АвторAuthor: Vera Korolchenko | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk
14 September 2022
Anatolii Mazur, a civil activist from the Kyiv region, began helping the Ukrainian army back in 2014. Later, volunteering took a back seat, but in 2022 he had to start it anew. After half a year of active work, Anatoly realized that he could no longer be an effective volunteer and decided to join the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Anatolii Mazur told “Monologues of the war” about the differences between the army of 2014 and 2022, and how volunteering developed in the first 6 months of the full-scale invasion of russia.
I started volunteering in August 2014, I was in Uspenka and Kurakhovo. I could basically see the “Donbas” battalion go to Ilovaisk. We brought gun sights and thermal imagers to the military, but not in such quantities as now, but one at a time. We delivered food, uniforms, and especially army boots, because then the boys really went to war in flip-flops. There was nothing, no supply at all. At that time, the equipment was taken from the warehouses and it either did not go, or it did but badly and then broke down. And generally speaking, in 2014 there was basically no army.
We were not morally ready for war. We had no trained units, and the only ones who had combat experience were the internationals who served somewhere in the UN, in “Peacekeeping Forces”, and who returned to Ukraine as soon as the actions in Donbas began.
In the Ukrainian army at that time, there were very few combat-capable brigades, such as the 95th, for example, which was very good at kicking russians’s butts. When we understood that the occupiers can and should be killed, that this is the only reliable way to survive in this situation, things went better for us at the front.
Then we were saved by the fact that russia attacked spontaneously – they had not prepared much for this and was limited in resources. If there had not been an invasion of the russian regular army from the Rostov region, we would have ended the ATO in a month or two, and there would not have been a frozen conflict at all.
The army today is completely different: there are motivated people, with combat experience, who know how to fight. The army has already formed its own communication system: people understand who should do what. We now have an army of warriors, and even NATO simply does not have enough combat experience. Even when, after 2014, our fighters went to the international tank biathlon, other participants said: “Holy crap, you guys are amazing!”. Because we already had combat experience, the guys on these tanks drove every day, so they could easily drive into any vegetable garden, even among the trees and sheds.
I have been preparing for a full-scale invasion since the fall of 2021, when russia started accumulating troops at the border. I already had time to buy army boots, thermal underwear for myself, order a certificate of criminal record and collect documents for the Kyiv territorial defense unit. What remained was to come to the place of my registration in Odesa, to the military commissariat, and pick up my documents from there.
I left Kyiv on the night of February 24. I thought that russia would attack on Sunday night when everyone was relaxed. The fact that they attacked on Thursday was a surprise for me. At 6 am, I arrived in Odesa, read in Telegram that the war had already begun, and simply went to bed. An hour later, my friends started waking me up, and I answered: “Well, what should I do now? Run around the city? Let me sleep. The war must be faced well-rested.”
Eventually, I slept for only 40 minutes and immediately went to the military commissariat, but it turned out that my case was not there – it was disposed of, and I was written off to the reserve. Then I took my family to Moldova and returned to Kyiv on February 25. There I joined the territorial defense unit, where weapons were distributed, but I didn’t get one – they ran out of machine guns, and there were long queues at the military commissariats.
In the evening, friends from the military called me. They came to Kyiv because the Azov special purpose regiment was being formed here. The guys asked to get them sleeping mats, because they were placed in completely empty barracks. I went to the “Epicenter” (translator’s note: a building supplies store), met the administrator, said that I was a volunteer and I needed to buy sleeping mats for the military. She then sent me a full truckload of them, and also added hygiene products and construction bags on her own initiative. I wanted to buy everything at my own expense, but the store gave them to me for free. At the beginning of the war, the position of the Epicenter was as follows: either the muscovites will bomb it and rob it, or the store will now help the Armed Forces.
Later, I got to know the Serhiy Prytula Foundation – they provided me with walkie-talkies for the same Azov regiment. In the first days of the war, everything I got was for these soldiers: they were then fighting precisely in the area of Irpin and Bucha. Then I brought them a quadcopter and a pickup truck.
When a very large flow of people went to the Armed Forces, among the military there was a joke that the army had reached the model of 2014, because, as then, all soldiers began to wear different non-standardized military uniforms. This resulted from the fact that a lot of people joined the army, and suddenly they ran out of uniforms. But it is clear that later this issue will be resolved.
At the beginning of the war, not only uniforms, but also everything else was in short supply. For example, we suddenly ran out of construction bags because they started filling them with sand and building roadblocks. In the Armed Forces, there was a great need for bags, the army itself purchased them, and then suddenly these bags began to be bought in bulk all over the country, and there was nearly none left.
I delivered 1,000 construction bags from Lviv for our guys in Donbas – they were specially ordered from Poland. At that time, the Zhytomyr highway was already under occupation, and in order to get from Kyiv to Lviv in the first weeks of the war, you had to go through Uman, and the entire route was clogged with migrants. It took them two days to reach Lviv, but we, as volunteers, could drive without queues. Sometimes we had to drive in the opposite lane, or the roadside, but as a result the road took only 13 hours.
