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Alexander Ponomarev: “As long as there is a war, we are in it to the end”

Football fan and military man

 I’m a football fan and I support Dynamo Kyiv. Apart from that, I don’t support any other clubs. As a child, I used to play at the CSKA Kyiv club, which was later renamed “Arsenal”.

I am a military man by profession. I have been serving for 13 years. I had a choice: to pursue a career in football, become a soldier or ride my mum’s coattails. I chose the military career because I was afraid that I might get some kind of injury in football. Football is a rather traumatic sport. And at that time, my mother did not earn enough money for me to play football. So I decided that I should join the army.

I served in Sevastopol. From Sevastopol I moved to Ochakiv. I have always wanted to jump into the water with a parachute. It’s an awesome jump, the best one and it is not painful.

I serve in the Special Forces. We were being prepared for war. We were practising various things, such as ambushes, raids, and foreign combat techniques, with different types of weapons. In the Special Forces, you can’t just go to the training ground… Before that, for example, you have to walk 30 kilometres through the fields with a backpack and a rifle, chafe your bum and feet… And that’s just one way. But you have to go through everything yourself to feel and understand what it is.

In 2014, we went to Kharkiv, to the area of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. We were taken there by plane and then by three helicopters. I’ve never flown on a helicopter like that before – it was like a rollercoaster ride. We flew between fields and tall trees so that our groups could not be shot from MANPADS. The pilots were aces.

There were a lot of casualties then because of poor communication and coordination. Even our commanders Oleksii Zinchenko and Yurii Olefirenko were killed. A street was named after one of them, and a ship was named after the other. A lot of seamen, petty officers and officers were killed. We’re honoured that we had such teachers.

Captivity in the occupied territory

 I was also in Artemivsk at that time. Today, everyone knows Bakhmut. I was taken POW there.

That day, two other soldiers and I  went on a mission from Artemivsk. I was a senior intelligence officer. I knew that I had to be near Horlivka at a certain time. At night, so that no one would see me, I went to the occupied Holmivske, passed on the information, and when it started to dawn, I was thinking about how to get out. But I ran into a large group of enemies. There were more and more of them. In addition to the pro-russian military, there were many local people. They were kind of scared, but they were all on the side of these separatists. It seems to me that even after the liberation of Donetsk if you said that you are from the Ukrainian Armed Forces in those cities that have been occupied since 2014, you would hardly be able to come out there alive.

The battle started, two of my guys retreated, I was wounded – my both legs were shot. I was taken to Horlivka hospital, there were many civilians there. Some ‘DPR’ men in blue berets came and shot me in the head with an unloaded gun. People who were lying next to me said later: “We thought you were done”. But I was fine – I didn’t piss myself. Then they said: “If you stay here, we will kill you”. I was transferred to another place. I don’t know where or by whom, but there I saw flags of the Liberal Democratic Party of russia, Zhirinovsky’s party. He has always encouraged russians to start the war in Ukraine. When I was operated on in Horlivka, the doctor performed the surgery at gunpoint by the “DPR” and LDPR representatives. These people and these flags made it clear to me that it’s the russians who are fighting against us.

I didn’t have any documents on me, so the separatists thought I was just mobilised. If they had found out that I was a contract soldier from the Special Forces… They later found out who I was – they called my wife and she told them that I had been taken from the training ground to the combat zone.

I had been held in captivity for three months. They released me because my wounded leg started to fester. I was taken to their medical facility, and they said that if I didn’t get exchanged, they would cut off my leg.

Then I was exchanged. Volunteers helped me get out of captivity.

Fighting for all

First, they took me to Kharkiv. They asked me where I wanted to go for the operation. The first time I was operated on was in Odesa. It was already 2015. And then I returned to service. But not as an intelligence officer, because it requires jumping, shooting and walking a lot. Now I am a psychologist.

My motto is: “Every day I live is better than yesterday”. It may be rude to say that I live one day at a time, but I try not to remember yesterday. I try to implement my plans for today. I try to be more with my children and help my wife. Our men sometimes forget who women are. Not every soldier turns into a gentleman and not every man realises that his wife can support him better than anyone else. When I was a prisoner of war, my wife contacted American volunteers. That’s how people helped me.

At the beginning of 2022, I didn’t just realise that there would be a big war, I was afraid that it would be worse. The military would certainly do their work, but I was just hoping that the civilians would not support russia and would not surrender. The russians could also destroy the nuclear power plants at once. But the people of Kherson, Mykolaiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv stood up, all of them. Kharkiv completely kicked out the russians. Kyiv stood up. The russians were going to a parade in Kyiv. Did they in the end?

Russia is a terrorist state. I would like people to know that we are fighting not only for our culture and our people, but we are also fighting to prevent other countries from the terrorism that our country is experiencing. Yes, when we are fighting with the russian troops, we understand what we are doing, why we get wounded and why we can get killed. But the fact that children and women are being killed is, in my opinion, pure terrorism. The russians also want to erase our culture so that we do not exist at all.

I can’t even call russians “human beings”. My wife and I call them ‘devils, demons’. They are beasts. I don’t underestimate them, because they also kill our military. But I despise them.

Since 2014, when the Russians attacked us, I have perceived – this war as a single event. Like a ticking time bomb. But our guys are really, really professional in their work against the russians. And if we have more modern equipment, we will knock out the enemy faster.


What’s the main thing you need to have to be an intelligence officer?

You have to be a fan of this occupation in order to be an intelligence officer. I even had surgery on my nose so that I could dive underwater and go through a pressure chamber.

What helped you to keep your head up?

My children. They inspired me. They were born when I was serving. And scouts never stay at home. When I was released from captivity, my son hugged me, my daughter was scared, she didn’t even recognise me at first. It was painful. Only later did I realise that I should have spent more time with them. Perhaps I also wanted to show my wife that I was a real man. I could have served in Kyiv instead, eating my mother’s pies. But I chose this path myself.

What are you proud of?

I am a participant of the Invictus Games. I want to achieve my goal. I want to become a children’s football coach after the war. Even my massage therapist told me: “Sasha, I believe in you so much!”. But as long as there is a war, we are in it to the end. I’m a soldier, I have weapons, so I want to protect people who don’t have weapons.

Do you believe that this war is final and that we must put an end to it?

I do believe in it. Moreover, I see that we are using new technologies. And we must win. And most importantly, we must tell young people about all the historical moments of the fight against the russians. All our future generations must understand that our country is independent and they must distinguish between who is our enemy and who is our friend.

Why do you want to take part in the Invictus Games?

I have a dream. Through the Invictus Games, I want to prove to everyone that despite injuries or congenital problems, it is worth going into sports and setting up new goals to reach.


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