Volunteer defender Andriy TURCHYN: “Today, everyone must constantly help our boys and girls on the front lines”

Former servicemen who have gone through the violent trials of war are now finding a new way to serve their country – volunteering. Their service is not over. Now it is their new vocation.

Former servicemen have unique experience and skills that they now use to help others. They know what support means in the hardest moments and are ready to provide it: from helping the wounded in hospitals to organizing humanitarian aid for the war zone.

The volunteer movement is not only an opportunity for veterans to find their place in civilian life, but also a powerful resource for society.

Read about one of the volunteer defenders in the article by Tetiana Luchynska, a journalist at Mayak media outlet from Bohodukhiv, the Kharkiv region.

From the front line to volunteering

Andriy Turchyn, a resident of Ivano-Shyychyne in the Kharkiv region, is now an active volunteer in the community. Until recently, the man fought against Russia, defending the freedom and independence of his homeland. He went to war as a volunteer and was on the front line for almost 1.5 years. More than once he was on the verge of death.

Views of Ivano-Shyychyne`s

Andriy is currently released from military service for health reasons.

“Volunteers are people on whom dirt is often thrown. Why is it so unfair?! In my opinion, volunteers are strong-minded people who have taken on a heavy burden of constantly helping defenders to bring Victory closer. And they must be supported,” says Andriy at the beginning of our meeting, as if “estimating” the interlocutor. He can be understood. What volunteers most often face today is “spiritual avarice” – distrust of society, and sometimes even complete despair. And this leads to indifference, the worst of society’s traits. Especially in times of war.

The conversation began, as in most cases, with speaking about participation in the war.

Talking about his daily combat experiences, Andriy recalled when the Russians shot at him from a distance of about 30 meters. Then, thanks to the bulletproof vest, natural agility and his comrade’s help, the man survived.

Numerous contusions, including one severe contusion with rupture of the eardrum, acubarotrauma, hip injury, spinal deformity, five hernias… This is far from a complete list from the defender’s medical report.

But today Andriy lives with what is not mentioned in any medical certificate. This is a diametrical change in his psychological state. He is no longer the Andriy he was before February 24, 2022… His soul, wounded and beaten, has lost the natural cheerfulness, openness, and sincerity that he had before.

“Do you know how I felt when I returned home?” Andriy asks rhetorically. “Uselessness. Fear. I really missed the brotherly spirit that reigned there, in the war, among my comrades. It was difficult to adjust to a civilian, more or less quiet and calm life. People in my village did not and do not recognize me. I used to be cheerful and talkative, but now I am no very open to communication. When I go to a store or other place where people gather, I try to stay away from conversations. However, before the full-scale war, I was happy to say hello, initiate conversations, and speak to my friends.”

Andriy at war

We all must help the army in any way we can 

When it comes to volunteer work, the veteran’s face instantly becomes serious and focused.

“I try not to go to the city,” says the man sharply. “I don’t like the hustle and bustle. No, I’m not against fun and entertainment. This is life. And if we are constantly negatively-minded inside, we will disappear and rot with anger, and become sick. I want my every countryman or countrywoman to live a full life. But everyone must systematically allocate a certain part of their earnings to bring the Victory closer. Of course, God bless everyone… But I sometimes think: If some miser got into that hell for at least a week, and then was let back out, he would donate around the clock… And now it turns out that the same people help all the time…”

Speaking about volunteering, Andriy tries not so much to talk about himself as to find answers to the questions he faces every day in his activities. And the most important of them is people’s distrust, inability to understand the situation and processes.

“Many people think that those who volunteer are people who have a lot of money. They are wrong! It has nothing to do with your own income. It is an extremely nervous and stressful job. I’m sure that probably every volunteer is on a sedative.”

The man suddenly pauses, as if trying to catch his breath after a short but fast race, and then he says as if making a vow: “You know, when you help the boys, fulfill their request, it feels like a stone falls off your soul. You did it! Then you get another request. And you have to fulfill it at all costs! Because you know how hard it is for the guys there…”

His volunteering started from home-made salo (pork lard)… 

When we asked Andriy how his volunteering started, he recalled a story that became the beginning of all his activities. But then, according to the man, he did not consider it volunteering. As, in fact, he doesn’t consider it today. At that time, it was a simple desire: to cheer up his comrades, to share a bit of home comfort.

“Once, before the New Year 2024, a comrade who fought in the Zaporizhzhia sector, in a telephone conversation, among other things, said: “I want home-made food so much… Sausages, salo…” And then I said to myself: “You will have home-made food!” So, at New Year and Christmas, the guys on the front lines enjoyed salo, homemade sausage and spread…” Andriy recalls with a faint, shy smile. “And then they called me with words of sincere gratitude and shouted into the phone that they hadn’t had such home-made goodies for probably several years. They thanked me for the little holiday… Honestly, there were tears in my eyes. It takes so little to make those who give us life on our native land, who protect us every minute, happy.”

Andriy’s smile becomes very sincere. He recalls how he did not notice that his wife Oksana was witnessing that conversation with his comrades. When she found out that her beloved husband had decided to become a volunteer, she said: “What a good man you are! I’m proud of you!” For him, this support became decisive.

