Reportage from the ATO zone // 13th battalion from Donbass tasted „Sarmale” and drank wine!
To get on the positions, the SBU accreditationand the press card issued by the Kramatorsk Office is not enough; the journalist must to comply to a procedure name "The telegram". The Press Center from the Kramatorsk's ATO zone receives every Tuesday requests from journalists for travels to the separation line. In the letter must be mentioned the route. Usually, the journalist writes down every location that he knows on the line, because you never know what can happen in the war. We noted two routs: first one leading to Donetk - Avdeevka, Marrinka, Krasnogorovka; and the other leading to Lugansk - Sceastie, Novoiadar.
100 kilometers until the separation line
Till the separation line there are 100 kilometers, even though Kramators was also the center of military operations in June-July 2014. To get to the separation line, where between Ukrainian battalions and separatist groups are 1000, 800, sometimes even 400 meters, the Central Commandment needs to send a telegram to the Commandment on the front side with the names and accreditation of the journalists.
We are going in Donetk directon, passing several Ukrainian Armed Forces posts, where our passports and accreditations are checked. At some moment, the road becomes deserted, with no sight of a vehicle. It is a post-apocalyptic picture: we rarely can see a Ukrainian Army vehicle. We arrive at the 13th battalion from Avdeevka around 11 o'clock, accompanied by the press officer, Denis, who is a 23 year old boy, with a beard like a mujahedin, dressed in a bulletproof vest, with three pockets in front, in which there was magazines for Kalashnikov that he was caring on his shouldre. All press officers from the ATO Zone are war equipped, and each position on the separation line has its own press officer.
The Baghira Sniper
Denis looks at us bored and absent and ask us where are our helmets and flak jackets. "We do not have". "It is not good", he says and introduces us to the platoon commander of the Battalion No. 13: "journalists from Chisinau". The platoon commander is a tall serviceman, very easy talking and even smiling, Vlad Nemet, nicknamed "Hunter". He looks at us kindly and says: "You guys came to us in light-colored shirts, a good prey for the Baghira sniper, bitch! Next time wear dark clothing".
"Baghira" is the nickname of the sniper that makes a living, by shooting for separatists. "That bitch Baghira is a sadist, she shoots you right in the balls", explains another soldier, that is named Nashid. The platoon knows the nicknames of all the soldiers on the other side.
A truce understandable only by separatists
We offer to the soldiers a pack of Coke and a bag of Snickers. The driver also took a pack of mineral water. Moreover, the servicemen have no lack of food. This is the tradition: you can not go at the soldiers with an empty hand. The Commander advises us to leave any strident shirts. One of the drivers is kidding: "I usually come dressed in green sneakers, red pants and orange vest". Then the sniper thinks that I am a simple sweeper and aims another guy". Also the driver, the stalker Serghei, is showing us a trench: "If you hear any explosions, whistles, forget about your journalist duty and jump wright in that pit, this is how you will have a chance to stay alive".
The truce is working starting with September 1st, and this means that the separatists are opening fire only at night. The separatists shoot to provoke Ukrainian Army and accuse her of violating the Minsk Protocol. However, the Ukrainian Army has orders not to open fire, only if will be necessary to defend its positions. "They start shooting after dark, they open fire regularly and stop in the morning", says Nashid
The battalion is at 3 kilometers from Donetk, it is surrounded at both sides by thins strips of forest. On the road towards Donetk, are placed concrete plates and barbed wire and other defense installations. All around there are holes and rocket splinters. Near to a concrete plate there is a soldier dummy: a scarecrow. The separatists position it at 800 meters from the troops. We are pushing through the forest on the side of the road and arrive near a road that has installed a machine gun. After the field, near stubble, are separatists positions. One of the military men which is called "Jora", hand me a binocular and pointed the direction. Above some white sacs, you can see DNR flag. "There are our little brothers, the separatists. Enough with the binocular, they will think that you are a sniper and they will put to work the Maxim" (The machine gun Maxim), says Jora and takes away the binocular. I almost could see something.
The Bulgarian Tsar Kolea Plesca
One of the soldiers has traditional Ukrainian mustache. "We must end all this business. The separatists are not right, and we are, because we are on our land! You must crush, back there, the Transnistrians", says the man.
The troop commander remembers a Moldovan from the Vinitsa region, Kolea Plesca, with whom he fought in the 13th battalion. The soldier went home after he served his term in the army. "I liked to serve with him, but i liked more when he sent us Moldovan dishes. Let me remember how are they named, but don't you whisper! So: Placinta, and this, how it's called? Some sheep cheese: branza! and some rice cushions rolled in grape leafs - galuste! He also sent us a very nice drink that is called «Jin»", says the commander when fixing his Kalashnikov on the shoulder. "We called Kolea «The Bulgarian Tsar», because he could speak Bulgarian. He was a strong positive guy, like a Tsar", says to us the commander of the platoon, that remembers some Moldovans from the Cernauti region. The Commander Nemet, invites us to visit the platoon on the New Year. "They open fire on our positons at 11 PM straight, when in Moscow is the New Year, after Putin's speech. They "congratulated" us and now, recently, on August 25th, on the Ukrainian Independence Day: they shot from their machine guns at midnight! It was a beautiful sight!", says the commander on such a natural tone, that is almost impossible to catch the irony.
Vladimir the Separatist
After that he points to a young man, that is brought with a military vehicle. It is Vladimir, the separatist, that is dressed like Ukrainian soldiers. They caught him three months ago, he was wondering drunk on the separation line. The recon soldiers tight him up and brought him into the battalion. No one new what to do with him. It is certain that the boy is with the separatists, he admitted that fought for DNR. At the beginning everybody took this guy seriously: separatist soldier! After that they realized that he is a poor man, that has drinking issues. They gave him clothes, food and nicknamed him „Separ”. After that they put him to work at the battalion. "We let him go long time ago, but he does not want to go: here he has clothes and food. We do not guard him, but he does not leave", says to me the soldier with Ukrainian mustache. In fact, Separ, was really lucky. Normally, those who are wondering during the day on the separation line are killed ether by one or another side. "This alcoholic was born in the sleeve".
How much does a contract soldier make
People are getting much ordinary at war, there is a hierarchy that you must respect, in rest, all soldiers are equal. At war, are saying soldiers, the man shows his essence, what he is made of. No one can hide his character in there, to pretend that he is someone else that in real life. That how does it work the machinery of war.
The Ukrainian Army started to develop truly only after 2014, until then, the soldiers were underestimated socially and politically. At the platoon that we are staying is munition and functional modern technique. At this moment a contract soldier, that is on the front line, makes 11.000 Hrivnyas per month, that is not much (almost 400 euros), but is enough to raise a family at country side. Although, the men say that they come on the front to defend their family, they are sure that they are fighting for a good cause.