I received the cargo in Lviv, arrived in Kyiv, and at that moment the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine asked me to deliver two quadcopters to Mykolaiv. At that time, the russian troops were stationed very close to the city – it was necessary to promptly deliver the equipment to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. I had to remove the bags from the car and load the quadcopters. Already in Mykolaiv, I asked the deputy governor: “Give me the bags, because you will surely find them somewhere.” He called Vitalii Kim (translator’s note: the head of the Mykolaiv Regional State Administration) and Mykolaiv shared the bags with the guys in Donbas. So, in one trip, I closed two issues at once, and a bit later I also delivered the bags which were left in the capital.
Among the soldiers who approached me was an acquaintance of mine who was serving in Pisky at that time. Back in 2015, she and I went to Shyrokyne together, and near Volnovakha, so when she needed help at the beginning of the war, she immediately wrote to me. In early March, I delivered 14 thermal imagers and two copters to Pisky at one go – we were aided by the Hungarian Charitable Foundation, the Serhiy Prytula Foundation, and the “Come Back Alive” Foundation.
During six months of the war, I was in the Pisky area a total of seven times: I delivered sniper camouflage suits, rangefinders, camouflage nets – all the equipment that was required.
Pisky is situated just outside Donetsk: I was only 400 meters away from the “Donetsk” sign. But at that time it was not even clear where it was more dangerous – in Kyiv or at the frontline. During the war, you can die from anything: from a road accident due to anti-tank hedgehogs, from a frightened territorial defense, you can crash into an armored personnel carrier – this almost happened to me on the way to Mykolaiv. And in Kyiv, you had to wear a bulletproof vest not to be confused with the enemy, and in Pisky, you needed a bulletproof vest to protect yourself from shelling. The danger was the same anywhere in Ukraine.
The road which we took to Pisky was, of course, dangerous, and shelling could happen at any moment. But our fighters are experienced there – it’s a good battalion, and with the 14 thermal imagers we brought, the guys’ work has become much easier.
n Pisky, our fighters were separated from the positions of the DPR by an airfield, which was completely visible and could be shelled at will. But russians sometimes still tried to make reconnaissance by fighting: they simply ran, without even staying low, with a bottle of vodka in a pocket, until our side killed 50-60 people at a time. And this happened more than once.
In 2022 I came under fire in Pisky. We delivered a car and waited for the combatant to issue the documents on the transfer of the vehicle. And then they started shooting. We then hid in the basement, but while we were waiting for the papers, the car we brought was sent to battle, with a machine gun attached to it.
When you are being shot at for the first time, it’s always scary, but then you get used to it somehow. After the first shelling, it immediately becomes clear who is who among the fighters. Some honestly admit that they can’t take it, they aren’t strong enough mentally. Me, I am simply taking safety precautions and waiting for the shelling to end.
Near Pisky there is the settlement of Vodyane. Several compatriots from the Cherkasy region are currently serving there. This village asked me to deliver some goods to the front. More precisely, they asked a journalist, who is also from there, and she contacted me. They gave her one and a half tons of potatoes in various packaging – in plastic bags, sacks, anything. Along with the potatoes, there was salo, butter, and cheese. People also donated a generator, camouflage nets and military uniforms.
The potatoes occupied literally the entire journalist’s nursery. Everything was stored in a small room until we figured out how to transport it. We found a bus and loaded everything into it. It could barely move. The village prayed for us to deliver everything they handed over. These were the most vivid impressions of the war. It was a fantastic rural project.
Together with another volunteer we raised funds to buy cars, repair them and send them to those units that we knew for sure needed transport. When we needed two cars – near Kherson and to Pisky – we collected 200,000 UAH in two days. In total, during six months of the war, we delivered 10 repaired cars to the frontline.
Different types of transport were needed for a specific combat task: large vehicles for support, small ones to move quickly and not come under fire, and a pickup truck could be used to carry a machine gun.
Any vehicle for the army must be reliable, so we had to carry out engine maintenance, check the suspension and braking system. We repaired cars and gave spare parts to the guys from the Armed Forces when handing them over.
Half a year after the start of the war, only large foundations, for example, the Serhiy Prytula Foundation, Razom for Ukraine, “Come Back Alive”, are good at collecting money for humanitarian aid, while small foundations are collecting money quite poorly.
Only those who have their own income can fully engage in volunteering. A lot of my personal savings was donated to help the Armed Forces, about 10,000 USD. I can no longer volunteer because my savings have run out.
But I do understand how serious the war is, and I want to be as effective as possible at this time. That is why I am now joining the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In any case, the whole country will go through the army one way or another, so why put it off until tomorrow when it can be done today?
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Vera Korolchenko | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk