Who Came Back from Captivity
It’s happened so that some of my acquaintances now are at war in Malorossiya. Unfortunately, for many of them it was kind of a rescue from those “lead nastinesses of the Russian life”* — acqusitiveness and consumerism which passed into the space of high technologies long ago. And which, ideally, a normal Russian person should not touch. As a temptation of devil... In this regard, I was lucky enough with my job: continuous business trips, expeditions and, the main thing, impressions from them don’t allow me to become a bourgeois homebody. But every time I meet people “from there” I understand that my life is missing something... I have already written about some of them in Zavtra web site. Now I’m going to tell about my fellow countryman Ustin. Most likely, some of those “web-based patriots” will find in him a subject for their ideological writings. However, one question is reigning in my head: what does set such people in motion?
Not of this world
“Ustin” is a call sign. In the common world he is Alexey Stenin from Nizhny Novgorod, and he is not ashamed of either his name or biography. At my question if I might publish his real name he responded in a soldierlike short manner: “I don’t give a damn.”
Sometimes it seemed to me he is an other-wordly man indeed, one of those who always made spiritual elite of Russia: men of fervent prayer, zealots, warriors and wanderers. People from that world where such concepts as ‘duty’, ‘honour’, ‘conscience’ and ‘friendship’ are still valid and in full power. People from the highest spheres that do not really care of our primitive worldly affairs, be it mortgage or a new carpet purchase. People who are aristocrats of Spirit.
Ustin has two Chechnya campaigns in his record. He was a sniper and took part in many operations. For example, in Bamut. Since then he’s keeping his call sign. His military specialty became useful in Prizrak (Ghost) group of Alexey Mozgovoy. At my already standard question “What’s brought you there?” Ustin answered simply: “I couldn’t be indifferent.” Same answers I heard from other volunteers as well. Thus, until now I’ve failed to reveal a secret of a surprising phenomenon of Russian volunteering: what does move people to leave their families, homes, jobs, and rush to the abyss of war, being seemingly unnecessary for them. Now I gradually come to a conclusion that you can learn it only from your personal experience.
“I have neither wife nor children, and my job did not hold me strong”, Ustin explained. “At that time I had no acquaintances there. I just packed up and went. And then it appeared that my home is there. Exactly there, but not “at home”. Everything is clear and native for me there.
Here I involuntarily remembered a very popular during my childhood and then considered underground anti-Soviet movie “Rambo II” and the quote from it: “What you choose to call hell, he calls home!” The movie, by the way, created a furore in the “safe” American society: it appeared they had to treat their defenders with understanding and respect**. Or showdowns won’t be limited by Internet debates. Therefore I won’t insert a word into Ustin’s story; just because I have no right.
We were slowly being murdered
We were at a deployment, and were ambushed at the village of Utkino. There were nine of us. A battle raged on. I saw deaths of three our men. The driver who sat near me was killed at once. Then two more fellows... Then something blew up near me...
I regained consciousness when ukrops*** were taking my army boots off... Then it became clear that one more guy from our group survived. We two were brought to a national guard emplacement. There we were held for two days: constantly beaten, tortured: burned with cigarette butts, heated iron, lighters, cut with knives... I spent the night hanging on a fence: They undressed me to pants, handcuffed hands behind and hung me up. They poured me with cold water — it was summer, yet it was cool at night. In the morning they took me off and started beating again. It lasted through the day, and in the evening they hung me up and started watering again. Next morning they sent us to the Anti-Terrorist Operation staff. As I understood, to Severodonetsk. There they kept us for two hours, kicking just in case. Then the “Right Sector” arrived, and they took us to Kramatorsk. There torturing proceeded: burning us just like before, breaking fingers — my toes were fractured with a sledge hammer. They crushed our knees with hammers... They broke three shovels beating me — we were just being slowly murdered... For night they hung me up in a pit — just slightly touching the ground with toes. With beaten up toes… During all this they did not feed us. And I drank only what I was watered at night.
So they held us three more days and then transported to the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) to the town of Izyum. There they almost didn’t beat us. Unlike those from the Right Sector, the SBU guys behaved more than humanely; one even gave us cigarettes and brought bread, secretly from his colleagues. He was the only normal overseer. The others behaved oddly while drunken: coming and kicking us from time to time. They used to come at night and shoot in the wall above us. Usually they tried to make us sign some papers. Various nonsense: that I am a traitor of the homeland, an address to the President of Russia preventing him from bringing troops to Ukraine, etc. They also forced us to write farewell letters to our parents.
Day and night we were fastened by handcuffs to some rods in a concrete floor. Twice a day they took us to a toilet. And they fed us once a day with an instant noodle brick sipped in tap water. Sometimes they didn’t feed us at all. I had tea two times in a month... We tried to smoke brewed and dried-up tea leaves: rubbish, yet no way out.
