June 3, 2014, 12:36

Nobody wants to make war, but someone needs to do it

IZIUM, Ukraine -- Artem Fedorov, 21, had a pretty ordinary life in Pervomaisky, a city in eastern Ukraine's Kharkiv Oblast until March 26, when he got a phone call from a recruitment office with the demand to join the army as a reserve. 

Fedorov had just one hour to pack belongings and travel to the army service. “I had to call to my relatives on the road to let them know that I was going to the army,” he said.

After less than two months of training, Fedorov ended up near Izium in southeastern Kharkiv Oblast, serving at a checkpoint near the anti-terrorist operation that Ukraine has been waging against Kremlin-backed separatists in the Donbas regions of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

Despite not being a professional soldier, Fedorov is now doing an important job guarding a huge camp, where the headquarters of the anti-terrorist operation is located, just some 40 kilometers from Sloviansk, a separatist stronghold.

After six hours of work, Fedorov gets 12 hours of rest with the monthly pay of some Hr 3,000. 

“But of course this is rather my duty than my job,” he said, holding his Kalashnikov. “Who would do it if not us?” 

Fedorov said he has had two short leaves since March to see his wife and grandparents at home.

In the end of summer, Fedorov will celebrate his birthday and he hopes to be at home by then, even thought most of the participants of  the anti-terrorist operation with whom the Kyiv Post spoke don't believe the hostilities will be over by then.

Another conscripts, Oleg Zhuk, 25, a market worker from a village in Kherson Oblast, said his family doesn’t know that he is serving in the volatile east. He told them he is at military training near Dnipropetrovsk so they would not worry.

It's dangerous work, with frequent shootouts.

A day before the Kyiv Post arrived on May 30, there was an attack on an army convoy travelling from Sloviansk to Izium, after which one soldier was killed and two wounded.  

Zhuk said that he didn’t know that he would go to the war zone and never wanted to participate in warfare. “When I received my summons in the army I burned it. But then the police came to me telling to show up in the recruitment office in two hours. So I had to come there and ended up here,” he said.

Looking out from his tent, Zhuk said is patriotic but still sees no sense in this war.

“Someone has just set up one people against the others and now we have to fight – east against west,” he said sadly. “I think the politicians are now struggling for power and the ordinary people are suffering over this.”

Unlike the professional soldiers, many reserve conscripts don’t feel much passion about fighting the Kremlin-backed separatists, many of whom are just their fellow Ukrainians who also took up arms just months ago.

The commander of a paratroopers’ brigade interrupted Zhuk’s argument and ordered him to stand by the checkpoint. Instead, the Kyiv Post was treated with fresh strawberries purchased by a local resident as a present to the soldiers.

The majority of residents of Izium and villages nearby show strong support to the Ukrainian army, unlike people living in Donetsk and Luhanks oblasts, who mostly endorse the separatists.

Valentyn Syniy, 29, a plant worker who has become a driver and mechanic, said that when he was serving in Donetsk Oblast's Artemivsk last month, it was harder to cope with the locals, who “for some reason all wanted to Russia.”

Syniy was called to the army on March 8 and had to get ready for travel in one day. Eight years ago he served in Ukraine's elite landing troops, so he needed only 10 days of training to be ready to start his service now.

Over the past year, the army didn’t improve, he admitted. “I used to be thinking about signing a contract with the army, but when I saw its current state I changed my mind,” he said. His army pay of Hr 3,000 is nothing in comparison with Hr 8,000 he was getting at the plant.

Syniy said, when serving with the elite squad of Ukraine's landing troops, he was well-prepared for warfare but never knew he would have to apply his skills in real war. 

“Nobody wants to make war,” he said. “But someone needs to do it.”