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Maksym Dmytrash: “Now I live not only for myself but also for the four fallen comrades”

Service in the Police and the Dream

Before 2010 I only had civilian jobs – construction, service station, car wash. I wasn’t afraid of any kind of work, whether it was hard, easy, or dirty. In 2010, a friend of mine invited me to join the police and since then, I became a member of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The job provided stability – you work for a month and you know you’ll receive your paycheck. I was younger then, and it was my first experience of service in a special unit, which was still part of the former militia.  It was all interesting and new because in 2007, after my service in the State Border Guard Service in a sports unit, I applied to the Security Service of Ukraine. Perhaps it motivated me. Maybe it was a somewhat unrealized dream that had been postponed for a couple years.

I am a rebel by nature, and service has always been challenging for me. I fight for the rights of the oppressed, those who complain about something at work but cannot address their complaints to the management. I’m like a train, like a steam locomotive, moving straight forward, I always speak frankly, argue, and receive reprimands… But since I am a professional in my field, I haven’t been fired.

Working in law enforcement, I saw many things from the inside. I had to work at mass events – I observed people’s attitude towards the uniform, the military, and the police officers. And it seemed to me that something would explode sooner or later. But I pushed away thoughts of the war, and there was no clear understanding of it either.

When the war started, we went to what was then called Artemivsk, now Bakhmut. It was in 2015. I  was going through those cities I used to visit  in my civilian life and there were collapsed bridges and destroyed buildings around. Not as it is now, but still there were areas heavily damaged by shelling. Fields and plantations were under shelling.

But people would say that the police officers were on the fourth or fifth line of defense doing nothing. At the beginning of the war, the police were a bit offended at the people to be honest. People wanted one thing, our authorities ordered us to do another thing and we took an oath to the Ukrainian people and had to follow orders being caught between a rock and a hard place. The authorities warned us about  not following orders, and people threw stones at us, and followed us to find out where we live. It was really very difficult, but probably when you enter such a service, you totally realize that it will never be easy. Although now my perception of everything has radically changed.

In 2016, we were involved in defense and clearance operations at the Vuhlehirsk Thermal Power Plant in Svitlodarsk and the area. Our units were engaged in various places and went to many cities. For example our reconnaissance patrols worked  in Novoluhanske while the separatists were roaming around there. Once, there was a tense situation in a store in Svitlodarsk. Our armed forces entered, and the separatists also arrived armed, and there were a lot of civilians around. We all decided to leave peacefully in order to avoid shooting in the store, as it could kill a lot of people.

Before 2017 I had been in the Anti-Terrorist Operation/Joint Forces Operation zone three times. After that I started preparing for the next stage – fulfilling a small dream of joining the special forces unit called KORD. It was something new, and I wanted to test myself. The selection process had a few steps: passing sporting regulations, a five-day endurance course, and two months of training. The salary was also a good motivation. It’s one of the things that motivates all men because every man wants to secure a good future for his family, no matter what they say. You can’t survive working for free.

I passed my physical preparation and the shooting tests, but I didn’t pass the psychologist. So, I had to wait for the next recruitment for three years. During that time, I worked in the unit as a duty inspector. I continued to prepare and train physically, and I constantly took the tests. Finally, in 2019, I passed the tests for the next selection. By the way, the psychological training and tests they used on me were then declared invalid.

“One falls – everything falls apart”

When discussions about the possibility of a full-scale war began, I didn’t really believe in it. I thought we lived in the civilized world, in the 21st century – how can a war be possible? Although, maybe deep inside I realized that it could happen but I tried to push those thoughts away. I even told my wife not to worry, that nothing would happen on the 22nd or 23rd of February. 

On the 22nd of February, we were sent home, but on the night of the 23rd, we returned to work due to an alarm. We came fully prepared with our bags, ready for deployment, we were ready to go to the border or wherever we’d be ordered to go.

A month or two before that, we had practiced action algorithms. Each unit in our region knew what to do. We knew clearly that our task was to arrive, assemble, load up, and await for instructions.

I come from Smila, a small town, where my parents and in-laws live. I sent my wife and son there and told them to move if things got worse. But I realized that if the russians broke into our region, we would have to become partisans in the forests. But no matter what  – we would not surrender. That was an informal agreement within our unit.

For quite a while, we didn’t receive any instructions and stayed in Cherkasy practicing certain action plans to defend the region. Even though we are not military personnel, we perform tasks and cannot make decisions independently about where to go and what to do.

We went to one of the military units in our region where there were reports of hostile activities. The military asked for our assistance because someone kept setting up beacons in the area. We had no armored vehicles and we didn’t fully understand what we might face. We went to search the woods.

Everything becomes automatic because it’s just a job. There is some kind of emotional detachment – a form of professional deformation. Of course sometimes there are adrenaline surges, but when you know that there’s someone beside you whom you can rely on and vice versa – you can’t let anyone down. If one falls – everything will fall apart. Nevertheless you should mostly rely on yourself.

Shelling and Injuries 

It was May 22, 2022. We were supposed to launch an assault on one of the villages in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, either in the Orikhiv direction or in Huliaipole. A special operation was planned. Some local residents simply revealed the place of our permanent deployment and then four Kalibr missiles were launched at us.