From time to time, in the course of the conversation, Andriy’s gaze turned into the gaze of an ancient philosopher looking for answers to all the questions of the universe. During a short pause, it was noticeable that the man had some memories. It was as if he wanted to add something, but apparently changed his mind and spoke again with the tone of a vow: “A low bow to the boys who have been without rotation for three years. Some of them have been home only once during this time…”

Life has so far divided into “before the war” and the “war”…

February 2022. Andriy and Oksana’s son was 3 months old when the full-scale war began. 

He was woken up by a call from his mother, who had gone to the milking parlor early in the morning and learned about everything from the news. Andriy remembers that moment very clearly. Their village is just a few kilometers from the border with russia. And in those minutes, the occupiers crawled in from wherever they could.

“I ran out of the house and heard rumbling noises around; a glow was seen on the horizon. And there were flares in the sky. I had served in the army and I immediately understood that everything was very serious…”  Andriy shares his memories. It is difficult to understand from his words what the man felt then. But as he was telling the story, the characteristic sternness that was felt at the beginning of our conversation reappeared in his eyes. The sternness of a warrior, the sternness of a brave defender. 

Andriy recalls that he ran to his mother’s house to fetch his younger sister, and at that moment a missile flew directly above him towards Kharkiv. Later on the same day, a friend took them from Rozsish to Oksana’s parents. But it is not much further from the border with russia than his home village. Every night, Andriy would walk 5 kilometers to the Okhtyrka highway and watch for russian convoys to inform his family about the need to evacuate. By that time, Trostyanets had already been occupied. 

March 2022. Men from the surrounding villages joined the Defense Forces of Ukraine. Andriy made a decision to join the defenders and destroy the enemy.

“My wife immediately understood that I would not be able to stay at home. She knows that if I decide to go to war, I will go, I won’t ask anyone, and everyone will find out about it post factum,” Andriy continues. I told her, “Go abroad, to safety. Your sister is going to Poland… You know, I won’t just sit there…” 

Andriy pauses in the story again, and it can be seen from his face that he is picking up memories to explain to us what happened next. To tell us that Oksana could not leave her beloved husband despite his decision to go to war. 

“She is very serious. Well, then she sat in front of me and said, “Let’s think about it… I’ll go. You’ll go to fight. Who am I there? No one. And it’ll be very difficult for you here without us. If they let you go on vacation, you’ll be able to see our son, hold him in your arms. Otherwise, we will communicate only via video calls. No, I will not leave. I’m staying at home with Dimka!” Andriy continued the story, and for a moment it seemed that a tear sprang in the corners of his eyes. 

Andriy paused again. And the cold glint of the warrior’s gaze reappeared in his eyes, “I am proud to have such a wife. I am ashamed of some of my past actions and I greatly appreciate Oksana’s understanding, patience and wisdom. I cannot live without my family. We are constantly in touch. I call her, “How are you there? I miss you…” as soon as I leave the house.On the same day, according to Andriy, he came as a volunteer to the Military Commissariat, and the next day he already went to fight. He joined the 54th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade.

“When I got on the bus, I was scared,” Andriy says calmly again. “Not for myself, but for my son and wife. I asked to be sent to the Izium sector. To be closer to them. It seemed that I could protect them somehow.” 

Andriy once again stops the story for a few seconds. He recalled how after the AFU’s successful battles near Krasnohorivka in the summer of 2022, he was released for a whole day for his son’s christening. And it was the first time when the silence scared more than the roar of explosions or shooting. 

“I flew home like on wings! And the first thing that frightened me at home was the unusual silence. I drove to my son’s godfather, and I was shaking with fear. I didn’t see someone approaching me from behind. The person greeted me loudly. And I cried out in fright “Ah-ah!” and began to stutter… And I still don’t like someone standing behind me,” Andriy recalls. “There was a case when a guy got scared and was unable to speak. Our company commander once said: “Guys, you don’t need to play the brave men, it’s better to tell everything like it is, to say how you feel. Because this is not a movie or a game, this is a war.” And it often happened that someone approached you before the task and said: “I’m afraid.” A person has panic fear, and we replaced him with someone who was ready to go into battle. After all, if a person panics, he will not prove useful. The battlefield requires your composure, attentiveness, and ability to make instant decisions. War is scary… And if anyone says it’s not, don’t believe them. Our company commander always urged us: “Set yourself up for the best.” A positive spirit is already a way to victory!”

Family is the most valuable thing for the volunteer defender

For the sake of victory

Andriy speaks about his brothers-in-arms with pride.

But despite the courage on the soldier’s face, one can see how much pain each loss of a comrade-in-arms has instilled in his memories and soul: “The hardest thing in war is the loss of friends. All other difficulties simply do not matter. Of the 12 guys with whom we were friends from the first day, only three are alive. All three have been released from military service… You are burying your friend, and next to his coffin his child stands, the same age as your son. It is impossible to look at, it hurts. Now I don’t want to make a strong friendship. I’m just afraid that next time my heart won’t be able to withstand it… But I will continue to help the defenders as much as I can. I want them to return home safe and sound. And I want to say to my compatriots: you should not relax. Help, donate, support the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Because it is thanks to the defenders that we live and walk in our homeland!”

Today, there are a lot of volunteers like Andriy Turchyn who have passed the path of a warrior. But they do not think that they are doing something unusual. They do what they know how to do – they protect Ukraine. They have not completed their warrior’s path yet. They have reached the point of their path where combat experience becomes the best possible basis to understand what is needed by those on the front lines today.

 *Photos provided by the author of the material

Supported by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Government.