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Newspaper “Sevodnya” # 207 (4808), Sept 23, 2014

  • 13
  • 05
  • 2015

The soldiers fought on infantry fighting vehicle from the monument, escaped from the trap, returned home and turned to psychologists.

Eighteen month ago, on August 12, the tragedy occurred near the village of Stepanovka, Shakhtersk district, Donetsk oblast. As a reminder, a lot of warriors of the 30th separate mechanized brigade (SMB) of Armed forces of Ukraine died that day under the fire storm from the Russian side.

There were a fair bit of publications on the Internet about the troops, left to the mercy of fate by their officers-in-charge, rumors about hundreds killed (the Ministry of Defense denies it). Anyway, part of the warriors of the 30th separate mechanized brigade, having escaped of Stepanovskiy trap, haven’t return into their subdivisions and they are registered either as on service (a kind of illegal vacation) or military absentees. “Segodnya” managed to find and communicate with two warriors of the brigade, who have really returned in mid-August. They just said their officers-in-charge that they fulfilled their duty and don’t want to kill anymore or to be killed…

But terrible pictures of what they saw and experienced started to chase them at home, preventing from sleep and making their relatives fall on the floor crying: “Field!” Shooting. “Hail”! Public organizations started helping them and based on Kiev City Drug Addiction Clinic “Sociotherapy”, rehabilitation was organized for warriors, affected by the posttraumatic syndrome, according to the experts’ opinion. Such aid was held in Ukraine for the first time (but, probably, will be continued).

 SEAMY SIDE OF WAR. 27 year-old Alexey, the resident of Zhitomyr, recalls:

- I was drafted on March 19 to the 30th brigade in Novograd-Volynsky, where I did compulsory military service in 2005-2006. At first, the draft call was supposedly for 10 days and then it was declared, that I would have to serve 45 days, later — 90 … We were redeployed several times. At first I served as an operator-gunner of the infantry combat vehicle in the 9th company (597th vehicle, removed, by the way, from … a monument in Novograd Volynsky), then in the 8th … In late July, on 25th, we arrived in Starobeshevo. And there the warfare began. We tried several times to conquer Novy Svet. We rode out of the implantations, where our position shelled separatists, and returned back. Once we pressed them, two of our infantry combat vehicles even broke into the village, but were invested and barely escaped … The militants didn’t have heavy equipped then – most of all we were afraid of grenade launchers.

 I remember an incident, when we were going down the road, I looked through the scope of my gun, suddenly, I saw two pairs of battle-ready bomb-throwers in the bushes! I do not know how I managed to shoot, but it saved my life and the lives of my comrades. The shot of mine shell destroyed all four grenadiers. A horrible picture. I could not sleep for a couple of nights, seeing the ripped militants in nightmares… It lasted for five days, and then all our battalion was combined and transferred to Stepanovka.

We had a lot of adventures there. I was operating a broken IFV with burnt-out wiring. We barely started it with a kick, but on our way everything failed: control wheel, brakes, gear shift… I was sitting on armor when I saw a house at the bottom of the slope round the corner. Our IFV failed to follow the road bend and rushed toward the house at 60 km/h! I shouted at my boys that we’re gonna die and, dropped my submachine gun jumped off the vehicle. Six guys were sitting in the section for landing troops and they couldn’t get out as well as the driver, who tried to do at least something till the last moment. We couldn’t do anything and the IFV smashed into the house. I rushed to the vehicle, opened the door, the paratroopers got out, and we barely dragged the driver out of the IFV. Everybody were alive, got away with bruises. It turned out that two small children had been sitting in the room, destroyed by the vehicle. Noise of the track vehicle called them out to the yard and saved them. There was their mother in the yard. Their father appeared later. You can imagine what they said to us…

However, you can’t leave the IFV in the village, so we started the vehicle by the skin of our teeth and started backing out. But there was no control! If the driver of the Field Ambulance didn’t lend his vehicle, the IFV would run into another house. The vehicle was stopped, hitched to other vehicle, and pulled to Stepanovka. But the tow car broke too and, eventually, we stayed in Solntsevo for a repair. I reached Stepanovka by another IFV. Our 3d battalion, the 7th, 8th and 9th companions had already arrived there. Virtually, we weren’t engaged in combat operations. We were sent there to be killed. It was hell! The village was demolished, we lived in cellars. There were only two local people left – an old man with one arm and another man. I’m sure they were enemy’s artillery spotters. Our tanks and grenade launchers were straddled exactly in a few minutes every time the old man passed by. Those were “Grads” from Russian border, and grenade launchers from Ukrainian territory, controlled by the gunmen.

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Comrades. Aleksey and Nikolay among their fellow-soldiers before fight.

