War for Peace: The story of a pacifist with an automatic gun [who became a cyborg]

By Oleg Karpyak, BBC Ukraine
11.11.2014
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine

Nick Voronin in his previous life and today.

Nick Voronin in his previous life and today.

Just a few years ago he was known in the narrow circle of eccentric-pacifists who dreamed of saving the Earth from ecological disaster, was engaged in spiritual practice, lived with his wife in a self-dug out “hole” in a field in Donbas, caring for animals and eating roots and grass.

Prior to this, there was education in a prestigious university, cancer and three complex operations.

Today, 34-year-old Nick [Mykola] Voronin, a native of Kherson region – is one of the “cyborgs” that protect the Donetsk airport. He honors the orders of command, even if he doesn’t agree with them, he’s mastered the tactics, learned to practice with weapons and affectionately calls his automatic “Saniok” [a diminutive nickname from Oleksandr]. Although, he says he would be happy to part with it forever.

He says that if he had been told a year ago that he would fight in the war, he would never have believed it.

“Ringing Cedars”

In 2004, when Nick graduated as an ecologist from the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, he discovered he had renal cell carcinoma, which metastasized to his liver.

The pain was unbearable. “There is nothing to compare it with. Each inhale and exhale for me was a feat. You can’t eat anything either, because it is very painful. You can’t drink anything. The pain is everywhere. You don’t sleep, because it hurts. It’s hell on earth” – he recalls.

Having survived three operations, the money for which was collected throughout the university, Nick lost several internal organs, and with them the disease.

In Ukraine, the Orange Revolution had started [November 2004 to January 2005]. Feeling that on the street something extraordinary was happening, Nick prematurely discharged himself from the hospital and, with his stitches still fresh, joined the protests.

“In 2004, I saw on Maidan [Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square in Kyiv] the dreamers, the geniuses, and the vultures.”

And, very soon, Maidan–2004 left a “difficult trail of disappointment” behind it. “I saw there the dreamers, the geniuses, and the vultures.” – says Nick.

But positive changes still occurred, on a personal level: “After an illness I breathe smoothly. Inhale – bliss. Exhale – bliss. And people breathe but do not notice it.”

Healing himself, Nick, as a diplomaed environmentalist, set himself an ambitious goal – to heal the Earth from ecological crisis. But how? World renowned environmentalists, with whom he spoke at international conferences, did not give clear advice.

“Environmentalists remind me of strange firemen, which do not extinguish the fire. The house is burning, the planet is dying, and environmentalists run around with a thermometer and measure the temperature: ‘here we are on fire – [we’re] burning up! – And here we burn weakly.’”

Surprisingly, the answer to the question how to save the planet came from the works of Russian writer Vladimir Megre, the author of the Ringing Cedars of Russia series of books.

“The idea is simple – Nick retells. Anyone who wants to save the world, we must take a hectare or two of land and make it the Garden of Eden.”

For this, he says, one must remove the wasteland, plant it with trees and plants from the Red Book, dig a pond, let the birds in, build an underground burrow and develop this land into a “family estate.” 

A DVD inside a player 

Nick took the writer’s ideas as a call to action. Waiting until spring, he broke ground for his family estate near Horlivka. It was a strip of field 13 km from the city. His lawyer wife helped to formulate the documents for the land division, [she was] “also turned on to these ideas,” in Nick’s words. 

To Horlivka, where he worked as a teacher of mathematics in vocational schools, he traveled by bicycle.

Outside it was warm, and the young family settled into a tent. But a problem appeared – a goat with its kid began to visit their simple abode, it had been given to them by friends. The animals constantly trampled the tent and soiled it. It led to building a different dwelling, closed to goats. 

The goat, which forced Nick to build a "hole."

The goat, which forced Nick to build a “hole.”

Then Nicholas dug a tight dugout, with a height of just above the knee, which he called a “hole.” Later on the hole grew thick earthen walls and a roof covered with clay and straw. Inside there was a small stove.

The couple lived all winter in this dugout. The stove smoked so much that warming oneself from it was impractical, so they had to huddle against the cat and dog who lived with them. The cat was also needed in order to catch the mice, which, as it turned out, bite.

In the winter, when the nights were long, we had to lie in the hole a lot. It was cold, he recalls, and adds: “I understood bears who go into hibernation.”

