Since the beginning of the ATO in East, more than 300 thousand Ukrainians have received the status of combatants. We see them on the screens every day, we hear about them in the news releases and speeches of the spokesmen. However, we often don’t see real people behind these images. Opinion talked to four servicemen who were receiving a treatment in Odesa Military Hospital. We’ve tried to understand who our defenders are and why their life path led them to war?

Oleksanr, 51 years old

Almost all my life I’ve been in the army. Since I was 19 years, and now I’m 51, I can’t recall myself without shoulder boards. I went to ATO as a volunteer. Of course, the service is different: it’s one at the home front and there it is another way. I’ve been at the front line. We were literally living in the ground, in trenches. In the afternoons there is silence. And as soon as the night comes, the war begins.

At that time, thoughts about family helped me, and only them. I was thinking about my daughter, my wife, about my mother. They are the closest people for me. I wasn’t thinking about anything else at that moment. On the contrary, when it’s calm, you think about life, recall your friends.

At war, people are completely different: different psychology, behavior, education, goals, and dreams. Everything is polar. Sometimes I even wonder how I was able to find a common language with all of them. There are such people whom you can’t rely on, they don’t complete missions, they are drinking in trenches. I dare say, it would be better without them.

However, among the boys I’ve met, there are real heroes. They are patriots, who are ready for everything to get this victory. The way they fight, only a few can do so. Because of this, I have the utmost respect for them. I can do that anymore. In general, I think that war is a business of the young. They still have this youthful maximalism, this flame of Che Guevara. As Tsoi was singing: “War is a business of the young, a remedy against wrinkles”.

We had many talks about the revolution at the front. As with any question, there is no one correct answer. I think it was inevitable, it just happened that in 2014, the youth gave it a boost. Perhaps, if there were no revolution, there would be no war. But the revolution was inevitable, so there is no point guessing how differently everything could have happened.

You know, things don’t just happen. This war as well, it’s not just happening, no matter how strange it may seem.

I am from Kyiv, so I was at the Maidan. Although I didn’t take part in clashes, I wasn’t living in a tent, but I was trying to help as much as I could. I was bringing there medications, food. Every time I was going to the meeting. I saw with my own eyes how people were killed during attacks on Hrushevsky Street. By the way, the most active supporters of the revolution were the first volunteers in Donbas.

When I decided to join the ATO, my family perceived this decision positively. They support me in everything. Of course, my daughter was very upset. She didn’t want me to go, but in the end, she understood.

Now it is important for me to stay alive and work, to help the family. Daughter is 14 years old, she must enter the university, continue her studies. I want to spend as much time with my family as possible. Ordinary human plans. I want a calm life, some stability, and confidence in life.

When I come back home, I will definitely quit all the bad habits I have and keep fit. My main passion is a sport. Since childhood, I like being a sporty guy, a fit one. Recently, I’ve started to lose my good shape, so I have to go back to training.

I agree that the war is an impulse for rethinking. You start understanding what things are important in life. You analyze the life you’ve lived, how you have used your time, what, why and how you’ve done. You set priorities the other way. You appreciate what you have.

Yevheniy, 28 years old

In 2016, I signed a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Since then, I’m a frequent guest at the doctor’s offices in hospitals and clinics. It seems to me that I will meet all the holidays in the hospital: the Independence Day I’ve spent in therapy, the Day of Ukrainian Armed Forces was also celebrated in the hospital. For sure I’ll have to spend the New Year here.

Now I’m injured, I have a hernia – about 8 mm. The commission has decided that I am “partially fit for duty”. But during the action of a special period, the partially fit ones are not relieved of their duties. I’ve returned to my unit. I am a problem for commanders, they believe that I deliberately want to “dodge”. But it is physically impossible for me to serve. I was sent to the penal battalion, they turned me back, then I again was in the hospital. The whole thing is going on like a vicious circle. I wonder when it will stop.

In general, all my 28 years I’ve lived in Zaporizhia. I have a Master degree in Law. I’ve received an education, but I wasn’t practicing my profession, and I think I will not. From my childhood I was into sports: I’m a master of sports in swimming and triathlon.

I have a rather dark criminal background: I have two priors. I was “solving issues” with people who didn’t answer for their words, I got money from them. Back in time, I was hanging around with the wrong guys, so it happened. Now it’s done.

I wanted somehow to change my life and chose this way. I signed up, because I saw on the TV, how they knock out tanks. I also decided to knock out a tank. It seemed to me that it was cool, and contractors are getting money for this. In fact, I’ve never seen a tank.

Probably it happened because I haven’t been to the front line. The main task of artillery is to cover and defend the first line. We are always at the second.

I can’t say that I’m a dashing patriot or ever been like this. But I went at war with the understanding of what’s going on there and with the desire to fix it. So many people die in vain! I’ve seen a lot of deaths. Thoughts that one day it will be over helped me all this time. The war is painful and scary, but it’s not the end of your life. I will be able to go, and then I have a wonderful life. Future.

First, I will come back to my parents. My father was in Afghanistan, he also served in artillery. So, he totally cool with my decision. Mum worries about me, of course, like any other mum. They also want me to have a future.

