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Volodymyr Hera:  “When you can’t walk, you develop a lot of patience. That’s when the essence of a samurai is cultivated”

Love for the military from childhood

I was born in a village near a military unit, close to a shooting range. Ordinary kids would play behind the garages or on playgrounds but I would go get milk at my grandma’s and run to the soldiers, so that they would let me sit in the self-propelled artillery. Military uniform was often in front of my eyes.

My parents worked in Yavoriv, and I used to go to the art school for private lessons there. So, I saw the military personnel quite often. My dad always spoke positively about them. He wasn’t a soldier himself, but he served during the Soviet times.

Besides, I wanted to get tough and strong, because I was stringbean. 

In 2004, there were many American films about combat actions in the East. The Middle East and peacekeeping topics were highly promoted in our cadet circle. Almost everyone wanted to participate in peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, or go as a military observer to Iraq or Afghanistan. I wanted to go to Afghanistan.

In 2008, when I applied to the Hetman Sahaidachnyi Ground Forces Academy, my parents strongly objected. It was around the time when Russia started the war in Georgia. My parents said that someday we would also have a war with them.

During the Maidan events, it became clear that there must be consequences. However, I didn’t expect it to escalate to such an extent, with the occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk, and that it would last for so long. I thought there would be just border battles and we would not give up a single meter of our land. I never expected there might be so many traitors within the country, including in the police and Security Service of Ukraine.

Normally, the military personnel are not allowed to participate in the events like the Maidan. But at that time, I was serving in Zaporizhzhya as a platoon commander in the artillery reconnaissance of the 55th Brigade. So, I occasionally changed into civilian clothes and went to the local Maidan.

After the Maidan, our brigade was in a state of “anti-sabotage reserve.” We didn’t know what to expect. Anyone could put on a balaclava, call themselves “Right Sector,” and seize military units. We tried to have 60% of the unit always on duty. I transferred from Zaporizhzhia to Yavoriv right in February. I took the position of a reconnaissance platoon commander.

The beginning of the war in 2014

Three of my friends and I were born in February, and we always celebrated together. On February 27, 2014, we booked a restaurant. It was the day of the russian invasion of the Crimea. I received a call and was ordered to be at the brigade in an hour. Just as I arrived at my friend’s and was about to get in the car, I turned around, grabbed my backpack, and I never came home since. I stayed at the brigade all the time.

The brigade was involved in mobilization. At that time some units were ready to deploy immediately. We conducted combat coordination exercises. The combat statute requires not to engage in combat right away. So we had a little war simulation in a village near the shooting range. We learned to form columns, and the soldiers knew their duties by then. Our first battalion-tactical group left on March 8 to protect the border in the Sumy region. As the only officer in the company I had to stay and handle mobilization. I prepared and repaired the equipment til June.

The 24th Brigade, 55th Brigade, which I collaborated with, were capable of delivering fire attacks. The 72nd, 80th, 25th, and 36th Brigades were ready to fight immediately. I really hate it when people say that our army was not good enough before 2014. Yes, the army had been downsized before the war, and it was put in difficult conditions, but why was the army considered bad? What couldn’t it handle in the first days of the russian invasion?

The first years of the war

In May, the first Battalion Tactical Group of the 24th Brigade joined combat. It was in Donetsk Oblast, in Sloviansk. My first deployment in the war was in Lyman. It was called Krasnyi Lyman then. There was no such thing as a frontline. We could advance, and find separatists behind us. We would fight for heights, roads, and settlements.

I was a lieutenant confident as hell. I wasn’t afraid of shells because I had been hearing them explode for five years. I could see someone firing from an anti-aircraft installation about eight kilometers away, for example, and hear battle sounds, but I wasn’t scared. But when they were shelling at us it was frightening. Then I would say the Lord’s Prayer a few times… Well, “a few” times would be an understatement—probably around 150 times. And then once during a shelling, we all hid under the IFV. We would just lay under the vehicle and joke that the first one who ran for cover was a sissy. 

In July-August 2014, we conducted a large raid into the enemy’s rear – we went around Luhansk and reached the Russian border. The first battle during the raid was in Severodonetsk, but we broke through and faced no further resistance. We were moving with a powerful force — the entire brigade—two artillery batteries, one of them being “Grad” multiple rocket launchers. It would have been fatal to engage in combat with it. We had support from many other units. The 55th Brigade was also with us, providing long-range artillery support.

We consolidated our positions in the village of Volnukhine, Lutuhyne region. It was a hell of a battle. The russians were shelling us from their territory, trying to attack us a lot of times. They failed, although we lost a lot of our equipment. It’s not easy to hit armored vehicles, but fuel trucks and “Ural” vehicles that carried food and ammunition were all destroyed.

