An Interview with Vlad Kazarin, Ukrainian Volunteer
Letter from the Editor Andrew Rhee:
As many of you know, the war in Eastern Ukraine has been going on for over a year now. What began as protests in Ukraine’s capital have developed into a bloody civil war, a war allegedly perpetuated by the Russian government. People from across the country have taken up arms on both sides to shape this conflict.
It was actually through Facebook that we were able to reach out to our interviewee, Vlad Kazarin, a Ukrainian volunteer. Vlad’s Facebook profile looks like any other 20-year-old university student; he has messages from friends, pictures, and yes, even selfies. But Vlad’s friends carry AK-47s, and his pictures are from the frontline of a brutal war. Vlad began fighting last May, at the age of only 19. In that year, he’s fought in some of Ukraine’s bloodiest battles, including Donetsk, Donbass, and Mariupol. Through his videos, pictures, and stories, we were able to gain a look at the conflict in Ukraine in a way few outside of the area would be able to.
While we were unable to independently verify all of Vlad’s statements, we have tried to corroborate them with outside evidence when possible. We hope you take Vlad’s words not simply as fact, but as a unique look into a complicated situation. Part of resolving a conflict is understanding the other side; their values, beliefs, and what they want. I have learned a lot from Vlad’s words, and I hope you will too.
Vlad, thank you for letting us talk to you. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am from the city of Krasnoarmensk, in the Donetsk region. I am 20 years old.
When did you decide to start fighting, and why?
I joined the fighting when I was 19, on the 9th of May. I started fighting because an occupant, Russia, came right to my doorstep. In the spring, I wasn’t even able to walk around the streets of my city with a Ukrainian flag or badge. I was oppressed by police forces or pro-Russians; I am still not sure exactly who they were. Since April, I have been fighting for a unified Ukraine against separatists in my own city. I ended up in the hospital a couple of times.
Most people your age are attending university. Do you feel like the war has changed you or your life?
Joining the fight and being a soldier haven’t changed me as a person at all. I don’t understand the position that some people take, especially those who are my age and were born in 1994 in a unified, independent Ukraine. For me there is no other flag besides the Ukrainian one.
In your picture and videos, you are armed with military-style automatic weapons. Since you’re not an official Ukrainian soldier, how did you get this equipment?
In the summer, we only had one rifle per four people, and we gathered more by scavenging weapons in battle. We are volunteer fighters of the right sector and we do not get paid money, nor do we get any weapons or clothing from the government. We are patriots!
What about food and clothes? How do you pay for your necessities?
We also have donors who support our uniforms and food. We have enough food and clothing to sustain our needs, but we have a problem with finances, because we pay for gas for the car ourselves. We also repair cars and pay the hospital bills and medicine from our own pockets.
We found you through an article about the battle for the Donetsk airport. That area has seen some of the heaviest fighting in all of Ukraine. What was it like?
It was a very hard situation in the Donetsk airport. We were 30 people in the new terminal; each of us slept around 3 hours. We washed with face wipes for weeks. We were on the first floor, most of the fighting took place on the second floor and the mercenaries of Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, occupied the third floor.
With the help of Ukrainian tanks, Vlad and his fellow soldiers advance through the ruins of Donetsk International Airport.
There have been reports of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine. Have you ever come into contact with them?
I did meet Russian soldiers, and we personally took some Russian forces captive. We ambushed them while we were hiding in trenches along a road and saw them coming. They gave in very quickly, saying that they didn’t want to die. They told us that in Russia they were first told that they are going to Rostov-Na-Danu (area in southeastern Russia not far from the Ukrainian border) for training and then they were sent here to Eastern Ukraine and were forced to fight here. We sent them to our special services (Ukrainian military intelligence). They were later traded in a prisoner exchange for our soldiers.
What about the separatists? Why do you think they are fighting against you?
I believe they are just people who have been influenced by the Russian propaganda, Russia’s main weapon. Nobody believes in a small lie, so the Russian media lies big. Their media is always there when the fighting breaks out.
What’s your opinion on Putin?
I think Putin is just a crazy old man with psychotic problems.
Do you believe that the separatists can really win, or at least that a real end to the fighting is near?
I believe in the end some part of Eastern Ukraine might end up as a part of Russia. Myself and all the other volunteer fighters will stop fighting when the Russian occupants leave our land alone and stop trying to take it from us.
In this video, the temporary headquarters that was being used by Ukrainian soldiers burns after it was shelled by Grad rockets.
While there is currently a ceasefire in place, past ceasefires have failed before. Do you think this one will hold?
In the present moment the ceasefire is being kept. President Poroshenko is trying to get rid of all the volunteer fighters, like us, in that region. All the heavy artillery is gone from the front, and all the tanks and artillery from the army is gone. I would say about 90% of Ukraine is peaceful right now, but the Donbass is not. We are the only ones left here, and the only equipment left is what the volunteer fighters have, while our enemy is gathering strength. In one sudden moment they might attack us, and we would be destroyed without tanks. The ceasefire is not really supported by all, recently we were hit by Grad rockets that were fired at an abandoned house that was being used as our headquarters.
What are your plans for after the war? Do you see yourself going back to school?
I will most likely not return to my university to continue studying. I am planning on going to France and serving in the French Foreign Legion.
Well, we hope you stay safe, thank you for your time.