“Before the war I was a boy, now I am a man”: Interview with Ukrainian soldier

With the Ukrainian counteroffensive now starting, we should get a human face behind who the Ukrainian soldiers are. Oleg is one of those faces. He was interviewed by a Ukrainian-speaking American friend of Oaklandsocialist about a month ago. At that time he was on leave, recovering from a wound. Since then, Oleg has been redeployed.

Interviewer: Kawa

Oleg: “Before the war I was a boy. Now I am a man.”

Interviewee: Oleg (Ukrainian Military)

Kawa: Okay, we’re on the record now.  What is your job in the Ukraine military?

Oleg: I worked in hospitality, and had interest in opening my own business. So up until this time I was a student who found a job that I liked and developed in this area.

Kawa: Okay, and what were you doing before the war started?  What did you have going on in your life?

Oleg: I was developing and trying to find something that was my own.  Until the war I was a boy, in my opinion.  There was a lot I did not know and did not understand.

Kawa: Okay, and did you, before the war, what was kind of stressing you, bothering you, what kind of goals for future did you have, what were you thinking before Russia invaded, for yourself? 

Oleg: Until that point the main thing that I was focused on was figuring out a future for myself.  This was giving me stress.  In our country you can’t always develop yourself the way you want, and you don’t always have savings, so you must always earn.  This question gave me a lot of stress and that is why I always worked, and I tried open my own business.

Kawa: Ok, good, how did you feel the moment you realized the invasion started, the war has started, and now you have to go to war?  It’s really happening?

Oleg: At the beginning, that first night I did not sleep, I worked until the morning, and then saw the news that the first rockets were fired toward the cities, the air raid sirens.  This was a big disappointment in humans, not just Russians, but in general, that in the 21st century someone can start a war, it hurts.  My first emotions were these.  I arrived at my parent’s house, my dad was also away and we arrived together, we immediately decided that we would go to fight, so that it would not have to be my younger brother, his youngest son. At that moment I felt hate, hate for the Russians.

Kawa: Ok, how did the war change your life, what changes have you had to make and what do you worry about now and what are your goals when the war is over? 

Oleg: Everything changed completely.  Until then I felt like I was just a boy who didn’t understand everything, and now that I return for rehabilitation I realize that I am man with my own opinions, my own principles, and a certainty about my future. I understand now what I want and what I need to do to get it.  The war helped me with this. 

Kawa: Do you have kids? 

Oleg: No.  Unfortunately, not yet. 

Kawa: So if you have kids, say you get your girl pregnant maybe, and you have kids and you could leave them a message and I could send it, just in case, what would you want to leave as a message to your kids about this war and what you’re doing, if you had to?

Oleg: This is a difficult question, as I don’t have kids.  What I can say is to value your family, that they protect their family, like my father did, like I’m doing, this is the most valuable thing that we have. 

Kawa So when you’re not deployed, what’s your day like, how do you keep yourself happy, healthy, like normal life, when you’re not deployed?

Oleg: Do you mean now, or when you’re deployed?

Kawa: Fighting, in English this is deployment.  When you’re home, this is rotation.  When you’re home not fighting, what do you to stay normal?

Oleg: When I first returned, the first week I just got healthy and was at home.  I saw a few close friends and was still at home.  After the first week, I realized that it is hard for me, problems remained from where I was injured, I need to get healthy.  So that was when I decided to go to my old job. I found some people that could help me, and now I’m working laterally to the position I had before, and this helps me.

Kawa: What is the most weird thing you’ve seen fighting, what is like the weirdest story you’ve seen since you were fighting?

Oleg: Probably the most shocking was seeing Russians who do not understand what they were fighting for and what they were doing.  You can’t imagine what they are doing with the local civilian population. That was the most shocking thing that I saw with my own eyes.  If not touching the civilian point, it is the way they fight.  In other words, I have my position, I defend it.  Over the course of an hour, two of them charge at my position, wearing white arm bands. I understand that these are Russians, and I open fire, kill them.  In an hour, it’s the same thing.  After another hour, they begin to crawl, but they go forward, knowing that I will kill them.  They don’t change their position, they don’t change their position, they simply go.  This brings certain thoughts in your head, you become scared knowing that they go at you without thinking. 

