Thus, we cleared village after village, looking to see if anyone was there. It took us a couple of days. And they all went to Kherson. We reached Pervomaiskyi and Bilozerka. There we met those who were returning from Kherson and who fought with them.
Afterwards, we counted 74 pieces of equipment that were destroyed. And those were only the ones destroyed with the help of artillery. In addition, we were effective using ambushes.
Everyone likes how Moscow’s tank burns. It adds motivation. Especially watching it before going to bed. Do you know what can cheer up and motivate a soldier who came to defend the Motherland? One of the commanders told me: “I have never seen such a happy subordinate! An 18-year-old boy with a grenade launcher fried a “katsap” [Russian] APC [armored personnel carrier]. And after that he ran around shouting: “I got it, I got it.” Happy!” This makes everyone terribly happy.
(I): Did people suffer in the villages occupied by the Muscovites?
(R): There were some more polite Russians there than near the capital. There were no such cases as in the Kyiv region [refers to the Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka massacres]. In the Mykolaiv region, we heard only about isolated cases of theft and abuse of the locals [by Russians]. They did not commit such atrocities here.
After that, we were near Kryvyi Rih for some time. A raid was planned. But at that time we did not have enough means to force the enemy to retreat. And there were enemy tanks there – a sea of tanks…
About the eastern front:
(I): But in the east of the country, you successfully destroyed enemy crossings.
(R): Yes. For 11 days, my fighters were dealing exclusively with crossings. Everyone knows about Bilogorivka. But there were also attempts by the enemy to cross near Dronivka. This crossing was destroyed by tankmen of the 30th brigade. Very cool guys, they worked well. There was also a crossing in Serebryanka. They destroyed the personnel there who crossed over and were stationed in the village. And then we dealt with Bilogorivka. Everyone participated there. We fought as a group against those units that crossed over to our shore.
After the enemy crossed to Pryville by boat, it was impractical to hold this city. Therefore, our reserve units blocked the villages of Bilogorivka, Zolotarivka, and Verkhnyokam’ianske. The enemy was squeezing them up with all their strength, so we were thrown right there. It was necessary to keep this frontline direction. There were two battalions of the 80th brigade and the 5th BTGR [battalion-tactical groups] of the 81st, one battalion of the 79th brigade, the 25th company was involved. We held that line for 19 days. The enemy only managed to repulse one location in the woods. But it was located in the lowlands, which is not advantageous.
(I): Crushed by your defence position…
(R): It was heard from the intercepts that 15 battalion-tactical groups went to Russia for recovery. It was an efficient work of all our units.
(I): Why did the Russians so actively try to break through you?
(R): They are interested in Siversk, because taking it opens the way to Slavyansk. Well, they dream of going to the administrative border of the Luhansk region to report to their leadership that they have finally “liberated” the region. But during all these attempts, offensives, they suffered colossal losses. Each day, Russians lost hundreds of people – left on the battlefield forever. And that’s only where we fought.
About military life and victory:
(I): Did you feel that there would be such a large-scale offensive?
(R): I didn’t feel it, although I thought that something would happen, but not in the whole country. From the appointment of paratroopers to key positions of the upper echelon, I understood that we will recapture Donbas, that we will return our territories right here. I thought about that. And in February I realized that the enemy was preparing something serious…
(I): Were you drawn back to military life?
(R): Yes. I graduated from a military lyceum, a military institute. As a child, I dreamed of living in the village, building a farm. Built it. Lived there. It made me sad. I thought about it and returned to the best type of army – DSHV [Ukrainian Air Assault Forces]. I do what I know, the state taught me this for a long time. Besides, I have combat experience.
(I): If you weren’t in the army at the beginning of a full-scale war…
(R): …of course, I would still go to defend the country.
(I): Are the hostilities now very different from those you saw in 2014?
(R): The enemy then had fewer troops and means. It was a light warm-up before all this. Now they use rockets and aviation. Everything is for grownups now. This was not the case at the airport, although the artillery worked quite hard. And it didn’t stop either. Now, every day, for example, I struggle with my instinct of self-preservation. It tells me: “Pasho, you have a million friends and connections. Maybe, you should transfer to the command headquarters… Far from the front line.” War is a daily struggle with oneself. You understand that one day you too will not be able to survive under such active actions of the enemy, under such density of fire and frequency of battles.
(I): Do you understand why there are cases when people are afraid, refuse to go on an assault, to attack?
(R): People are the same almost everywhere. If they have a weak commander who starts the panic, then, of course, such a unit will not hold positions. Of course, for each situation there are objective reasons why it happened. But the main thing is incompetent command.
(I): Any surprises from the enemy?
(R): They can launch a rocket into a position with four fighters, throw an warplane bomb at two cars. Ordering aviation on jeeps is unreasonably expensive. As well as hitting with a high-precision weapon on some woods. This is just impressive. They are trying to take Ukraine at any cost. But the most important thing is the density of the fire. They have been stockpiling ammunition all these years. Their projectile delivery works well. When we stopped the offensive, for two or three days the Russians just fired non-stop. No pauses. Previously, there was a break for at least a couple of hours. They fought for us with artillery. Forests were wiped off the face of the earth. Four concrete pillboxes were filled with rockets. They had no limit. They rained with artillery on us – that’s all. But we also stand, [we] fight back.
(I): When will they run out of all these missiles and ammunition?
(R): Back in Mykolaiv Oblast, I thought that this “second army of the world” had already ended. They threw so many people and equipment there and we destroyed so much.
And in Verkhnyokam’ianka… Every day: minus 12 tanks; 12 APC. And so on for three days in a row. This is what was happening in front of us, what we could count. What has blown up on the mines, what we destroyed with “Stugnas”. I thought, well, three more days of such losses and they will be over. No. They simply changed battalions. Therefore, I no longer believe that they will end.
They still have enough of that shit. It is useless to hope that it will end. Wars are won by infantry, not missiles. Nothing will happen until the infantryman’s boot steps on the conquered ground. That is why they will not win this war. And they understand it. Yes, they inflict fire damage on us, but the war is won on the battlefield, by the soldier.
I am lucky that I always command the best people. The bravest, most courageous. Fierce hardened courageous warriors. I just give them more confidence in their own strength – that’s all. The backbone of my battalion is contract officers. Young, but very daring. I am lucky with subordinates. In one of my companies, a senior lieutenant, a company commander, got a concussion at the Verkhnyokam’ianka. A tank shell exploded nearby. The junior sergeant took command. And people followed him. The main direction of the attack was held by a junior sergeant! An incredible example of heroism. I hope he will be awarded the Hero of Ukraine – we have made an application. I saw how company commanders could not hold the line. And here is a junior sergeant! I was amazed. This boy came to us as a driver of an APC. We saw that he has a talent. Made him a sergeant. After a couple of weeks, he became a deputy platoon commander. And here he worked for the company commander. Good lad! “Psych” [Psyco] is his call sign.
(I): Did you have panic moments: how will we defeat them if there are so many of them?
(R): No, there was no panic. I do not ask global questions. We are now doing what we can in the area that was assigned to us.
(I): How can we win?
(R): If the announced deliveries of weapons and ammunition by our foreign partners continue, if behind the frontlines we will prepare the reserve troops – only then will we win. We also run out of people. Someone dies. Someone is injured. The nation wins the war. Only the Armed Forces will not be able to win. In the rear, new people should be trained, the replacement should be for those who are currently in the war, in order to compensate for the losses in the units.