I did not see myself in civilian life after my military service. We were constantly told: “Who needs you there?”. All I could think about was military service. I didn’t know what to do in civilian life. I didn’t want to go to construction, and I didn’t seem to be capable of doing anything else. My civilian job was a painter and plasterer, plus tiler and a decorator.
I started my military service in 2004 and signed a contract afterwards. After completing my military service, I was the best radio operator in the unit. I just wanted to learn Morse code because I’m curious about everything I don’t know. I was developing well in the military.
But later my opinion about the army changed. I was an instructor, and the authorities wanted me to do mostly paperwork, instead of working with the soldiers. And when the inspection came, the soldiers were not prepared and didn’t know anything and I got in trouble for that, I was deprived of my bonus, I demonstrated the worst result, and I hate being the worst. My guys should have been the best.
In 2009 I resigned. I started looking for something to do in civilian life. Now all my knowledge is in demand, as I was a universal combat training instructor. Even after my injury, I was brought to the forest on a stretcher and taught the guys who were going to go to war in a month. And then I went to the “Storm” nightclub in Khmelnytskyi, and I was immediately offered the position of head of security. I earned the same money for one night as I did in the army in a month. They started inviting me to guard concerts… I realised that I needed to start my own business. I opened a security company, and things were going quite well.
But in 2014, I left everything and went to war. When I returned, my former partners had already divided the company without me. But without me, it worked for another year and went bankrupt. I didn’t want to return to that field after the war, I was looking for something else.
My wife has her own business, and I started working in a coffee industry because I love coffee very much. I owned self-service coffee shops and made my own coffee.
2014. The beginning of the war
When the ‘movements’ began in Crimea, I realised that there would be a war and understood that I needed to share my experience. On March 11 2014, I joined the army as a volunteer instructor. It was all without a salary.
I prepared the first group and went with them. In Sloviansk, I was put on the unit’s list and officially mobilised so that in case of death, my family would receive payments.
Me and my friend whose wife was due to give birth any day now, had switched jobs. He was supposed to be an instructor, and I went with the group as a commander.
First, we arrived at Kharkiv airport. Then the regional state administration was seized there, and we were offered to liberate it. We agreed, but while we were preparing for the assault, the separatists surrendered and asked for a green corridor.
Then they sent away all the way to Izyum. They were ensuring us that they were locals, but the pro-Ukrainian locals who were helping us said they were strangers.
And then there were Sloviansk, Kramatorsk…
The confusion was terrible. No one could really understand what to do. The worst thing was that there was no coordination between units. Sometimes, you would go on an assault or to clear the territory and only then we would find out some information while talking to guys from other units. You would put the information together and make decisions along the way.
When there was a threat of encirclement of the Donetsk airport, and the guys there were in danger of being captured we went to help them. We stayed there for three days. It was the beginning, the spring, and shooting battles were like in Counter-Strike game.
Then I was transferred to Sector A – Luhansk region: Schastya, Stanytsia Luhanska, the airport.
Donetsk airport is much stronger than Luhansk airport. It had communications. From the tactical point of view, it was somewhat easier to defend. In addition, there was a connection through Pisky. Luhansk airport was completely encircled. The nearest unit was 12 kilometres away. The road to them was called the “road of life”. Initially, it was about 40 kilometres long. We were raiding, and Luhansk was almost surrounded.
On July 12, we were supposed to go on rotation and have free time. But there was no one willing to go to the airport. So we had to go. On my birthday, July 13, the first convoy reached the airport. It was a big one – 30 kilometres long, with a lot of equipment. Our task was to take russian checkpoints and strongholds.
We took the first checkpoint in Oleksandrivka and reached the outskirts of Luhansk and Rozkishne. The separatists were telling in their videos that they had killed 200,000 people and destroyed a lot of our equipment. In fact, they hit one tank, an APC and a D30. But we fulfilled the main task – we delivered ammunition to the airport, reinforced them, and nine tanks out of 30 arrived. 20 retreated. On adrenaline, we swept everything away on our way, and then it turned out that our troops had retreated. But we realised that there were still 10 kilometres to reach the airport, it was late and going 30 kilometres back at night would be harder than going 10 more kilometres forward.