KawaDo you mean like zombies?

Oleg: Yep like zombies, evil…orcs.  In Ukraine we call them “orky”.

Kawa What is the stupidest thing, the stupidest decision you’ve seen made.  You don’t have to say Ukraine side, it would probably be on the Russian side, what is the one thing you would say “why would you do that”?

Oleg: We were in a populated area, and heard on the radio that approaching us was an enemy tank.  We couldn’t understand, the territory had been ours 3 days already, and only one tank, one tank without any support decide to attack our position!  That is probably the stupidest that I saw from their side. (laughs) Russia.

Kawa So how is the economy in Ukraine right now, I know obviously a lot of money going towards the war, how is the economy regular, you know food, regular jobs?  You know what I mean, how is the economy right now? 

Oleg: On the western side things are more peaceful.  For example, in the industry that I worked, only products changed.  In other words, if before there was some small share of Russian products available, now we have completed turned away from them, no matter the sphere.  Normal life in these areas did not change much.  Only during air raids, everyone tries to go to shelters because we all know that Russia is starting to have a genocidal approach to the local population.  Many business that previously were focused on “peaceful” things now are somewhat reformed.  I have an acquaintance who before worked with cars, and now he produces products for soldiers at the front. A large portion of people try to help the army, any way they can.  Restaurants who cook for soldiers.  We all know that there is a war.  We all remember that there is a war.  Ukrainians try to live normal lives but we all remember that boys are there dying so that here people could live peacefully.

Kawa Do you think Ukraine right now could survive without all the foreign aid?

Oleg: Can you repeat?

Kawa: All the money coming from the US, UK, now the World Bank, do you think Ukraine could survive without the money coming in, the help from Nato? 

Oleg: If I understand the question, your help is very important.  You give us weapons, for us weapons are very important.  There is also money, which helps us keep up our defense.  Ukrainians are good people, smart people, we are using your weapons thoughtfully and to the highest effectiveness.  Your funds we are also using effectively to help our nation.

Kawa:  How have things since like 2014 shaped the way you look at politics, the way you look at Russian, everything? How has the way you look at the world changed since 2014?

Oleg: In 2014 I was 14.  So I can’t tell you, because around that time I was beginning to understand myself.  During the Maidan in 2014, when they started shooting peaceful people in the Maidan, I cried and asked my parents why.  I could not understand why.  Later when Russian invaded Crimea, and within a year Donbas, I began to clearly understand that Russia is for me the enemy that will not allow me to live peacefully in my country.  In 2015 my father went as a volunteer to the front, and he went so that I did not have to fight, to defend me and his family.  That changed me a lot, and when on February 24th Russia invaded my country, I did not think about whether I would go or not – I only did not know when.  

Kawa: Have you heard about the groups – I sent you about the Right Sector and the social movement – have you heard of those groups? 

Oleg: Right Sector, yes.

Kawa Right Sector, but not the other one? 

Oleg: No, I have not heard of the other one, I did not work with them. 

Kawa:They’re left wing, and “Pravy Sector” is obviously right wing. So what do you think of “Pravy Sector”, what did you think of Davinci, what is your opinion of them? 

Oleg: I heard a lot of things about some things that I couldn’t understand… one second, do you mean Pravy Sector the political organization, or the military portion, the soldiers of Pravy Sector?  Please clarify.

Kawa: I was going to ask, how are you doing with your kit, your equipment?

Oleg: Sorry, the last question, did you understand me?  On the last question, did you mean Pravy Sector political, or the warriors of Pravy Sector?  It’s like… volunteers. 

Kawa: I want to know what you think of their politics.  Obviously you’re all Ukrainian, all fighting together, just curious what you think about how they want to run Ukraine after the war, when everything is done? 

Oleg: Okay, I will give you an answer to this question.  In my opinion, at that moment Ukraine needed Pravy Sector to show that we could be radicals.  That we won’t tolerate everything that will be done to us.  We will show strength if we want to be free.  That is why I think Pravy Sector did their job the way they were needed. 

