Life of a Ukrainian Civilian During War

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Professional Ukrainian Soldiers

Serge AMay 10, 2022 (0)

Member of Ukrainian Special Forces.
Kiril Budanov - head of Ukrainian Central Intelligence. His face is the only face you will ever see out of any members of his agency.
The Ghosts of Mariupol.

An all American platoon.


A successful mission around Zapariz'e. Men on the floor are Russian POWs.


Men and a woman with a dog. All soldiers in a safe house at the front singing the Ukrainian National Anthem.

Not many people have found themselves in a situation when they had no choice but to fight, and even fewer when they had to fight in a war. For most civilians, the toll of war is theoretical. Consider the mental and physical state of a Ukrainian soldier who is in battle mode 24/7. Some of our readers have experienced the heavy toll of combat themselves, and some have experienced it second hand through stories told by loved ones who have fought. But each war is unique, as is each army. Even terrain and climate impact the toll on a soldier.


Being a soldier is a tough job even in peacetime. But try to imagine the wartime physical, mental, and emotional state of a man or woman whose sole job is to eliminate other human beings. During battle, we don't kill, we eliminate. It has been my experience that soldiers make this important distinction. Is it a euphemism? Perhaps. There is no sense denying that soldiers are out there to take lives. But that is the nature of things, and killing is the nature of the job. Try to imagine that your job includes killing people on a regular basis.


Now, a job is a job, right? It comes with good times and bad, laughter and jokes every now and then, just like in an ordinary office. It is the same with soldiers, because after all, human interaction remains a constant. Soldiers are people, with the same human impulses as civilians reading this article. It is just that some people's job is to eliminate the enemy. Being a soldier is a job. At times, a soldier may even know his enemy's face. He knows the enemy's location through intelligence.

Many people think a soldier's job is to take orders. That's true, but it is not much different from being assigned a project in the office. The rest is up to you. You are guided by the rules and policies of your company, and so are soldiers, but their company is their government. So the next time you sit down to write a report for your boss, consider that this is exactly how a soldier gets his orders, and while you are typing away, organizing your data and relaying it as best you can, a soldier is doing the same thing. He is taking positions, executing targets, and cooperating with his teammates. Yes, teammates indeed, as the closer you work together, the better the result. I recently saw amazing, private footage of teamwork between a sniper and a mortarman in a recording from enemy lines. Believe me when I tell you this is like watching paired figure skating, when two people work as one. The sniper shoots first to take out the designated target, almost immediately followed by the mortar man who renders the enemy position inoperable. The grenades must make an impact before the enemy has time to react to a dead body in front of them. The timing is crucial. The video showed this was a totally successful attack, a murderous successful attack.


Herein lies the difference between their jobs and ours. The success of their job is measured in lives. Their job description combines the words “death” and “success,” and a job well done can mean the eradication of an enemy position while tens and even hundreds of people die in a split second. Your report is a document that aggregates information, and once completed, your job is done until the next assignment. You can go to a bar for a beer with your buddy. Soldiers, too, come back to camp smiling over a job well done. A different job, with a horrifying well done. But, at times like this, we thank God every minute of every day that there are people who can do this job.


What happens if you mess up on your report? Well, that could mean trouble. but this trouble is nowhere near the trouble that besets a soldier when he messes up. When soldiers mess up, they limp back carrying the wounded on their shoulders, or perhaps they don't come back at all, or perhaps they come back in body but not in soul. For them, the cost of failure can be the ultimate sacrifice, whereas you can do a better job on your report next time.


I can't help but wonder which is more difficult, routinely risking your own life and the life of your team members, or routinely accumulating a body count for which you are personally responsible. The soldier who shared the footage with me chose this career. He went to military academy straight out of high school, graduated with honors and joined a special tactical force. He fought for eight years prior to the full-fledged Russian attack on February 24. For him, going to war was not a choice. It was his responsibility. Some people are responsible for reports and others, for defending their country. In all the time I lived in the United States, I never heard the perspective that defending your country actually means eliminating other people. Even now, after 74 days of war, it is still hard to wrap my mind around this concept.


So how are the soldiers doing after 74 days of war? From the looks of things, they are okay. I see them when they come back on rotation.


During the most intense phase of the war, rotation happens about once every four weeks, unless, of course, you are in a besieged city like Mariupol. Soldiers need time off from the front line. War is not a fist fight. It is long and strenuous, and they need a break from the front lines for at least a week every now and then to keep them in shape to perform their obligations. I wondered how soldiers could just walk away from the shooting, the attacks, the artillery fire, the positions they protected with their life. The soldiers I spoke with explained that they believe in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, they have completed assigned missions, and now is the moment to take time off. Under old military guidelines soldiers were not allowed to leave the military base while on rotation during war time. But this rule doesn't really work, either because soldiers are too busy restoring machinery and equipment or because as one other soldier told me - “it is such a nice sunny day, so peaceful, I need to take my motorcycle for a spin.” They are people just like you and me, but they bear the burden of taking the lives of our enemy so that we, including me and my family, can bask in that nice sunny day and perhaps take our motorcycle for a spin.


After a week away from the front, they get another mission, very often in a different location. They go, and they go eagerly. They go to do their job. There has been much speculation in western media about whether the allies' military aid and intelligence to Ukraine intensifies hostilities. They are missing the point. Judging from their statements, they are politicians who understand war from a distance. But at a distance you can't see the truth. The truth is that American assistance, including intelligence, saves the lives of our soldiers, who literally have no choice but to fight. And in turn, these soldiers protect the lives of almost 40 million civilians who pray to God that the soldiers can continue to perform their missions. 


The soldiers are okay. They are tired - this is noticeable. Not tired like you and me after our jobs. A soldier goes through gallons of adrenaline during fighting, and once the rush is over, they crash. The time off helps them to take a hormonal break and recuperate. It helps them balance out. It helps them to continue to protect us.

Serge A is of Ukrainian descent, grew up in Brooklyn and is volunteering in Ukraine as a legally armed member of a Territorial Defense Group. He was a columnist for the newspaper at Pace University which he attended as an undergrad. 


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