The couple spent eight months in such circumstances – until the end of February. Most of the time they lived without money, eating only what nature gave: grass roots. In this way, they tried to disconnect from “civilization,” said Nick, with a gesture of putting quotation marks around the word.

The most memorable were the nights spent in the ground – with these deep and ‘global,’ as he says, dreams. 

“One of my friends said I was similar to a DVD, and the earth – to a [DVD] player – says Nick trying to explain the feeling of living in a hole. I was just put into the player and I started playing.” 

Despite the cold, his health has always been more-or-less good. Only occasionally did is surviving kidney hurt. 

Nick and his wife wintered in this type of "lodging.” [On his underwear it says: “There will be good.”]

Nick and his wife wintered in this type of “lodging.” [On his underwear it says: “There will be good.”] 

“War stinks”

At that time Nick, inspired by the books of Vladimir Megre and Slavic cults, was fond of the idea of the unification of Ukraine and Russia into a United Russia. 

When a new Maidan began in 2013, he treated it with suspicion and initially went to the pro-Russian meeting beneath the walls of the Donetsk Regional State Administration. But [because of] a disturbing atmosphere and conflicts amongst “their own” he immediately did not like it.

“I was a separatist at that time for a whole three days,” – he recalls

Afterwards, he visited a pro-Ukrainian meeting in Donetsk as well: “There people were praying, all religious denominations stood [together], there were people with children, moms. To me it was obvious for whom to continue to stand.”

“If you want to go to Russia – take your things and drive into Russia. Russia is big, there’s lots of land, – he said. I myself once wanted to live in Russia. I lived with my wife for eight wonderful months in Altai.”

Then something happened that finally convinced him of the necessity to take up arms, the separatists, he retells, captured his 17-year-old friend from Horlivka and abused him.

Nick, who a year ago still considered himself a pacifist and quarreled with hunters who shot game on his estate, enlisted in the Donbas Battalion. Subsequently, he went to serve in a regular airmobile unit. 

“I have never received and do not get pleasure from killing. War stinks. From war you get nauseous. Every time, you feel sick. But I see no other way to stop this filth which comes out of Russia and moves in on Ukraine.” 

In Donetsk Airport.

In Donetsk Airport.

The most valuable lesson of war

Today, paratrooper Nick Voronin protects the Donetsk airport. He says that this dilapidated building has a special symbolic meaning to Ukraine and calls the airfield a spiritual “citadel of Ukrainian identity.”

Experiencing life in a dugout became opportune in war. Nick explains that he can go without food for a week, not sleep for several days and endure the pain.

“Pain – is one of our most powerful teachers.” 

“Pain – my old friend. Pain does not prevent life, and sometimes it even helps. It makes my thoughts faster, my reflexes – clearer. Pain – is one of our most powerful teachers.”

Nick jokingly calls his automatic “Saniok” – that’s what many of his friends are called. At the same time he says that he gladly threw his “Kalashnikov” into the weapons room when going on leave: “And I take no pleasure in the necessity to take it up in my hands again.”

I ask what he has learned in war. 

“The war taught me unity with my country, and moreover the word “Country” – with a capital letter. I began to feel that I do have a country of Ukraine. It is one of the most valuable lessons of my life.”

After a short vacation leave, Nick Voronin returned to battle.

After a short vacation leave, Nick Voronin returned to battle.

The mechanism of self-destruction

Nick says he loves all people, including his enemies, but does not respect them, because he cannot understand their views. 

“Sometimes it seems that victory is tomorrow, and sometimes – that we must fight for another 50 years.”

He willingly shares his views: “The main thing that I realized – contamination exists in the minds of men.”

“A person – is a complex self-organizing and self-healing system. And any system works and aims, produces a product. What does a person make? Thoughts. This is something that does not disappear. But if there is no goal, you lose the meaning of life, and in our overly-smart factory the self-destruct mechanism gets switched on – the disease. When a person has a goal – they recover.”

This knowledge, says Nick, helps him in battle, because there, the purpose is very clear.

“I know, that this will be, but I don’t know when. The situation is quite variable. Sometimes it seems that victory is tomorrow, and sometimes – that we must fight for another 50 years.”

Source: BBC Ukraine

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