What I will do in a few years when the war is over? I dream of finding a woman – a real friend, with whom we will look in one direction. I want to move to the village, buy a house there, bring up children. I want to stay away from big city life and excessive consumption. I want to turn off the TV forever: no more news. I don’t want to be a part of this herd, be in this controlled mass. I don’t like when the government wants to keep everything under control. I’m all for freedom in all its manifestations.

The war taught me to think differently. You rethink your entire life, you know what to do next and how to live further, your brains are fixed. Now I’m trying to avoid dark thoughts, I try to be on to the good side. I’ve seen people being hurt and I don’t want to be that person. I guess I believe in karma. In the end, everything will come back: to good people as well as to bad ones.

Andriy, 30 years old

I was born in Kyiv. Although I am from Kyiv, I wasn’t at the Maidan. I was passing by and thinking that it’s not for me. I don’t know if I can say that war is my kind of business.

Prior to the events in the East, I was doing sports, studying for the manager, to cut short – nothing special.

I was dating a girl for a long time then she cheated on me. It was too painful. I was very nervous, I didn’t know where to go. Because of this, I’ve decided to join the army in order to do something, to have a goal in life.

My father is from Russia. We weren’t talking for a long time. We used to argue a lot. He couldn’t understand why it was so important for me and the others like me. My family did not know for a long time that I was in ATO. They’d found out about this a few months later.

After I had come to the recruitment unit, I had 13 days to learn how to fight in the boot camp. After that, they’d sent me directly to a war zone. When I got to the front line, the first days they didn’t give firearms. I was instructed to carry the wounded. They were joking that if something happens I can throw a grenade. At first, it was very difficult, I was in a constant fear. Over time, you get used to everything, but fear doesn’t fade away. I felt as I was some kind of fine grain of sand: I couldn’t influence the situation, I had no control over my life, I couldn’t predict what would happen next.

In the most difficult situations, it is impossible to think about anything. I had no memories or thoughts in my head. I was praying. Actually, I’m not a believer. I do not know any prayer by heart. But for all that time, it seems, I could have written a prayer book. It just came out of my soul.

For good reasons, there are rules that after 3 months at the front line, you need to leave it, or you’re going to have problems with your head. I’ve seen this many times. I’m also worried about nightmares: I sleep badly, even in a hospital.

I think that I won’t return to the combat zone. I have serious injuries: concussion has caused a lot of complications. It’s been a year since I’m staying in various hospitals and sanatoriums throughout the country.

When I got to the hospital in Zaporizhia, we were taken to a concert. Then for the first time in a year, I went out to the city. For me it was strange to see the lights in houses, to see people walking calmly and drinking beer. I forgot how to live this way.

I don’t even know what I would do, if not the army.  Probably, I would work just like everyone else. I would try to live my life as good as possible. I wanted to become a massage therapist, now I also do: this is a decent profession. However, I don’t regret that everything has happened this way. Probably, at that time, I needed to go through this.

I began to treat life differently, to evaluate certain things, situations, and people. Before, I also pursued money and success. Now I understand that it does not matter at all. I don’t want to live in a world where money can do everything. The most important thing is that people remain as much humane as possible.

Oleh, 52 years old

I was born and live in the Kherson region. It’s pretty close to the Crimea, I was often going there, so I saw how it all began.

At the moment of Crimea annexation, I was at the peninsula. Since I was bound to military service, I wasn’t waiting until they call me, so I went to the recruitment office. I had to go there several times in order to join the military, despite I belonged to another military district. All in all, I was sent to the 18th tank brigade as a platoon commander.

In 2014, I received a very serious injury of the lower jaw, so the doctors of Odesa Military Hospital literally assembled it piece by piece.

Rehab was waiting for me ahead. Then I signed the contract and was assigned to Mariupol.

To be honest, there you don’t have a lot of time to think about life or to recall relatives. Usually, you have to take orders of Command, and sometimes make your own decisions, because the situation changes extremely fast.

Of course, when the pace of combat is slowing down, you have an opportunity to distract somehow. For example, I really love music, especially hit songs from the 90s, but they should be of high quality. Because of the guys from my platoon, I had to listen to everything: they are young, they have the other tastes. This was the fun we had.

Actually, I used to be involved in military affairs: I’m a pilot-navigator by training; I was engaged in intelligence a little bit. However, I was working as a driver. I worked at the construction works of a private entrepreneur and in the sphere of water management. Now I’ve entered the Kherson State Agrarian University. I want to improve my level, get another education, become a professional. Somehow you have to apply our life experience.

I have an interesting theory: society is like two containers that are interconnected. As we know from physics, while the fluid in them is at the same level, everything is calm. But as soon as in one of them the fluid rises higher than in the other, the movement begins. The bigger the difference, the bigger the movement. This law of physics can be observed on the example of Ukrainian society. If the gap in the status of the population wasn’t so big, we could have lived peacefully and relatively calmly.

This can be followed by another law of life: when we lose something, in another situation we are winning and vice versa.

When the war is over, I will go back to work, continue my studies. I will spend time with my family: I have a large family – 5 children. The youngest daughter recently turned 5, and my eldest son is 30 now.

I feel that I had to go to the ATO. This is my motherland, my land. Once I’ve traveled halfway around Europe. I’ve visited many cities, saw how they live in other countries. I want us to live the same way: constant development, new technologies. Now it is time to attract big investors. So far, this process is very slow. But I’m sure we have the potential to live in a developed and blossoming country.

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