Taras Polataiko, Ukrainian Canadian artist, Assistant Professor, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
Taras Polataiko’s project War. 11 Portraits is at the National Art Museum of Ukraine [NAMU] as a charity fundraising initiative to help wounded soldiers and museums who have suffered or been damaged within the zone of the Ukrainian ATO (Anti-Terrorism Operation); it is on until September 21, 2014.
From the artist’s talks with patients in the surgical department of Kyiv’s Central Military Clinical Hospital, who came there from the front with serious injuries, 11 photo-portraits emerged with audio recorded stories of the people who have been in the inferno of war. Voices of Ukraine has been translating these audio stories to print, our translation (together with all the portraits in the show) is here: VASYL’s STORY.
This is OLEH’s STORY:
Oleh, Donbas Battalion, “The guys carried me, wounded, under heavy fire for about 3 miles.” VIDEO (in Ukrainian). National Art Museum of Ukraine (audio portrait, transcribed below):
Oleh: My name’s Oleh, call sign Dnepr. I’m from the Donbas Battalion.
Taras Polataiko: How did you get into the ATO?
Oleh: I wanted to get there as early as possible. I was at Maidan, myself. The guys – there were ten more people from Kalush – asked me not to leave until the [Presidential] elections were over. We all felt there was a threat that something could happen [to disrupt the vote]. Once the elections were over, we decided to go.
People came to Maidan looking for volunteers to join the Donbas Battalion. They told us – if anyone wants to go and fight, come here on Monday at nine in the morning. I didn’t really care which battalion I was with – I just wanted to be in the ATO and fight separatists. I ended up in the Donbas battalion, and I’ve got no regrets about that. We have some great guys, and good commanders, too.
Was that your first time at war? What were your first impressions?
Yes, that was my first time. I took it pretty well. Soon after we got to Artemivsk, there was an attack, the very same night. It was a bit scary at first, but then we got used to it all. We didn’t even see who was shooting, just heard the direction it was coming from.
How long does it take to get used to that sort of thing?
For some, one day is all it takes. We always had to be at the ready. We were always going on different missions – taking back different sites from separatists, like factories and car parks. Soon, you come to realize that either you kill them, or they kill you. No third option. We knew that separatists don’t spare anyone, and it’s best not to get captured by them, because they’d rip you to shreds first, and then kill you anyway. So there’s no point in being taken alive.
Did your first impression of the war change you?
Maybe a little. I want to go back. I can’t do it yet, but I really want to go back to my guys. They’re amazing. After I was wounded, they carried me for almost three kilometers, under heavy fire. I don’t know how we even made it. There were maybe eight of them, being constantly fired at. They would set me down on the road, cover me up, return fire… They were incredible. I’m so grateful to them.
If I survive and get better, I must do more. My leg won’t let me do that yet, it’s pretty heavily wounded. I have three gunshot wounds, one 12.7 caliber and two 5.45. There’s about 8 cm of bone missing in my hip, and the bullets caused two serious fractures. The doctors are saying I’m going to be fine, but I’m healing slowly. I’m doing my best, though, I keep fighting. I want to get back on my feet as soon as possible, and live a full life. And I want to go back to my battalion.
Do you have any family?
Both parents and a brother. I also have a girlfriend, and a child, she’s eight years old. I was married once, but we’re separated now. My daughter doesn’t know what happened to me. Everyone else knows, but I’m not ready to tell her yet. She thinks I’m doing some work somewhere… I’ll tell her when the time is right.
Ok, thank you. Heroyam Slava! [Glory to the Heroes!]
National Art Museum of Ukraine, Exhibition view.
Lions never abandon their pride / Lion’s Help, fundraising project Facebook page.
Link to next stories: DENIS, SERHIY, ROMAN, MAKSYM, DIMA, SASHA’s stories
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