By Christina Berdinskykh, nvua.net
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
Sergei Loiko, correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, talks about domestic and combat conditions in Donetsk airport and how he feels about the warning of Roskomnadzor [Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications] to Ekho Moskvy [Echo of Moscow] because of the publication of a conversation with him.
– How did you get to the airport?
– I have the most brilliant producer, she waved a magic wand and I was at the airport. Her name is Viktoria Butenko. She is the most professional producer of all I know. Please, you must write this down.
– Nevertheless, what was your way there?
– I drove into Pisky, and met with the Right Sector. The Right Sector did not have their own armour; they took me to the 79th Brigade. I talked with the leadership of the 79th Brigade, they put me into an armoured personnel carrier and I was at the airport.
– How long have you been in there?
– 4 days.
– You ate and slept in the same place as the soldiers?
– Eating – you cannot call that food, and sleeping – you cannot call that sleep. I fed on my adrenalin. That is the staple food of the defenders of the airport.
The airport consists of structures, there are two terminals that are completely open to sniper fire. There are generators that feed batteries for telephones and radios. But there is darkness inside, day and night. At night, everything turns off. No flashlights, nothing can be used, because everything can be seen and snipers fire on the third puff. It is amazing that all these structures are still standing, because they consist mostly of holes.
The old terminal you cannot drive to at all – it is all open ground. So the armoured personnel carriers drive up to the new terminal. But in the old terminal there is no three-dimensional encirclement. There are separatists on the perimeter, who sit three hundred metres away.
The old terminal is open from all sides, it is just utter hell. And the new terminal is terrible in that there is a three-dimensional encirclement. The separatists are not only at the perimeter, they also sit in the basement and on the third floor. So the 1st and 2nd floor are controlled by the Ukrainian army, and in the basement and on the 3rd floor there are separatists. Once in a while they jump out and make raids and so on. Both sides booby-trap the passages, everyone walks around them, no-one knows where these mines are. In the airport I have witnessed a lot of absolutely heroic episodes.
– For example?
– For example, there was this episode, in my article I called it “Let’s send the tank driver home” [see photo essay link below]. There was a Ukrainian tank, it burned down. Three of the crew jumped out, they died, the sniper killed them. Two of them were picked up [by Ukrainian soldiers] and taken home, and the third one was torn up by a mine. They could not pick him up, the runway is littered with rubbish, ammunition boxes, shells and God knows what else. Going out there is deadly. So once, when they were loading a transport, one of the fighters saw a piece of hip from this tank driver and said to the commander, let’s send the tank driver home. The commander said that, yes, that is a noble decision, but guys, to send a piece of a dead man home, we have to risk our lives, who will be up for this? And everyone raised their hands.
– That happened when you were there?
– Yes. Then two young guys, Misha and Slavik, wonderful intelligent guys, first ran to these broken windows. When the transport arrived, they ran out onto the runway and while everyone was loading the transport under fire, they put down their weapons, under fire found an empty ammunition box, and put the piece of tank driver into it. They closed this box, under fire tied it with wire to the armour of the carrier, and only then grabbed their weapons. For over 30 seconds they were absolutely risking their lives, just to send home a dead comrade, whom they did not even know personally.
– At the airport, is there a kind of romantic military atmosphere?
– They are all inspired by what they do. They understand that it is pointless to defend this building. Everyone tells them, guys, the airport is not a fortress under siege, not because it is not under siege, but because it is not a fortress. So bear that in mind. Nothing will save you here. Your only defense is a friend. There is that atmosphere of camaraderie. I have not seen this in any other war, there is no rudeness from the officers.
– And how many wars have you been to?
– 25 missions to a warzone. This was my 25th.
– And are there many people in the airport?
– That is a military secret. I will not tell what I mustn’t. More than half the men are officers. There is no difference between officers and privates, each offered a shoulder and helped the other and they all call each other “ty” [an informal “you”]. In the airport there are 4 generations of people. 40-year old, 30-year old, 20-year old, 18-year old guys.
– How is this war different from others?
– This war is different because there were no reasons for it. They are all fictional. They are built on lies, spread by Russian television. There was no reason for people to kill each other. It is a theatre of the absurd. This is now one of the most epic wars for me.
– What are the living conditions at the airport?
– What living conditions? They cherish drinking water; it is as precious as ammunition. I ask one soldier, where do you wash here? He says to me, Serezha [Serge], you don’t wash in the airport, you scratch. Those who wash are those who are too lazy to scratch. These are the living conditions. They’re scary.
– You said that you were struck by the eyes of the fighters, why?
– Yes, I was struck. The eyes are bright, they burn with an inner fire, intelligent, piercing. The eyes of people who are at war and who are becoming real men there.
– Will you go to Eastern Ukraine again?
– As they say, better mountains can only be those that no-one has yet climbed. For me [the airport] is the pinnacle for now, from which I am descending.
– What is your reaction to the fact that Roskomonadzor issued a warning to Ekho Moskvy because of the publication of your conversation?
– It’s utter bull****.
Russia’s top radio station slapped by government, The Daily Mail
Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, Interview: Ukrainian ‘Cyborg’ Describes Nine Days Defending Donetsk Airport
Sergei Loiko, LA Times, Ukraine Fighters Surrounded At Wrecked Airport Refuse to Give Up