“I think after Ukraine’s victory, the whole world will study the secret of Ukrainian people’s resilience for a long time. But what is already visible and obvious: everywhere – whether it is Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Mykolayiv, or Lviv – you can see extraordinary motivation of our people, which gives deep meaning to our resilience.
Yes, we all, the whole country, are experiencing the terrible pain of war, we cannot change these circumstances, but we can change our attitude towards them. And everyone says with one voice: we don’t need what belongs to someone else, but we won’t give up what belongs to us, we’ll protect what belongs to us.
And the people are ready to defend what belongs to them at great cost. This is a very noble impulse of great love for our home land, Ukraine.”
These are the words of His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. They are the essence of our people’s soul and its reflection. And it is something that must be carefully learnt by anyone who wants to deprive this people of their land.
We are big, strong and brave
I have known Andriy Bukin, nickname Baton, for over 15 years. In all his roles: a volunteer, an activist, a soldier, a warrior, a reliable comrade and friend, and also a creative and ingenious public activist who reflects philosophically on our life and the present. In Sumy, they often call Andriy the main volunteer of the city. His life can be turned into a book. However, this is in the future, ahead. And here and now – a short talk with Andriy and his reflections on events and people, struggle and war, on the fate of our country.
“I have no doubt: the war will end with our victory. But the end of the war means nothing – the struggle will go on. It will move into a political, analytical format, into a struggle of elites. Even now, there are a lot of collaborators who have just shifted their ground. And for Ukraine to be Ukrainian, we will have to go through these processes after the war. However, now I do not follow political processes at all, because I live in a war. There’s a section at the front that I know all about, but I’m unaware of what’s going on around me. I have to be fully focused on the developments in front of me and behind me, because my life and that of my loved ones, my brothers and sisters in arms depend on me. Of course, I’m well aware that globally, everything depends on the political situation, on negotiations at the international level, on arms deliveries. It’s very important, but we must focus on the things we can influence. If I have an influence in a frontline area now, I have to focus and work there.”
Before the full-scale war, Andriy gathered people in Sumy for the Unity March and called for consolidation. He said that war was inevitable, but no one listened to him. Why?
“In fact, I predicted the war long before February 2022. Apparently, I knew it because of everything I saw in the east of the country during my volunteer trips and service in the National Guard of Ukraine in 2015-2016. I also heard a lot from my friends in the security forces and read a lot of analytics. There were warnings from friends abroad, who simply shouted: russia draws huge amounts of equipment and weapons, stuffs the border regions with its troops – war is inevitable. However, I am no prophet. Why should ordinary people from Sumy listen to me? They thought me to be slightly crazy at that time, I guess. People generally do not want to believe that bad things may happen. And they believed until the last that there would be no war. Most of them did not even believe that the war had started when it really did. They became really aware of it when the fighting had already begun. That’s probably how human psychology works.”
Andriy Bukin is sure that now the Ukrainians will take a historic chance to win.
“We are destined to win; it’s a matter of price and time. But we will win anyway. We have already won because we have united. We couldn’t have imagined in 2014 that we would have such powerful support to counter the aggressor. The whole civilized world supports us. This is radically different from the struggle 100 years ago, when no one supported us. We’ll do everything for Ukraine to be free, independent, and united from the San to the Caucasus. As for winning, it’s only a matter of time, and not even of resources. We are already winning because we are strong and we fight for our own identity. And that cannot be killed. We’ll go to the last this time. We defend our sovereignty, and we’ll take everything back. It can be in six months, eighteen months, three, five years. It doesn’t matter when it will be. This process is already under way. The world has seen that there is an inadequate tyrant who wants to destroy Ukrainians. Not the military, not people with guns, but all Ukrainians. He hates Ukrainians as an ethnic group, and this is not an issue of a war for territory – it is an issue of the survival of the ethnic group. Therefore, we will win anyway. We are big, strong and brave.”
A volunteer on the eastern front
Today, Andriy says about himself, “I’m a senior soldier.” He has been going to the front since 2014. As a volunteer who, together with his friends, delivered tons of humanitarian aid, equipment and greetings, letters of support from the countrymen on his van from the Sumy region to Donbas. As an eyewitness to everything that happened in the hottest spots: Pisky, Avdiyivka, Shchastia, Vodiane, which are close to DAP and Donetsk. As a witness of all the events and soldiers’ stories about what happened there.