Kawa: For the next question, curious, so is there, US is sending a lot of systems, the Javelins, Himars, all that, now F16s maybe and the Bradleys.  Is there anything that you’re not getting enough of? 

Oleg:  Planes.  Planes.  We need aviation.  With aviation we can carry out offensive operations to win back our territory.  That’s why we need aviation. 

Kawa: How are you doing with boots, socks, tourniquets, basic things?  Is there enough?

Oleg: Of these things there is enough, from our volunteers, from your volunteers, and I can’t say that the government is holding back.  We had everything we needed, yes it wasn’t ideal, but we had enough. For example, for my division, they gave us your “ifacky” and 3 tourniquets.  For my assignments, this was enough.  

Kawa: Are they good ones, good tourniquets? 

Oleg: Yeah, it’s good. 

Kawa: I’m interviewing, also for this, I’m interviewing a Russian who is against the war, but he does not know what to do about it.  He is living in Moscow area, he’s against the war, he hates Putin, but he doesn’t know what to do. What would you say to Russians that want war to stop but the don’t know how to do anything about it, what would you say? 

Oleg:  I would want to use the example of my country, when we didn’t like our government, we gathered together and pushed back.  We pushed back.  And they’re hiding.  If they don’t like something, they need to say it, they need to show it, maybe even with force.  We made our choice. Why aren’t they making that choice? 

Kawa: So let’s say Putin either gets killed right now or he has a heart attached, and Putin is dead.

Oleg:  If only…

Kawa: Yeah yeah, but what do you think happens then?  What happens next?  Does the war stop?  Does it crazier?  What do you think happens if he dies?

Oleg:  I am deeply convinced that not only Putin is guilty for this war.  At the order of one all wouldn’t go, in my opinion.  So I don’t think this would greatly change the situation.  If Putin were to die the next day we would go on a counter-attack with flags flying and in a good mood.

Kawa: Do you maybe worry that maybe if he dies somebody crazier maybe takes over?  Somebody worse?

Oleg:  Yes, this is possible.  I wouldn’t be surprised.  I saw Russians, I saw how they fight, how they act, and I absolutely wouldn’t be surprised if there is someone worse than Putin. 

Kawa:  How do you want the war to end, what is your dream for the war to end?  And how do you think it realistically, probably, ends?  What do you want and what do you think is going to happen?

Oleg:  My dream is a Ukrainian flag above the Red Square and Russian falls apart into small republics that want to live apart and want to live better.  In my opinion this could save Russians from total hatred from the whole world.  This would give them a chance.  Practically, the Russians have show that they are a people who want to go to war.  In their years of independence they’ve attacked the Caucus, Chechnya, Ukraine, my Ukraine.  So while they are a whole country I don’t think there will be peace.  In reality, we will go back to the borders that existed before 1991 and there will be a pact signed among our countries.  

Kawa: The American people are very pro-Ukraine, but the American government, for example they are against Crimea coming back to Ukraine, that is the official position.  How much do you think the US American government will support you if they think Ukraine is going too far?

Oleg:  Your support is very big, I’ll repeat this again.  In my opinion, considering that you may not yourselves be deciding what to give us, you are doing quite a lot.  The area that I feel would help the most is aviation, I myself have experienced a hit from a rocket, and would feel much better knowing that our boys are flying around in pretty birds defending me and my country.

Kawa: In the middle of the war, how do you find time for love, and how important is love to you at this time?

Oleg: I found my love when I returned from the war.  When I came back for rehabilitation, when I returned to work, that’s when I found my love, and she helps me a lot.  She helped me battle with problems here (head).  Sadly, as brave Ukrainians are, the war is felt by everyone.  

Kawa: Let’s say tomorrow Putin dies, Russia collapses, it goes chaos, and the war ends, what’s the first thing you’re going to do? 

Oleg: Sleep.  Really good sleep.  Sleep peacefully without air raid sirens, there is not enough of this if I’m being honest.  

Kawa: Nice.  Have you been to America yet? 

Oleg: Are you asking if I have been or if I want to go? 

Kawa: Have you come here to America, have you been to America? 

Oleg: No, but I want to. 

Kawa:  When the war is over, you’ll come to America, and we’ll have a good time, okay? 

