I am gay. I have been in the ATO zone. I have seen death. And I am a patriot of my country

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Oleg was drafted with the first wave of mobilization. He was in the battle of Ilovaisk, came alive from the battle of Debaltseve, and was 6-7 km away from Donetsk airport, providing artillery support to our army. He, like our previous interviewee (Out of focus: LGBT on the front line), wasn’t going to avoid mobilization. And he considers himself to be more Ukrainian than those, who chant slogans about sending the gays to the ATO.

How did you get into the army? Mobilization?

Yes, the first wave of mobilization. I received the draft notice on the 1st of April. On the 2nd of April I was already in the military commissariat. I knew I would be drafted: I had a dream a year ago about being in the war — that’s why I didn’t think to dodge the draft. I was ready for it. I was the only one among those who served with me in the ATO zone, who had a military specialty as an artilleryman. I learned it during my compulsory military service. They told us in the military commissariat, “Guys, it is for 45 days – you will fire and go home“. If somebody had known then, that a half wouldn’t have ever come back … I served as a sergeant there but left the military service as a soldier. I have served for 1 year.

Where did you serve?

I served in the 93rd mechanized brigade, in rocket artillery battalion. I had a position of an operator and topographical surveyor. First we stood near Luhansk, a big unit, around 500 men; there were artillery, paratroopers, infantry, intelligence men, and others. Then we were deployed near Artemivsk. There was a real fighting. We fired around 300-400 shells per day. One shell weights 80 kg, and there are 40 shells in BM-21 Grad. It was very difficult, especially when it is +35 outside.

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From there we were deployed to Ilovaisk. We weren’t in the city: we, the artillery, are mainly deep in the rear, because we fire over a distance of 20 km. We were near Starobesheve, which later was taken by the Russian army. Before the battle of Ilovaisk, we fired more often when we were near Starobeveshe than when we were near Artemivsk. The difference was just that they fired on us all the time near Starobesheve. The shells fell one, two-three km away from us. It bugged and frightened much. But there was no fear, per se. We got used. Three-four days before the encirclement in Ilovaisk, we came four days to the artillery site, but we didn’t fire because there was no order. Now Muzhenko is saying (Viktor Muzhenko, Chief of the General Staff — editor’s note) that the artillery didn’t have ammunition to help the infantry. So, that’s a lie. We had a lot of ammunition. Our battery alone had more than 1500 shells. And there were circa 20 batteries around – the units similar to us. We could fire twenty-four hours without a break. But we didn’t get any order for that.

How was it near Ilovaisk?

Every day we had a new firing position in order they could not locate us. There were only 2 persons who knew where we would drive – our battalion commander and the battalion commander of the neighbour subunit, which was 400 meters away from us. We drove to the position, fired and drove back to the camp, which usually was in a wooded area.

A couple of days before Ilovaisk, we had to be in the firing position at 5 a.m., but we stayed additional 15 minutes in the camp because of the wind rifle malfunction. When we approached our artillery site (ca. 500 meters more to go), two land mines fell there, from BM-27 Uragan. We were just lucky not to come in time. If we came in time, the vehicles and the people would be cut by the shrapnel. Three minutes later two cluster bombs from BM-27 Uragan fell on our small camp.

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When we heard explosions far away from us, we reflexively jumped into dugouts. That saved a lot of lives. But not everybody was so lucky. Not everybody managed to scramble into a dugout. Shrapnel has cut and chopped everything: trees, hardware, food, and people. We had 2 Cargo 200.

After Ilovaisk we were given a leave because our hardware wasn’t battle-ready. And after the leave back to the ATO. We were sent to Debaltseve as early as the end of September, for ca three months. We fired rather often. And we lived in a wooded area. Later, an accommodation was found for us, where we stayed most of the wintertime. It was a deserted farm, no windows, no doors. We glazed it, made it normal and warm. Then Debaltseve, the encirclement, and again we hardly broke out.

How did you break out?

We broke out of Debaltseve without losses, but it was difficult. Again, we got the order to stay where we were. But the battalion commander damned them all and ordered to be ready to redeploy quickly. He took a risk having ordered us to leave. After Debaltseve we stayed 6-7 km away from Donetsk airport, providing artillery support to our guys, to Kigorgi in Donetsk airport. Sabotage-reconnaissance groups (SRG) of the enemy often ran into us there. And we had only 4 magazines in our set of ammo. There were no grenades, no grenade launchers, no machine-guns, nothing, except for AKS and a handful of bullets for 20 sec combat. But none of these SRGs reached us, our infantry stopped them.

What was the most terrible in the war?