The guys at the airport were surprised, as they were told that we had all retreated. We stayed there for eight days. On July 21, we broke through, taking out our wounded and killed soldiers. I got my first injury in front of Luhansk airport. We were hit by Grads and phosphorus, everything was on fire, we had to move and we had to run across the fields on fire. I ran with my face covered, and I couldn’t breathe, you felt like I couldn’t run anymore the fire wouldn’t stop. Everything burned, all the hair on my head was burnt and I thought: “I’m going to fall down,” and suddenly I felt a cool breeze – I arrived.
I took a breath and thought: “Damn, there are still guys there”. But then our guys all ran out. I had major burns on my arm. But as it turned out, they were just “scratches”.
And when there was a battle in Rozkishne, I had to move forward and crawl, and I was peeling off my burned skin to the meat. Then a tank fired and a shrapnel hit me in the leg. The guys thought I was dead. But the tank was firing an infantry shell – a high-explosive fragmentation shell. Usually one survives when it shoots in 250-metre distance, and it exploded in 10 metres from me. I noticed I was wounded only on the third day.
Assault and farewell to the family
On July 17, we ran out of ammunition. We had about 15 rounds of ammunition and a few grenades left, and we realised from the interception of the enemy’s radio that they were planning an assault. We had nothing to fight back with. At the same time, the planes stopped flying after the Il-76 was shot down in June (on June 14, 2014, russian mercenaries shot down an Il-76 military transport plane from the 25th Military Transport Aviation Brigade of the Ukrainian Air Force, which was flying as part of a three-aircraft convoy to Luhansk airport. The plane was carrying 40 paratroopers of the 25th separate Dnipro airborne brigade and 9 crew members. All of them died). Our pilots were ready to go through space to drop ammunition to us. It was at least a chance. We had to watch where the plane would be, but it didn’t appear. The guys said the plane was shot down. Later we found out that it was another one, an MH-17.
My family didn’t know I was at war, and I realised I might not be coming back, so I called my wife and parents to say goodbye.
As soon as I told them that and we all prepared ourselves to die, we saw parachutes in the sky. They dropped the ammunition. It turned out that the plane had some kind of breakdown and was an hour late.
The assault started and I thought: “Well, why did I have to call? I should have waited a little longer and not rush to say goodbye.” It took about six days before I could call my wife and tell her that I was alive, that I had escaped the encirclement.
We repelled an assault, helped the guys get out, and were given five days’ leave. When I came home no one spoke to me. On the last day, just before I was leaving they started talking, crying, persuading me not to go to war anymore. But I explained that it was my choice.
Since then, I wrote messages every day saying that everything was fine or warning that I would not be in touch. I served like that until March 9, 2015.
It was very hard after demobilisation. Mentally I was still at war, and I reacted acutely to everything that was going on in the home front. The psychologist said that it was a heightened sense of justice.
I was torn apart. I realised that the law existed, but it didn’t work, and that the physical power could solve any issues. That’s why I had problems with the police. I became aggressive. In general, I am patient by nature, but if I am pushed to the limit…
It’s easy to make friends with me, I trust people and open up. But if a person neglects this, this person will never be in my circle again.
Then my daughter began to feel ashamed of me because I was scandalous. She was seven years old. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t control it. I flared up like a lighter that could slowly go out.
I realised that I had to do something about it because it’s not ok when your wife is afraid of you and your daughter doesn’t accept you. I started trying different rehabilitation methods. My daughter did fencing and needed a sparring partner. She wanted to become an Olympic champion. I started training with her, doing everything she said. And I realised that sport started to distract me. I became calmer. I also started fencing.
In 2017, I found out about the Games of Heroes and the Invictus Games. I liked indoor rowing and shot put. But I didn’t have time to participate then. In 2021, I was selected for the Warrior Games. Sports rehabilitation is very effective, because psychological training takes time, and not every veteran has time, because everyone has a family, and everyone wants to develop.
At that time, I had money and could afford to go in for sports. My wife was very supportive, despite the fact that at first, we argued a lot. I had come new issues and she wanted me to be my former self.
During the rehabilitation process, I understood what was happening to me and learned to control my emotional state.
In addition, I gathered other veterans in the neighbourhood and got them involved in sports. For example, a team of 12 people from Khmelnytskyi came to the Warrior Games.
I’m a man of principle – if I work, I’ll only work for a gold medal. I found a discus coach. He is just like me. I’m 36 years old, and he beats me with a stick when I fail. But I realised that I wanted it and I needed it.
At Warrior Games, I took gold in the discus and silver in the shot put. I was one centimetre short in the shot put. It was a good competition.