We were sitting almost all the time in the cell, they didn’t let us out for walks anywhere. We didn’t know the date, if it was day or night — there was no window in the cell. There were three of us in the cell: I with the guy with whom we were taken prisoners together and a civilian. He was just taken away from his home, having told he was “an accomplice to separatists”. He wasn’t a militiaman. They didn’t care I was in one cell with my “partner in crime”. Under laws of Ukraine, we had chances for 15 years imprisonment “for participation in a band”. The most interesting thing was that even the investigator came to us with his face covered by a balaclava mask. Yet we did not care already: either we had to face a firing squad, or prison...
However, in September we were exchanged at Donetsk: 28 to 28 people. I remember that kind overseer brought this message to us. And during the exchange we were waited by a “cultural shock”: we were all broken and exhausted, and their prisoners came back home as if they were specially fattened! When we told in our staff that we had experienced in captivity, one of the men lost his temper and cursed: “And we are feeding these freaks three times a day! With decent food!” Then I counted that had spent in captivity a month without two days. From Donetsk we returned together to Alchevsk where our brigade was stationed. There we slightly rested in beds and were sent back home to recover.
Ustin suffered fractured toes, four broken ribs and nose, his face was a total mess. His legs were burned, and ears were literally hanging — they crushed cigarettes on them. While he was in captivity, all group was considered lost. He is in a KIA list in a YouTube video. You can also find a video from the place his group was killed. And his elderly parents came to a mass grave in which he supposedly lay. It was impossible to identify the dead on the place of the short fight: so the bodies were spoiled and burned. One body was decapitated. The group was shot from an APC [with a large-caliber machine gun] with bullets which took down trees. And then there was some artillery shelling — there was just scorched ground. When Ustin returned from captivity, he called parents first of all. It was a call from the grave...
Street thugs in military uniforms and tramps on old machines
All this Alexey told in a quiet voice, sitting in our editorial office, not being ashamed of my colleagues at all. They only listened to our conversation at first, and then stopped working at all... And I continued to pry out what makes people to face often certain death. Even despite the previous hell. Going ahead, I will tell you that Ustin is going to return...
Sorry, the most unpleasant question comes first: why don’t you not use your energy in peaceful purposes? Don’t you really see yourself here, in peaceful life?
I won’t say exalted words about military brotherhood. Personally I consider I am more useful there, than working as a taxi driver or a security guard in my homeland. There are already too many taxi drivers, security guards and managers of all kinds. My Motherland taught me to fight and survive. And I am not bad at it. Therefore I will better help brothers Slavs, than I do a business which is not mine. After all, are we brothers?
To whom? The Ukrainian society has strongly disintegrated…
True, it is possible to say there is no Ukrainian people any longer. And it is no longer that it was during the USSR or the Czars... It is really being tormented by discord. And it is visible by the Ukrainian army.
Can you give more details?
The Right Sector and national guard are well and armed with high quality weaponry. And there are real pro’s among them. But the majority of them can only mock and plunder: they are street thugs in military uniforms. They have no special training. When they beat us — being already broken — it was evident, their hits were bad, their training was deficient...
As for the Ukrainian army, they are tramps on 30-year-old machines. In comparison with them the militants are rich on arms. And trained many times better. There is no fighting spirit among the ukrops. They were just forced to army service, so they are no fighters at all. Once three of us frightened a tank at Pervomaisk. It went directly at us, we fired two volleys from under-barrel launchers — the tank made U-turn and dashed away. Though the launchers cannot even make a scratch on its armor, and it could blow us up in pieces with just one shot.
What is your forecast, how will the things go on?
In a war only one party wins. Even if Russia will cease to help, people in Donbass area have a much stronger motivation and desire of a victory, than the Ukrainian side. Even in captivity I noticed they had no enthusiasm in general! Even the committed ‘naziks’****! Their purposes are marauding, robbery, raiding — nothing more. Why the national guard climbs everywhere, even despite orders from their command? Why was Aydar caught? For them the main goal is to be first to enter a town: there will be all theirs! Well, the armed forces of Ukraine practice the same. Thus, Novorossiya will win, even if the price will be huge losses!
Well, so far there are such men as you, the help will be present. But I sometimes notice that militiamen are often too idealized: kind of Robin Hoods — such romantic characters. Many young people are attracted by this, yet they have no such experience you have. What would you advise them? On the other hand, there are always those for whom a war is a way to earn?!