Oleg: Okay, okay.

Kawa: And I’d like to some day come to Ukraine and have a good time with you too, if I could. 

Oleg: You will be able to.  We will win, and you will be able to.  

Kawa:Some Americans right now are saying that we shouldn’t spend money to Ukraine because we have a lot of problems here in America, and we shouldn’t spend money over there.  Can you say why it’s important to send money to Ukraine to help? 

Oleg:  If we don’t stop them here, in my country, they will go further.  There will be many civilian lives lost, they don’t know how to go to war, they simply kill.  They kill and destroy everything.  Is money worth human lives?  Think about this question.  

Kawa:  Is there anything else you want to talk about, that people should know about what’s going on? 

Oleg: If I understand correctly, this podcast is for Americans, right? 

Kawa: Mostly yes, also some British and Brazilians.  But mostly all Americans.  

Oleg: I would like to thank you, thank you for your support, remind you that we aren’t just doing this for no reason, and I’m deeply convinced that we are the shield for Europe. Yes, maybe this won’t impact American directly – but there are dead kids, dead civilians.  This is why you should help.  You can simply say “hang on boys”, you can help with something more, but don’t undervalue what we’re doing.  

Kawa: Right on.  Also, I was curious, are you using Kalashnikovs or ARs? 

Oleg: Looke, right when I got to the front, they had started giving out .556 caliber weapons – M16, M4, and others.  I still fought with a Kalashnikov, but now about 80% of divisions have transitioned to NATO weapons.  

Kawa: Another thing to ask, your camo, does that hurt in the snow?  Do you think it needs to be white or yellow, or that’s okay? 

Oleg:  We had a pullover, something you pull over yourself and it camouflages you. This is something they gave our soldiers. In our surroundings, our pixel does the best job of protecting us, so that is why I don’t use additional camouflage. 

Kawa: You know it’s funny, hold on… I knew it.  We have the same shirts.  

Oleg: Almost, not exactly, but almost.  Marpat yes?  It’s a pixel, but we have different colors. And I have multi-cam… wait.  I have on this.

Kawa:  You have a plate carrier, right?  How do you set up your plate carrier?

Oleg: I can show you mine, it is here. (Sets up plate carrier) 

Kawa: So you got that on the front, how do you do the back? 

Oleg: I have only a small backpack for an additional fighting kit.  The main weight of the fighting kit, the medical kit I carried on the warbelt.  

Kawa: This is not for war, just basic every day knife, knife pack.  But when that plate carrier is really high, but you still put it on, and it works okay.

Oleg: I can send you some pictures of the equipment I had there.  When I came home I didn’t bring everything, some things I lost.

Kawa: Just curious, do you ever play chess?

Oleg: Chess, no.

Kawa: Do you know how to play?

Oleg: I’ve played, but don’t play regularly.  I don’t much time for it at the current moment.  

Kawa: If you ever want to play sometime, there is an app.  I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes when I was overseas, when I was fighting, it helped me think better, know what I mean, playing chess?  I think more looking around, so if you ever are able or if you want to play, you can send me Whatsapp, there’s an app.  I know it sounds kind of crazy, but it helps you keep your head around, because when you play to chess you have to always look at everything, so if you’re interested it might be fun, it might save your life too.

Oleg: You know for me, this isn’t funny, because I saw guys there who played computer games and then went out to fight.  They oriented themselves well in their surroundings, they learn very quickly how to control a drone, things like this. In press, there was an interview, I remember one detail.  A guy played a game about tanks, used a similar tactic from the game while fighting, and was able to destroy 5 or 6 pieces of enemy equipment.  This is why it’s not funny, I believe games do help us, especially a game like chess that helps you think, and in war you need to think.

Kawa:  Have they trained you on setting up encrypted networks? 

Oleg: I didn’t understand you.  Do you mean about drones or what? 

Kawa: For everything.

Oleg: We have our own messenger that uses Starlink that is hidden from Russians, if that’s what you meant, I didn’t understand completely. 

Kawa:  Okay, interesting.  The Russians, I would think they would be, they’re very bad at war, they seem like they should be able to get more information than they can get.  Just Russia is really bad at war it seems.