We retreated to a factory in Lutuhyne. We restored and repaired some of the equipment there. Our unit, the 30th and the 80th brigade, the 1st Tank Brigade from Honcharivske, and “Aidar” had been holding the defense for two months—almost the entire Luhansk Oblast, up to the Russian border. They strengthened the positions on roads, where the enemy could pass through. After that raid we found ourselves surrounded.

There are different types of encirclement: strategic, operational, and tactical. Strategic is within the boundaries of the region. Operational is up to 50 kilometers. Tactical is within 5 kilometers. When I knew that we were in an operational encirclement, it  was a relief, because it was not so close.

We tricked the enemy on the radio about how much ammunition was left. We agreed to multiply everything by 10. In August, there were intense battles. We lost four out of seven lieutenants from the same group in one battle. Helicopters evacuated the wounded and the dead every day. One of my unit’s tasks was to patrol the helicopter landing area.

The locals were initially afraid of us because they were previously under the occupation by “Cossacks”, and those are just nuts. As for us – we never demanded anything from the locals. We weren’t interested at all and didn’t even want to talk to them. But within a week, they saw that we were not going to beat or rape anyone  or steal anything. I remember when life in the city began to settle down a bit  we went to the store to buy some sausage and beer, for example and the locals were shocked when we paid money for our food.

During another raid, we passed through the village of Kamianka we met refugees from Drohobych, and they helped us a lot. Also, another couple helped us, they were probably the most educated people there. The separatists later shot them. I also remember another village that was really poor. The fences were broken, and the houses were in disrepair, but the people shared everything  they could with us. There is such a contrast between villages in Luhansk Oblast—one is rich, the other is very poor. But the landscapes in that region are very beautiful.

Battles for Luhansk Oblast

I was sure that the war would end. I was supposed to go to the sea in September. I was wearing a field uniform, and the “special occasion” uniform, the “British” one was set aside in my backpack. I was sure that nothing would happen to me.

I had already adjusted fire on the garage cooperatives where the separatists hid their equipment in Luhansk. If it hadn’t been for the so-called “convoys,” those Russian white KAMAZ trucks, we would have wiped them out from there within a week. Up to mid-August we’d been fighting with the so-called “Cossacks” and separatists, and then the Pskov paratroopers arrived.

On August 23 we had a victorious battle. We captured a lot of their equipment and prisoners. Later the 3rd Special Forces Regiment took them from us. The artillery fire we launched was so powerful that there was no chance for anyone to survive. At the same time, they were attacking us. They wanted to encircle us, but it didn’t work out. The same thing happened with the units of the 80th Brigade. They were trying to encircle them, but they fought back. One soldier even followed a tank. Literally, there was a soldier running after a tank and the russian tank was trying to escape. It boosted our morale and we were all so excited.

Something similar to Donetsk Airport happened at Luhansk Airport – everything collapsed. The fuel tanks, the runway, the hangars – everything was destroyed. The paratroopers made the decision to attract fire on themselves – some of them retreated, and some were captured. The russians were also taken prisoners of war. The separatists were making attempts to enter the Terminal for two more weeks. The 8th Special Forces Regiment was also there.

Once a russian warrant officer and two paratroopers accidentally came to us. The warrant officer was drunk as hell. They had a map showing where they were supposed to go. So we used that map to shell them all day long on the 25th of August.

The injury 

On August 31st or September 1st, I got wounded. I’m not sure exactly when, as time was lost – I had been sleeping for only two or three hours then.  The decision was made to leave that area. The only task was to cover the retreat of the 80th Brigade. The remaining guys were leaving. It was just at that time when the enemy’s artillery struck and I was wounded. It was around 11 AM.

I was conscious the whole time up to the moment of the surgery in Kharkiv. They injected me with butorphanol, and it’s effect is similar to alcohol intoxication. I partially remember everything, something is like video fragments and some memories are just images.

Everything happened in slow motion, like in a movie. My head hadn’t even hit the ground yet, and I already understood the severity of the injury. Time seemed to stretch on forever. And during that eternity I realized everything – what I should and shouldn’t do, how to move on, and that I probably won’t walk again. I could feel that a shell fragment had penetrated my spine. You don’t need to be very smart to realize it all.

I was very worried about my arm. It was just one shell fragment which first hit my arm, then changed trajectory and got stuck near my heart in the spine. The spine saved my heart. The surgeon told me that the size of the fragment was 3 cm by 4 cm. It felt like I had been hit by a car. There was a lot of dust. That dust, the moment of my body hitting the ground – it was all like in Hollywood movies.

I wanted to live. But I knew I wouldn’t die. I was certain. I knew they would come for me and  evacuate me. I was still able to talk and there was also a soldier with me. He passed out. Then he regained consciousness and applied a tourniquet on me. He called the guys. The convoy that was evacuating me was under fire.


My parents cried a lot when I was having a surgery. It’s a silly practice not to tell the patients what’s going on with them. I didn’t know the meaning of the word “sepsis”. I thought it was something like a cold. I thought: “Well, sepsis? Not a big deal”. They didn’t explain anything to me and called me “A funny Lviv guy.” But then I had a fever, 40 degrees Celsius… My dad came and transferred me to a private clinic. Thanks to my dad, I am still alive.