Andriy has driven thousands kilometers over those years. He has lots of impressions. Here’s his story about one of the trips.
“Ruined, once-elite houses look at you with their black windows with broken panes. Metal structures resemble burnt skeletons. Only because it is frosty, you can more or less walk on the street: military vehicles dragged a lot of dirt and everything here will turn into a swamp in the spring. Burned-out machinery peacefully rests in the yards of private houses. Civilian vehicles serve our soldiers, but, sadly, they don’t work long. As soldiers say, cars are expendable material that is lost very quickly.
Soon the guys came and we started unloading the car. This time, our expedition was very valuable and expensive if turned into monetary terms. We took to various units almost everything we had managed to collect from our foreign friends: a night vision device, a rangefinder, a drone, walkie-talkies and binoculars.
After unloading, we talked to the guys. They spoke about the ceasefire. They say the only thing that has changed since Sunday is that they stopped shelling from tanks, but otherwise it’s the same. The time of our stay in Pisky is about 2.5 or 3 hours. And all this time machine gun shots never stop. Every 10-20 minutes we can hear either artillery or mortar blasts. Whoever claims that there is a ceasefire in Donbas is a blatant liar or has no information – this is a fait accompli.
We said goodbye to the guys and started back. The next point was no less hot – Vodiane. Our friend, who volunteered for the 93rd brigade, serves there. The trouble is that Vodiane and Tonenke are constantly shelled by enemy artillery, because they are slightly above Pisky. We had to drive through the suburbs, because artillery and mortars mercilessly fired on the central road.
After wandering around the village, we found their location. They rest and gather strength after combat missions in a house close to Vodiane. The guys were very happy to receive the drone. There are people there who are trained to handle such equipment. I hope this seemingly childish toy will be helpful to them. We unloaded the car and had some coffee. There was no light in the house, and we had to talk over hot coffee and candles.
Roman and a young sniper talked about battles at the airport. They talked about losses and about strange control from the center. I had a strong desire to write and publicize that story. But I’m sure that their story should be described by witnesses, and not be retold by an outsider.
We finished the coffee ceremony and started to get ready to leave. The mortars could be clearly heard outside. Mortars – that’s what a soldier told us, naming a number of signs. We were there for about an hour, and all that time russian terrorists shelled our positions with mortars, consolidating the Minsk agreements.
Having bypassed several checkpoints, we drove to a normal highway and headed home safely. We called our families from Pavlohrad and booked a ticket to Konotop, because in Pisky we picked up a soldier who was going home.
The war will be long, with numerous victims and a significant economic crisis. Citizens must realize that there is a war and start actively preparing for it. Andriy made such a conclusion at the beginning of 2015.
The same year, he volunteered for the Serhiy Kulchytskyi operational battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine. But in order to be taken into the army, he had to undergo vision correction surgery.
Another and probably very strong impetus to join the army was the loss of his friend and countryman, Roman Atamanyuk (nickname “Berest”), who had defended our country near Donetsk, from the side of Vodyane, and died near Yasynuvata in the spring of 2015. Roman says Andriy was his best friend with whom he could philosophize about life, play chess, drink coffee, and talk about the future of Ukraine. Roman will remain in his heart forever.
Sometimes you play chess with your brother in arms, sometimes you read a book
Andriy has been on the front line since the very beginning of the full-scale invasion.
“Everything is simple for me. According to the mobilization order, I was supposed to arrive at the battalion within twenty-four or thirty-six hours, depending on the circumstances. I managed to join the battalion on February 25 or 26. I had no military identity card, only my passport. No one mobilized me, I called the deputy battalion commander, and he said: “Come.” It was normal at the time. And I also took my friend with me. We arrived at the battalion, registered in 3.5 hours, and in the evening we were already on our way to Vyshhorod and Kozarovychi, where the first battles took place. Everyone who wanted and was able to take up arms is now fighting.
When we were on the front line, we saw a completely different war. It was extremely difficult to hold back the enemy onslaught under heavy artillery fire and machine-gun fire from the helicopter, when you were armed only with a machine gun and a portable grenade launcher. But then things fell into place, we established communication with the brigade we were assigned to, and they provided us both with mortars and the Igla air defense systems. The process started. The biggest problem was to establish communication. However, a warrior’s state depends not only on the material support or weapons. There must be an inner core on which everything rests. If a person is motivated, understands what to do and where he is, he will easily find food. And if he is unmotivated, then he will always look for reasons and nothing will be right: neither tinned meat nor its amount nor his uniform. Others will be happy with everything, they will take care of themselves.”