Oleg:  We have very good connection.  You understand that in war you need very good connection. They have some equipment from World War 2, field cable.  When I was patrolling one village, I remember it was completely covered by cable.  They are communicating by field cable – you can understand, laying the cable, we have drones, if we see someone appear, we focus on that area.  We have Starlink, we have other ways that I cannot tell you about.

Kawa: I just would think that they would still use Starlink against you if they were trying.  There’s ways to take over Starlink, ways to see Starlink.  You need Tor.

Oleg: VPN?

Kawa: No no, much more advanced.  US Navy technology.  I can send you links on how to set it up.  So if you connect to Starlink through the Tor you can’t be seen by anyone.  Even US government can’t see you, no one can.  Chinese, French, Russian, they can’t see you.  But just Starlink there’s still ways to see you. Understand?

Oleg: Yes, we have a special method through which we communicate and it works like Tor.  We have ways and that is why we do not fear this.

Kawa: Is there anything else you guys think you need more training on?  Is there anything else you guys think people with experience from US can come train you on that you don’t know about? 

Oleg:  I can’t say for everyone.  For me, I was luck that Mark came and showed, not taught, showed what is CQB.  BEcause when I got to front I only had his knowledge on CQB and this knowledge helped saved my life.  If I didn’t know this, right now I might not be speaking with you.  For me, I was lucky with CQB.  They taught us little on this because in this specialize divisions that operated before the start of the war. For guys like me, there is not enough.

Kawa:: When you do CQB it’s funny, my dad just did CQB training today.  I just talked with my dad about CQB today. Do you use, what do you use when you’re training?  Here we use Semunition, the Blue, have you seen that?  What do you do when you’re practicing?

Oleg: We trained on the job with weapons, we walked into buildings with live ammo.  It was only me in my group that knew how to do this, literally 5 minutes before we were to enter the building I drew for the guys in the sound approximately how the operation looked.  On the first floor the guys didn’t really understand everything, second floor they were better, and third floor even better.  That’s how we learned, we learned while fighting.  Maybe this is not completely right, but we did, we survived, we returned.  Probably then, it was good, not ideal but good.

Kawa: Okay, do what you go to do, right on.  How’s the weather right now over there?

Oleg: Now I am home in southern Ukraine, it is sunny and warm.  Couple days now I’m walking around with a t-shirt.

Kawa: Here in California it’s actually bad weather, believe it or not.  It’s always running, always floods, basements flooding, everything is flooding all the time.  Okay man, well thanks a lot for doing this, I really appreciate it.  I’m going to maybe change the order a little bit, maybe take one piece put it there to change the order.  When it’s finished, when it’s ready, I’ll try to send it to you, if you listen to it and you hear shouldn’t have said that, or that was a bad idea, just let me now.

Oleg: Yes, yes.

Kawa: All the Americans over here just want to say we’re thinking about you, we’re praying for you, hope you come back from all this safe, brother.

Oleg:  Thank you, friend.

Kawa: Glory to Ukraine

Oleg: Glory to the heroes

Kawa: Stay in touch man, and if you need anything, I can’t get you a Javelin you know, but I have a lot of friends with a lot of old gear, so if even like MREs, like ruxsack anything like that’s not a weapons system, you know Mark, right?  I’ll give it to Mark, and Mark can get it to you and your unit.  I don’t know if I’ll have it if you ask, but if your really need something, just ask me and I can try to get it for you.  I have a lot of friends in the military and ex-military with a lot of extra crap around the house.  If you need something, just ask.

Oleg:  Good, thank you.  Honestly, this is amazing – it is one thing when my people offer something, but it’s another thing when it is you.  You continue to support us and help us, so thank you sincerely friend. 

Note: If you liked this interview, we urge you to check out the interviews with Ukrainian socialist Denys Pilash:
Denys Pilash segment one.
“We need a working class movement to change the world”: Pilash interview 2
Ukraine attacked by Russian missiles and Ukrainian real estate developers: Pilash interview 3

Oaklandsocialist has also published a lot of its own material, such as this article “Fight a war with sticks and stones?” a reply to a Putin apologist


Categories: Europe, war

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