In the private clinic I had a surgery to stabilize my spine – they inserted a metal structure so that I could sit. I wouldn’t be able to walk – my spinal cord was damaged. 

Thanks to my dad I went to Germany and stayed there for almost a year.

I knew I would come back home and definitely do something, not just lie around. I also had my moments of despair, for example, when I couldn’t  go to the toilet without help. It was uncontrollable. Then I learned to control it.

After getting injured, many people become apathetic. Other people irritate you. But when you can’t walk, you gain a lot of patience. You have to wait. And this is when the essence of a samurai is cultivated. 

I was actually supported by a lot of people. I didn’t lose any connections after the injury. Friends and  volunteers came to visit me. In Lviv, Vitaliy’s sister always came and brought me broth – she saw somewhere that a wounded guy from the Lviv region was injured and came. I don’t eat broth. I find it disgusting, like “schuba” salad or jellied meat. But she brought it, I didn’t eat it, but we got to know each other, and we’ve been keeping in touch eversince. Another girl and her mother brought homemade food. My parents came, my wife Olesya visited, too. And in Germany the diaspora people visited me.

My friends met me when I returned from Germany and took me out to have fun. They didn’t stay indoors with me.

Then I started looking for a job. I was never obsessed with my health, instead, I was more concerned about my ability to work. Once, my friend, who is now my godfather, asked me to give him a ride to the shooting range, and before that, we decided to go to the lake and have some barbecue. The deputy chiefs of the Ground Forces Academy were spending time there. They asked if I wanted to teach at the academy and I agreed. The job issue was solved in a second. Now I am teaching at the Hetman Sahaidachny Ground Forces Academy.

If asked whether I would go to war again If I could to turn back time – I would answer that I would do it all over again.



When was the most difficult period for you?

When I was lying in bed. The toughest period – when you are just lying there…and that’s all.

Why do many people push away those who try to help them after an injury?

I pushed away a girl. Now she’s my wife. I felt  apathy then. The consequences of injury change your perception in such a way that you don’t need anyone. You want to manage everything on your own. People irritate you and they are not interesting to you. I’ve always been fine on my own and after the injury even more so.

What do you consider essential for rehabilitation after an injury?

I believe that for anyone who has been injured, there are three solutions: a car, an apartment, and a job. And no alcohol. Moreover, people with injuries now have a lot of opportunities to get education.

What motivates you?

Property, money. I want to be wealthy. Money can give you a lot. It can give you health, happiness, no matter what people say. Delicious food also costs money. Money not for showing off, but for confidence.

How do you perceive a full-scale war?

Some may criticize this point of view, but to some extent, there was even a feeling of slight satisfaction because finally, most people realized that there was a war in the country. No one says “let there be peace” anymore, everyone wants the victory. Before the full-scale war, there was a lot of russian influence. And now  russians are using their language as a weapon. A lot of us are beginning to realize this. People finally realized who ruzzians really are and that we need to know our own history. Ukrainians finally stopped being peasants and realized that we have Ukrainian gentry, Cossacks, UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army)

Can you see our victory?

I see the Israeli scenario. Israel won, but they didn’t stop fighting. Israel is developing, and the same will happen with us. It’s like some guys without legs living a better life than they used to. It will affect everyone. Absolutely everyone, even those who are now trying to evade it. The tough ones are being killed. But the war will turn into tough even those who are not. New Cossacks will be born for those who died.

Our country has left its comfort zone, and that’s how it’s going to develop. But the war will be permanent. The heart will turn into a little stone, and we will learn to react differently to everything.

Do you notice changes in society’s attitude towards the army?

I am constantly in a military social circle/surrounding. Three of my best friends have been in the war for a long time. We don’t think about the civilians’ perception of us. We probably live in our own bubble. I work in an IT company, and there are no military people there. But they all care about the army a lot. The IT company tries to buy a car every month. Programmers also donate individually. And now all the “perks” go to the army.

How should society thank the military and the veterans?

They shouldn’t. I don’t like it when people draw attention to me. I took the oath, perhaps more for myself than for the people of Ukraine. I went to war not for someone specific but for Ukraine to be free. I want everyone to contribute to this and thank themselves.

What are the “Invictus Games” to you?

I got into it accidentally. In 2017, I tried to join the project just for fun, but when it came to the nationwide camp, I refused because I don’t like going somewhere. It’s stressful for me. At weekends I lie on the couch as if it is about to be sold the next day. The best things for me are watching a movie, reading a book, and coding, I love programming. Having pizza with friends is also great, if it’s at home.

This time it would be impolite to refuse again. But now I want a medal in Düsseldorf – I don’t like doing something halfway. If I’m here, let’s compete.

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