Just at the period of the season between the end of winter and the beginning of spring, I have terrible headaches. I was in the hospital, and on February 23, the guys and I were having some cake with tea, recalling our past years of service, and joking until 2 a.m.
As soon as the nurse told us to go to bed and we started to fall asleep, we heard the aircraft and the sounds of bombing of the airfield. The war started. We were attacked.
The doctors came and discharged us. I went to the unit and then home to get my things. And on February 26, we were already working near Kyiv.
The Kyiv direction, Sievierodonetsk, Rubizhne – this is what we have gone through in a full-scale war.
In Sievierodonetsk, I was wounded by a mine. It was 8 p.m., and we were returning from a mission and we were just two kilometres away from our checkpoint. There was an explosion. Kolya and Vanya were killed, I had two arteries punctured, my lungs, my leg… The guys said it was a mine, but I didn’t hear the explosion. I didn’t hear anything at all. They must have dropped it from an “Orlan’.
We were evacuated. It was very scary when I got wounded. I could see two arteries in my groin were broken, I was bleeding, so I tightened the tourniquet and the bleeding stopped. The doctors said that normally people live for about 30 seconds with such injuries because they usually bleed out. But it helped me that I had a slight tummy and the belt was pressing the artery. And I also didn’t have pneumothorax because the bellyfat blocked the hole.
In 45 minutes I was already in Kramatorsk and was receiving help.
Returning from the full-scale war
You seem to already know yourself, your reactions, your states, and you know when to take medication, when to go to psychologists, you know how to control everything. But still, new feelings arise. For example, the feeling of guilt that Kolya and Vanya died.
And it gets even harder to work with yourself. Those things that you think you know how to overcome are now harder to “train”.
By the way, all of us had wives who were pregnant. Andriyukha’s son was born in April, Vanya’s in June, Kolya’s in July, and mine in August.
I was so afraid of dying and not seeing my son. He was born, and I wanted to hold him in my arms and see him. I really wanted a son. We had no luck for eight years. And I kept saying: “Who is going to steal my medals from me? I would steal my grandfather’s medals, and who will steal mine? I need a son.”
I had a lot of plans for 2022, I was selected, I was planning to set a record in the discus. There were positive moments in the family, we were supposed to go on holiday. Just before the New Year, in 2021, my wife said: “We always economised on Bukovel, but let’s not do it this time. We’ve worked hard this year, we can relax properly.” And we did not deny ourselves a holiday. Two weeks later it turned out that she was pregnant.
We named my son Oleksandr. It is our tradition that if a boy is born, the father passes on his fate with his name. Whether I had a good fate or not, I was supposed to die three times but I’m alive. My parents and wife received funeral notices twice in 2014. And I turned out to be alive.
You have the Orders of Courage of all degrees. What does it mean to you?
It is very important to me that I have received serious awards for my service and skills. In 2014, I received the Order of Courage of the third degree for the Luhansk airport. For the Kyiv direction, I received the second degree. And the first degree for Sievierodonetsk. Many people receive these orders posthumously. My friend Kolya was also supposed to receive the Order, but it was given to him posthumously. The price I paid for these awards is too high. I wish Kolya and Vanya were still alive.
What role did your son play in your rehabilitation?
When he started to crawl, it made me move more. When I first came back from the war, my daughter was seven years old, and I started doing sports to join her fencing. It helped me at the time. And now that my son is older, I cannot just put him down and watch him, you have to interact with him. It’s hard to bend, but I have to bend down to him. I feel pain, but I take him in my arms, he chirps and purrs, and I feel better. It feels good. The best thing is when he falls asleep on my stomach and I fall asleep with him.
What helps you in your rehabilitation besides children?
Coincidentally, when I had to have the rehabilitation, I already knew that there would be a selection for the Invictus Games. I knew it would help me. I don’t have control over my left leg, so I’ll be throwing the shot put sitting down. Sport helps a lot.
Why do you want to take part in the Invictus Games?
I thought I would not be selected for the national team. I thought my emotional state was much better than some of the other participants. Now there are a lot of newcomers who really need it. And I am already experienced, I have more or less got myself together. I didn’t make any plans.
I am also involved in the patriotic education of children. I was with them at the time of the national team announcement and I missed it. I came home and my wife said: “Congratulations, you made it to the Invictus”. It’s a good chance to go with my family so they can feel the atmosphere.