A war cannot be romantic. It is dirt, blood and tears. Wounded and lost friends. And treachery... What a normal person would idealize it?! I wouldn’t advise anything to young guys — let them decide themselves. A man has to be able to make choices. But also I won’t dissuade them. In our group there was a young fellow — just a compulsory military service behind. He learned everything under way and now is good at war. And it is just impossible to treat everybody as if they are alike. Indeed, war makes some people rich... I fight not for money, they pay nothing to me at all, so I it’s not about me. Though I saw some who arrived there to earn. But then they were gone somewhere...
Shame on them?
Is there any difference of this war with Chechnya?
For me, it is difficult to compare. In Chechnya I was kind of serving my state: both during my compulsory service and later, under a contract; I fought at the side of my country. But it was an economic war then — oil, laundering money, etc. And here “separatists” are at war for their home. So there is nothing shameful that caring people from other countries help with it. Therefore I am in a “band”.
Have you met Chechens fighting in the militia? Were there any conflicts?
There was one, he always bragged: “Well, during the first war***** I was like this and that!”, etc. I told him then: “During the first war I was like that as well!” And he called me the brother afterwards — there were no hatred at all. We had a whole commando group from Chechens only. Good warriors they are, though former insurgents. You know, past offenses should be... I didn’t even think of possible conflicts. The Chechens respect force. If you grovel before them, they will mount upon you. And if you once pushed one in face, he becomes your friend, comrade and brother. From the very beginning we were tough with them. We warned: “Don’t go there and there, and there will be no conflicts.” They at first rowed, and then we made friends. I never heard something like “I slaughtered Russians at the war”. And here it is another war — we do common cause.
So why such a ‘friendship of peoples’ is possible only at a war?
During a war everything goes differently. It attracts those who fought in it. And, the most important, it makes people change. That emission of adrenaline — an unforgettable feeling. Extreme sport, parachute and bungee jumps cannot replace it. I once made a bungee jump, out of pure interest — nothing special. And the war is another reality. Everything is simpler there. Yes, this is a closed system in which many men are boiling. Yet if in peaceful life they can slaughter each other, at the war they would swear, and then make up . Today you swore with a person, and tomorrow you share bread with him and eat from one bowl.
A liberal activist would say you have “a military syndrome”... Now you go down the street in your hometown, you look at people hurrying on their petty affairs, and a war rattles somewhere at this very time. What do you feel to them? More precisely, to us?
I don’t care: humans choose their life, and I am not a judge for them. Yet I have questions to those “men” who have come here from the Donbass area and stay here. Isn’t it a shame on them? After all, the majority of locals who protect their Motherland now, took their families [to safe places] and returned. And sometimes they even fight together with their wives and children. I remember, the militiamen joked at one of the border cordons in Izvarino — such “men” were forced to cross the border in skirts. And there were multikilometer queues of their machines.
There’s a debt…
As far as I know, after the truce there begun showdowns among the local ‘princelings’.
Yes, the local bandits make gangs and try to grab something. They don’t pick quarrels with large units. I believe that’s right: command has to be centralized.
On what do they make their daily bread? Almost everything is destrpoed…
Many Ukrainians had some business in Donbass. Since the war began, owners escaped and left everything: cars, apartments, restaurants, shops, etc... Besides, the very concept of “private property” is almost absent there...
And what about those who fled from the war to Ukraine?
As far as I know, they want to Russia very much. Men one and all are drafted into the military, women and children live under trying conditions. And attitude towards them is negative...
Are you going to go back there?
I am, only elderly parents hold me here so far. They are against: they have already survived my funeral once. But I have a debt there...
Tell me the truth, is there any hatred to Ukrainians?
No. I have hatred only to those who tortured me in captivity. Let us call them “bad khokhols”******. And I have a pretty good visual memory…
Translated (and footnoted) by Vladimir Samarin, that is me, the blog's author.
* A quote from “My Childhood” by Maxim Gorky, initially related to the life of the poor in Czarist Russia.
** The author has seemengly mixed plots of Rambo I and II; the first one was definitely more anti-American than anything else (especially with the alternative ending); anyhow, the both movies were unwelcome in the USSR.
*** Ukrop (reads oo-krop) — a derogatory definition of members of pro-Ukrainian armed forces, and, generally, of those supporting Kiev regime; literally “dills” (Russian “укроп”). Funny, but Ukrops sometimes call themselves Ukrops, trying to persuade the world it is an acronym of “Ukrainian resistance” in Ukrainian. The Ukrainian journalist who asked stupid provocative questions during recent Putin's press conference, wore a dill (that is, Ukrop) imprinted T-shirt.
**** Nazik (natsik) — a derogative definition of members of the Ukrainian National Guard, based on their Nazi ideology.
***** The First Chechen War, 1994—1996.
****** Khokhol — a traditional colloquial word for ethnic Ukrainians, now usually considered by them as an ethnic slur, if heard from other ethnicities.