The most terrible is to lose friends, sworn brothers. It was frightening in Starobesheve after we were blanketed from BM-27 Uragan. We stayed 3 more days in Starobesheve, but we repositioned. And all these 3 days the shells were falling around us. The attacks were lasting days and nights with a small let-up. The shells flew to us both from occupied territory, and from the territory of Russia. They flew over us, fell 1, 2, 5 km away from us… It was the most frightening. Because everybody understood that it fell there, next time it would fall nearby. It is like contemplating one’s death. It also was frightening during the attacks when our battalion commander died. He was a very good person and an impressive artilleryman. But it happens often in the war that real patriots and real people die. We went out from the dugout after that attack, not understanding anything. We were running like ants, trying to understand, who was alive, who was wounded. Then we heard somebody’s screaming, “Battalion commander is wounded, battalion commander is wounded! “ We rushed to the battalion commander. He was covered in blood. He even slept always in body armour. But that time he didn’t manage to run to the dugout. He lay on the ground, and a fragment flew directly in his armpit and flew out through the neck. Literally, some minutes — and there is no person anymore… We were shocked, didn’t know what to do. The officers from the neighbouring subunit came to us. It is interesting that the neighbouring subunit, consisting of 600 men wasn’t fired, but ours, a smaller one, with only 38 men was fired.

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We formed up in order to count and check who was there. One was missing. Artur, a 22-year-old. We started to call him. And Artur, it turned out … there was no chance at all. He was on duty at night, and rolled in a sleeping bag near the dugout in order to run in the dugout if there would be an attack. But he didn’t even wake up. A bomb fell ca 6 meters away from him. He was completely cut with shrapnel, and all was in blood. The most terrible it was two days later when the officers called the parents. “We are sorry, your son is a hero, but unfortunately, he has died”. I can’t tell you what reply we heard. Later you understand, even if you don’t care about yourselves, but how it is for the parents?

Are you out?

No. My brothers know. My mother and my father don’t know. I don’t tell it at the workplace — they don’t need it. I didn’t tell about it in the army too. However, there were rather many people like me. And with a trained eye I see who is who. However, my mother, of course, she is a person who knows me better than I know myself. That’s why it is very difficult to hide something from the mother. Intuition. She asked several times whether I was gay. I answered no. But now I don’t depend on my parents. So if they learn about it, I think, my mother will take it well, my father probably not. I won’t lose much because of it.

Are there LGBT in the army? Have you seen?

There was a great scandal still at the time when we were in the military base — the intelligence caught in a wooded area two armour crewmen, who had sex there. The scandal was great; in the morning they went from one battalion to another telling that two were caught — no names, though. But they warned, if they would catch somebody else, then those persons would be booted out of service. One week later, two others were caught. Next morning it was such a hullabaloo. We were woken up almost on high alert by the division commanders. Then they diffused some political propaganda. Why did they do it? I don’t understand.

Were there any consequences for those armour crewmen? Were their names released?

Everybody knew in their subunit, of course. There were no consequences. What can be done to punish? Not to send to the war? They were sent to the ATO zone as everybody else.

And in your subunit?

In the military base no. When I served in ATO, I saw them. There is such a thing as a Hornet. It shows who is nearby. Some people have pictures there, others don’t. I had pictures there. Actually, I didn’t give away personal information. But I didn’t hide the photo. In the winter when we lived in the farm (it was a cease-fire, the hardware was being withdrawn) other subunits settled nearby. I met one man there. A handsome one. A paratrooper. Moreover, there were many empty rooms, where nobody enters…

So, no romance? Just sex?

Yes. Sexual abstinence and alcohol do the trick. Even many straight men demonstrated some unusual behaviour. It was everywhere, not only in my subunit. I visited other subunits; the picture was the same: kisses, hugs when too drunk.

Were there openly gays among those who served?

No, there wasn’t something like that. If somebody spoke out that he was gay, many people wouldn’t understand that. But when a guy shows that he is a gay …no reaction, it doesn’t matter.

Fear and many complexes disappear after drinking. So, some desire and relevant thoughts are enough. Besides, there is an enclosed space and a person you like — even as a friend. That’s how it starts.

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A subunit and branch of troops you serve in play a greater role. We, the artillery, often are not in a tense situation, the shells fall almost not on us. In the winter we lived far away from firing positions, we didn’t repeat the mistakes, and we had a lot of free time. Let’s take infantry. They live in foxholes, the raiding forces run into them; firing is all the time, a tense situation. Yes, they don’t have possibility and time to think about something like that. As the rule, they don’t drink. They are not allowed. We had it more relaxed.

Prior to the Equality March held in June 2015, often there was a call on the web and not only there to send all gays to the ATO. How did you find it taking into account that you served one year in the combat zone? Were you angry?

You know, often the people, who shout it, haven’t been in the ATO. They are just mutts, who are paid to run after somebody and to shout, or pensioners with Soviet ideology, who get bored at home. There are a lot of gays in the ATO. Many of them volunteer, many are recruited. And they don’t hole up, don’t run, don’t pay off, and don’t hide. They are not cowards. A lot of them give their life. Unlike those who attack the Equality March and shout something negative about gays and ATO. I am gay. I have been in the ATO for a year. I have seen death. I lose friends, and I am a patriot of my country. I am more Ukrainian than those cattle, who shout different dirty things about LGBT. Let’s leave them to Heaven. Because, as the Bible says, that we made in the image and likeness of God.

Автор: Kira Kowalski

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