Most of the locals in the village of Vilnoandrivka, where we stayed, were fine. Some treated us well, while others were more reserved. But according to the investigation by the Security Service of Ukraine, testimonies, and data, someone ratted us out.

We spent around 15 days there. The attack was at 2:55 in the morning. I went to bed around 2:30 – just starting to fall asleep… The base was ruined by the missile strike. Everything fell apart.

The distance between our building and another platoon’s building was about 10 meters. There was a canteen behind us. The first missile hit the canteen. The second missile struck our building – right in the center. Simultaneously, the third missile came in. Some people who ran outside had their limbs blown off. It was unclear what was scarier – staying inside the building or going out. And then there was the  fourth missile.

I managed to be the first one to crawl out from under the debris. I pushed away everything that fell on me, it was all dark, dusty. I swiped my hand across my face and felt something warm on my hand – it was blood. I couldn’t walk. I recalled everything from my medical training, fell to my knees, and crawled forward on my hands.

I crawled up to the door. I knew that our guys from Chernivtsi were living there. I opened the door… And then one of my comrades told me, “You opened the door, still on your hands and knees, and calmly said, ‘I need help.'” He asked me, “Max, what happened?” You recognized me immediately and repeated, “Styopa, I need help.” There was a medic there, he shone a flashlight and started applying tourniquets.

Then there was the evacuation period. Due to significant blood loss, I started to feel a bit cold, hypothermia. They covered me with two sleeping bags, loaded me into an evacuation vehicle, which caught fire on the way. I was brought to the ambulance in a burning vehicle.

21 men were killed then, 19 were from KORD: nine from Vinnytsia, five from Rivne, four from Cherkasy, and one from Zakarpattia. Over a hundred others were injured, they all survived. 

Four of the killed guys were my friends. One of them was my godfather. I won’t allow myself to forget all of that. The price we pay for everything is too high. This is a part of my history, and no one can take it away from me. It’s a part of my memory. Can I live comfortably with it? Yes. Do I remember it all? Yes, I do. Can I forget? No, I can’t.

8% for Life

My wife deserves a monument. I don’t know how she endured all this. It all began when they told her what had happened and that the doctors gave me an 8% chance to live.

From the first day, I fell into a coma, then woke up, stabilized a bit, but on the third day, my lungs failed, and they induced me into an artificial coma. My wife came to visit, and they told her, “Only an 8% chance of survival.” Maybe this is the God’s plan for me, or perhaps it’s my inner core that didn’t allow me the moral right to give up.

Five days later I came out of the coma, somewhat stabilized, and things got a bit easier. Thanks to my strong spirit, I started getting up, sitting, and slowly, around the 7th or 8th day, I began eating without the feeding tube. Before that they had to feed me with a syringe, which just gave me a cold feeling in my stomach and I would say to the nurses, “Thank you, it was delicious.”

After leaving the intensive care unit, I had many more surgeries. During my transfer to Mechnikov Hospital, I caught pneumonia. Once again, if not for my wife, who kept “hounding”  the doctors, I would probably have died.

Due to the injuries and lung issues, the doctors forbade me from doing sports. But my wife and I joke that I was not born to follow rules. And now, I feel much better.

Now, after the Invictus Games in Germany, I am going to the United States for the Marine Corps Marathon, and before that, I was in Romania for a half marathon. I raised a flag in honor of the fallen comrades there.  We made a memorial plaque of honor in our unit and I put one of the medals I brought on it. As long as we talk about the fallen, as long as we remember, they will remain alive.


Who supported you at the beginning of your service in the police?

A lot of people did – parents, friends, colleagues. However, my godfather Andriy didn’t support me, he disapproved of my job. I told him that it’s just work, that there’s life outside of it, and that maybe I could bring about some changes within my job. We hadn’t kept in touch for a long time. We resumed our communication after he found out about my injury.

Could the war with russia have been avoided?

I think not. Sooner or later, it would have broken out anyway. Becaus russians are a people who lack their own history and who wish that there wouldn’t be a nation like Ukrainians and a country like Ukraine. We express our opinions freely,  we are an independent state and have everything to exist independently. They have never liked that.

Do you have a short temper? What can irritate you?

There’s a lot of russian language around in everyday life. A lot of other things to be honest. But I am a reserved person and can control my emotions. I have become like that with age. Before that, I used to be very short-tempered, and would storm out it a second.

Who helped you cope with your emotional state after being injured? 

Psychologists didn’t really help much. They all said I was a mentally healthy person. I mostly managed the situation myself and my wife was there for me all the time. There were days when it was extremely difficult. For four days, I was in such depression that I didn’t want to hear or see anyone. Then my father said, “Now you have to live not only for yourself but also for the four fallen comrades.”

In your opinion, how should the memory of the fallen defenders be honored?

 One good option is to organize various tournaments in memory of a specific person or a group of people. Installing memorial plaques too, because people will read and clearly know what it’s about, and understand it. Also, renaming streets, because it helps people hear the names. We are currently living in such a reality, and it’s going to be like that until we drive out the russians from our land.

What do “Invictus Games” mean to you?

One of my goals in this project is to remember and let people know that not only the military personnel of the Armed Forces and territorial defense sacrifice themselves in the line of duty, but also ordinary police officers do, too. Also, I want to convey to people, the military, and their families, that within a short period of time one can truly achieve a lot by putting in maximum effort. Rehabilitation through sports.

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