Andriy continues to fight in the Kulchytsky battalion. “it takes all the time, here you have to be involved 24/7 and not be distracted,” he assures. After the defense and liberation of the Kyiv region, as Andriy posted on his Facebook page, he and his comrades in arms were transferred to Donbas by rotation. In social networks, he wrote: “I defend the Holy Mountains.”
“We came to Sviatohirsk at the end of April. There is the Holy Mountains nature reserve there. There were periods when we could not tell anyone where we were. Therefore we used the term Holy Mountains. This is a huge nature reserve, it spreads to Lysychansk. We lived there for a month, and then orcs drove off us. We crossed the river and stayed there for 6 months before we could regain Sviatohirsk. And we are still fighting on the Holy Mountains.”
Andriy does not consider all russian soldiers to be unprepared.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the enemy. They have good technologies, communications, radio-electronic warfare means, as well as a good artillery school. But they fight according to Soviet statutes. Their whole strategy is more metal from the sky, more soldiers on the battlefield. They actively use it, but we do not have such a luxury. Still, I cannot say they have headless commanders. You can never despise the enemy and be flippant.”
At the same time, he says, now the Ukrainian artillery has started to work much better.
“If we had worked like this six months ago, we would not have lost so many territories. I am now talking about Donbas. Early in June, we simply had nothing to fight back. The burden was pushed onto the infantry’s shoulders. When 15 tanks move forward, there are very limited options for fighting.”
Andriy is convinced that the modern technologies mastered by the Ukrainian military must defeat the ruscists’ soviet approach.
“They regroup, try to collect a strong striking force somewhere and make a breakthrough in a certain front section. If they do not succeed, they withdraw almost all their troops, leaving the conditional “L/DPR”, and transfer their combat units to another sector. Their strategy is to constantly probe the front line.”
So, since the spring and until now, Andriy has been fighting in the Donetsk region, in the Holy Mountains. His unit performs various specific tasks: “We help the “gods of war” to turn muscovites into Cargo 200, and there is still much work to be done.”
About prospects, the future
“I am glad that now everything is more or less calm in Sumy, Okhtyrka, Chernihiv, Kyiv. In fact, this is the result of what we are doing at the front. This is how we move on to victory. I’m very glad that there is an area where people live more or less peacefully despite the war. I’m glad that the vast majority of people live, go to shops, buy something, fill up their car, even go to work. So we are doing the right thing here at the front. And the guys bravely stand guard over our borders around the clock for a reason. Really – I’m very glad, it’s a balm for me. I am sincerely glad!
I also see that the processes of strengthening the protection and security of the Sumy region and its borders are underway, but I would like to see something bigger and better there. I even went to the Sumy border on vacation, met with guys who are currently fighting there. But it’s only my own opinion, it affects neither strategy nor tactics. I haven’t seen everything and I don’t know everything. But the fact that there are many more soldiers here and the Sumy region is more secure is true. I believe that the muscovites have very little chance of a breakthrough in any direction from their territory. At least, they have fewer chances than in February.
I also see significant changes in Ukraine. There are many of them, the country itself has changed. In general, in every period of time since 2004, something has radically changed. In 2004, in most regions of Ukraine, you could get reamed for speaking Ukrainian. Now the situation has changed. Sometimes we just don’t notice these changes.
In 2013, we could not even dream that a huge decommunization would take place. We used the names: Dzerzhynskyi Street, Lenina Street, Communist Partisan Street. Now this is not the case. This is not a willful decision of Vyatrovych or some other initiators from the Verkhovna Rada, it is a public demand – to name the streets after the fallen boys, our brothers in arms.
Colossal changes have taken place in Ukraine since 2004. We have realized who our enemy is. Some eighteen months ago, we would never have proved to Europe that our inadequate neighbor is killing us here. Numerous attempts were made at different international official meetings and assemblies to prove that they are simply killing people in Donbas. They kill us because we are Ukrainians.
Everything has changed this year – public and global perception has changed. Society changes, we change. And this is the result of a systemic struggle that has lasted for decades. In this regard, I really like the Monument to Sumy students over the highway in Andriyashivka – at the place where police attempted to disperse the student march to Kyiv in 2004. There’s an inscription there: “In this place we rose from our knees and saw freedom.” And it’s true.
Ihor Rekun, journalist, Sumy