“I WAS SHOOTING WITH ONE HAND AND CROSSING MYSELF WITH THE OTHER…”

Radio connection appeared about 2 a.m. on August 13, and someone, without saying his call sign, said: “Survivors, get the f*ck outta there!” – continued Aleksey. – And then the contact was lost again. Our commanding officers (all the Senior Officer must have been warned as they had fled from Stepanovka and left us there as meat) decided to get out of there. The first fleet of trucks was simply bomb-destroyed – later we saw the fading remnants. Our convoy gathered all the survivors and injured and drove through the night with the switched off headlights. We had 4 undamaged IFVs (out of 31), a patrol tanker KamAZ and ZIL with ammunition. We managed to break the blockade despite being intensively shelled. My IFV failed to shoot at all! I was sitting on the armor and shooting with my submachine gun. I was holding the gun with my right hand, and crossing myself with the left one…

Than the separatists ran us down on tank with grenade launchers on KamAZ. We were dodging through the village and farm, trying to confuse them, when one of our IFV’s got into a bunker silo and its track fell off. Then our ZIL broke. We left them and made off on three vehicles. The tank and the grenade launchers followed us for about five kilometers and then they fell behind. Finally, we reached Solntsevo with other soldiers of the 3d battalion. There were about 100 soldiers from different combatant arms (infantry, tankmen, ordnance), who managed to escape from hell. We came to our command and said that we had enough of this, we fulfilled our duty, we were lucky to stay alive and we don’t want to fight any more – without guns and officers. There weren’t arguing with us, though. They sent us to Zaporozhye oblast, to the battalion’s base, by trucks to turn in personal weapons. The ammunition facility registered our weapons (submachine guns, machine guns, grenades). No one restrained us, but they didn’t give us any official documents. They didn’t ask about the lost weapons or armor. Many soldiers lost their weapons in that hell. Everything was attributed to the war…

 NIGHTMARES: THE WAR CONTINUED AT NIGHTS

— 14 soldiers from the 8th and 9th companies decided to return back home together, — recalls Aleksey. – It’s a long story, but we reached Kherson owing to our friends and there we found the owner of Mercedes minibus, who agreed to deliver us to Zhitomir oblast for UAH 5600. We had an incident on our way. The minibus was stopped at the Ukrainian checkpoint. We were drew out of the car and then we were called… the hiding separatists (while speaking our native Ukrainian). We showed our documents for inspection (military service cards of those, who had them, but many of us lost them). Then we met colonel pilot. He learned that we escaped from Stepanovka and asked us where we were going. We said that we are going home on leave after the fight, that we will be met in Novograd-Volynsky and will obtain all the necessary documents. And then the colonel started asking about the episode in Stepanovka. It turned out that their helicopter was brought down during the fight and we remembered it. Moreover, that were us who helped the pilots to get out of the damaged vehicle. Two pilots remained intact, the other two were injured and we, virtually, saved their lives. The colonel thanked us and said that one of the injured pilots died at the hospital, but the others stayed alive. He ordered to provide us meals in the dining facility and then reported to all the checkpoints on our way that he checked us…

I reached my house on the early morning of August 15. My 3.5-year-old daughter didn’t recognize me at once… And now she doesn’t allow me to leave anywhere. She grabs my legs and shouts not to go at war! I rested for several days and then the nightmares started. I sleep for a couple of hours, then I grab my children and wife, floor them and shout with a horrible voice: “Lie down, don’t raise your heads, the “Grads” will shell us now!” Then I fall asleep again, wake up again and carry on war, bring everybody to the balcony and make them listen to grenade launchers… I don’t remember anything in the morning. I lost my appetite, I’m afraid of sleeping… I got in touch with my comrades; they all suffer the same thing. Eventually, my comrade-in-arms Nikolay has found me and says he knows the place where we can obtain help for free and we have to go to Kiev. When we have arrived, we were met by the psychologist Artem, delivered to the in-patient department, and held there for a week. And they have really helped us: they gave us some tranquilizers, provided us with individual consultations with psychologists and communication with other patients. I returned to Zhitomir almost normal. I still have some formal issues. I was called up for the military service from a meat-processing plant, but I can’t work there now, as I have to be registered. And to be registered I have to be transferred to the reserve, and it wasn’t arranged. So I still in the 30th party…

After returning back home, we visited Novograd-Volynsky, the headquarters of the 30th party, but no one said us anything to the point and threatened us with prosecution, so we went back home. We will wait and see. Anyway, I want to underline that I’m not afraid to fight for my homeland! They should impose martial law, call up all the bound to military service, give us normal weapons instead of the vehicles, removed from the monuments. The most important, they should give us normal officers, who do not leave their soldiers under fire and take care of them… If they give us all these things, I will fight for Ukraine again, but I don’t want to be meat again…

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Houses. Nikolay and Aleksey, escaped from «Stepanovka trap». Psychologist Artem — between them.

NIKOLAY: “THEY JUST ABANDONED US”

The conversation was taken up Aleksey’s comrade-in-arms Nikolay, the resident of a village in Zhitomir oblast:

— My service started the same as Aleksey’s, but I was called up on March 20. I’m also a bit older, I’m 37. My military profession is a direction layer of a PK machine gun (portable machine gun with a caliber 7.62 mm).

