Placeholder while article actions load

MUKACHEVO, Ukraine — At the end of January, The Washington Post interviewed four members of Ukraine’s 130th territorial defense battalion in Kyiv: regular citizens who spent their weekends preparing for a full-scale war with Russia – a prospect many people at the time found doubtful.

Fast forward three months: Moscow has launched the largest conflict in Europe since World War II, large swaths of the country lie in ruins and thousands have been killed in the fighting.

And the battalion’s members are now battle-tested veterans.

All four have returned to the front, as Russia launches a major offensive in eastern Ukraine. Earlier this month, The Post caught up with three of them during a lull in the fighting, and spoke to them about their baptism by fire.

Bida, a graphic designer originally from Luhansk, woke up at five in the morning of Feb. 24 to the sound of Russian rockets striking Kyiv. His family knew what to do.

While he stretched tape over the windows to protect them from blasts, his wife, Yulia, and Yulia’s mother, Tanya, quickly gathered their things to leave Kyiv with the couple’s infant, Simon.

A friend arrived shortly to take them by car to western Ukraine. Bida wished them goodbye and then headed to his battalion’s prearranged gathering point in Kyiv.

“Everything according to plan,” he said.

That Russian forces launched a multipronged attack surprised him. He had believed Moscow would first invade the eastern part of the country. “I thought that they would turn to Kyiv a little later,” he said.

For two weeks, Bida’s part of the battalion fought in the Kyiv suburbs of Irpin and Bucha, which saw some of the heaviest action, and where evidence was later discovered of horrific atrocities by Russian forces. The Russians’ shelling was constant and indiscriminate, Bida said, and became round-the-clock in the days before the Russian retreat from the Kyiv region.

“To say that their shelling was directed at our positions – no,” Bida said. “They shot at the whole city – randomly shot residential houses and industrial zones. Cars and buildings were on fire all around us.”

In Mariupol, a website for the missing reveals Ukraine war’s toll

The many weekends of training helped prepare him “and then some,” he said. And he learned new skills — like moving positions under fire. “You understand the range of the shelling, and if it’s not in our direction, you can move from wall to wall,” he said.

Bida thinks that the Russians’ supplies “aren’t limitless,” which will decide the war in the Ukrainians’ favor, and “gradually” they’ll regain control over Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

“I plan to go there for my next birthday, as I’ve always done,” he said.

Mudryk, a Kyiv-based account manager for the New York-based company International Flavors and Fragrances, was “morally prepared” for the war. “I expected it,” he said.

As he heard the first explosions, he remembers asking himself, “Are you ready?” and answering: “Yes, I’m ready.”

“Then go and do what you’re supposed to do,” he said to himself.

When he arrived at the battalion gathering point, he was overwhelmed by the “lines of people waiting to sign up” to fight.

Mudryk said that the battalion normally consisted of around 540 fighters. But the new volunteers increased their numbers “by many times,” he said, without giving any definite figures. Some of the recruits didn’t know how to use a gun.

“They weren’t prepared to fight,” Mudryk said. “They hadn’t been taught anything, and we had to teach a lot of them from the very beginning, because their skills are their survival.”

Mudryk said that among his group of fighters there have been losses, but he can’t speak for the entire battalion. In one battle with a Russian tank, the commander of Mudryk’s platoon was killed, and four fighters wounded.

“Out of seven of us, two were in one piece in the end,” he said.

Later, he suffered shrapnel wounds from mortar fire. “I felt a blow to my face – I was bleeding heavily, we stopped it and I continued to work further,” he said. “I found out about the fragments later when they did a CT scan on my face in Kyiv.”

Mudryk hopes to visit the United States when the war ends. “I have friends there and I’d like to go to Miami, San Francisco or Los Angeles.” But first, he said, Ukraine must defeat Russia completely.

“If we let the Russians go now, sooner or later they’ll want to return — they always do that,” he said. “They must simply be destroyed to the last fighter — until our complete victory. There’s no other way.”

Zhaglo, a market researcher, said her training prepared her well for the battles she faced, but in the beginning, the frequent explosions threw her off. “That was unexpected,” she said. “Of course, it plays very hard on your psyche. But with time it becomes a usual thing.”

Before the war, she said, Western journalists visiting the battalion would ask her what she would do under Russian occupation. But for her, this scenario was out “of the question” and it was “no surprise” that Ukrainian forces drove the Russians back.

What surprised her instead was the response of Ukrainian society, which she had believed would be “apathetic” and would prefer “to stay on the sidelines” if an invasion happened. “I had a very skeptical attitude toward my compatriots,” she said.

Today, she admits her mistake. She says that she encounters the same attitude among all Ukrainians on a daily basis: “This is our homeland, this is our land, our family, our children, our parents.”

“I’m not fighting for money or that someday there will be some kind of reward,” she said. “And this is exactly what any person who has a family, who has a house, who has something to lose will do.”

Her three children were in a “safe spot” away from Kyiv, while she and her husband, who is also fighting, remained. “Both of us have our assignments,” she said.

“There were hot moments in the beginning of the invasion – Russian (forces) managed to enter Kyiv,” she said. “Now, thank God, the situation is quiet. But we are reacting to everything.”

She thinks that there will be many more battles to come. “This is the quiet before the storm,” she says. “There will be withdrawals, and more hot days, and there won’t be a quick end of the war.”

“But in the end, we’ll win anyway,” she said.

Source link

By admin

Malcare WordPress Security