On August 3 we and an old IFV-2 597th, removed from a monument, were sent to Stepanovka. On the first day we didn’t even have time to settle in the cellars, when we were shelled. There were three injured then. Firstly, we were cleaning-up the grounds from the gunmen. But it was useless… The cleanup operation should have been carried out by 4 IFVs and 5 tanks, but we had only 1 IFV (our “granny”) and 5 tanks, 4 of which fled after the first attack. Only 1 tank remained. We cleaned-up 6 kilometers. We thought they will deploy more troops to the new border-line… But we were ordered to retreat! That’s all – who needed the cleaning-up? We were lucky to return alive…Than I got in a checkpoint near the Russian border. We reported: a convoy with ammunition and gunmen enters Ukraine. The order: stand by and observe! The other day we report: convoy of “Grads” and tanks crosses the border. The order: observe… It repeated several times. What was it – treason, stupidity or the top strategy that we cannot comprehend? But those tanks attacked us later… During the massive attack on Stepanovka on August 12 we were still at the checkpoint. We decided to get out by ourselves, as there were no orders, all the officers escaped, we were abandoned. Frankly speaking, we wanted to leave the vehicles (2 IFVs and a tank) and leave on foot, but we found out, that the roads and footpaths are covered with trip wires (trap grenades). Then we took the vehicles. We rode through Stepanovka as there’s no other road. The village had already been taken by the gunmen and we survived only owing to the darkness. Even though, we were attacked from the both sides. One IFV deflected and we reached our comrades on our “granny” and a tank.

We reached Solntsevo, where our command and all survivors of Stepanovka massacre stayed. And then I met Aleksey. Everything else you know from his story.

I returned to my native village, my children didn’t recognize me. I was so dirty and unshaven. After the first tears and hugs I poured a shot glass and covered it with bread – to the dead comrades. My neighbor from my village had died on the second day in this f*cking Stepanovka. It was a terrible death: a splinter got into the grenade, which was in his armor vest with a screwed in igniter set. Explosion – and the guy is gone…

And then there were the nightmares. No one could sleep in the house due to my night wars. Some good people advised me a hot line phone number of a charity organization, connected me with Artem. Me, Aleksey and another guy left for Kiev. They met us as their old friends and really helped us. I’m still ready to fight as well as Aleksey, but not with those officers and vehicles. We could let ducks swim in our “granny” when it was raining. Sometimes one IFV was towing another as one could only drive and the other – shoot.

 “I MANAGD TO SWITCH SOLDIERS’ THOUGHTS TO PEACE”

Artem Lysenko, the psychologist of Kiev City Addiction Clinic “Sociotherapy”:

— I have been working on rehabilitation of chemical and other addictions (drug addicts, alcoholics, gambling addicts) for about 12 years. With support of “Sociotherapy” my colleague Andrey Timoshenko and I have established a public organization, aimed at treatment and prevention of this kind of addiction. When the real military actions were started in Ukraine, we thought: how can we help those people, who obtained different psychological traumas at the ATO. So we decided to introduce a pilot, volunteer project on rehabilitation for people, who returned from the war in Ukraine. Vladimir Yary, the Chief Doctor of “Sociotherapy” and the major Kiev narcologist, was the first to support us without seeking to profit. He provided all the resources of the institution for the help to the soldiers from the military actions zone. We published our hot line phone number on the Internet and soon SO “SiCH” addressed to us and offered to help three soldiers of the 30th party, who escaped from hell in the village of Stepanovka. Nikolay, Aleksey and Aleksandr arrived in Kiev, I met them at the railway station and took to one of the hospital’s departments. We left them for a week in the in-patient department, and for this time we managed to carry out a short, but enough rehabilitation complex of measures. At first the men slept enough and accustomed to the thought of having friends around instead of enemies (at first they were afraid to give their documents for inspection as they thought they could lose them). On the third day we started the group and individual psychotherapy. They had an opportunity to get a load off their minds, and visited special classes. A psychotherapist was also working with them. For example, they were asked to write a little essay on topic “My most horrifying day at war”. Then they read the text and discussed it. “Excessive” psychological pressure, connected with dreadful episodes, thus, decreased. We tried to switch thoughts of the patients to more peaceful memories, talks and things. We cope with the task. They also visited such holy places as Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Trinity Monastery of St. Jonas…

We were selflessly helped by the Psychologists and Psychotherapists Union of Ukraine, and the Kiev Institute of Modern Psychology and Psychotherapy provided us with the room, where the state’s leading experts for two days held seminars on rehabilitation of military actions participants with PTSD and their families, as this is a new phenomenon in our state. These lectures were attended by dozens of psychologists and psychotherapists from all over Ukraine. I would like to underline that the seminars were absolutely free of charge. Such trainings will be continued as there are many people with PTSD today and our project is only a start of the great work. Taking it into account, we have been repairing the premises of the clinic, so we could allocate the former contact soldiers separately from the other patients of “Sociotherapy”. There will be much more than three men. If somebody is willing to help us in this task (the repair works are held for our own costs) they can address to your newspaper for contacts.

 

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