Excerpts from the soon to be published book by Nadiya Savchenko: “It’s A Strong Name, Hope.” [Nadiya means ‘hope’ in Ukrainian, so the title is a play on her own name].
[Editor’s note: In this post we are also told that the title of the book is: “I’m not saving any strength for the road back.” In the concluding post it returns to the above title.]
My apologies that this book is not written in a lofty style. But, as they say, “a word dropped out of a song makes it all wrong.” So I have written simply, conversationally.
Chapter 1: IRAQ (Part 1)
I won’t write a war story about Iraq. Nowhere was there a record that we were going to war. We were going on a peacekeeping mission, because, that’s how it actually was; although later, we were issued papers that certified we participated in military operations… I will write about Iraq as I saw it.
After training, we were dressed in sand-colored camouflage, issued backpacks (an invader’s dream!), and loaded up with products of “public utility”: my backpack got stuffed with an extra 30 kg of electrolytes for electrical welding. 🙂
The backpack was as tall as I, and twice as heavy – 120 kg when I weighed it at the customs, against my 60kg. I carried it and loaded it myself. If ants can do this [carry enormous weight], why can’t humans?! 🙂
We shipped out from a military airfield in Mykolaiv, on an IL-76 military aircraft. I remember that country music was playing in the airport, and I danced to it. They issued us panama hats instead of caps, so I bent mine like a cowboy hat, and got to dancing. 🙂 I sure cheered everyone up! 🙂
The flight took four hours. Wheels down. The ramp opens, and in rushes a glowing heat, as if from hell! But the trees, I thought, did not look too different from Ukrainian [trees]. 🙂 The air everywhere was a heat haze.
The temperature was somewhere around +60°С [140°F]. At formation, the boys started to pass out. I somehow adapted quickly. In general, in my whole life I’ve only “glitched” once from the heat, namely, in Iraq. We drove in BTR’s [APCs-armored personnel carriers], I was the “owl” (the lookout, watching from the hatch of the BTR). The heat was terrible, and after so much eye strain, I thought I saw a red dog jumping at me from the middle of the hatch. I jumped! Smashed my head on the hatch (good thing I was wearing a helmet!), and almost pulled the trigger! Then I realized that I needed to cool down, and asked to be replaced. Other than that one time, I usually tolerate heat and cold pretty well.
They gave us weapons, flak jackets and helmets at the airport in Baghdad. Before Iraq, I shaved my head down to “number one,” realizing it would be impossible to do anything with my hair in the heat there. Most of the guys shaved their heads the same way. When I was receiving my weapons and I spoke to say my name, my female voice did not “go with” with my shaved head. 🙂
There were also Ukrainian military journalists there. And one of them asked, “What, they already take faggots into the army?” He did not realize that I’m a woman. Once they explained that to him, the journalists swarmed me immediately, to interview me as the only woman who came to Iraq to do a man’s job… That video is still somewhere on the internet…
We arrived at our base in the city of As-Suwayrah, province of Wasit. The base was a standard American base, surrounded by concrete blocks and baskets of sand, 400 x 600 metres in size. It was a small transshipment base, not a big multicontinental one like the one in Al Kut, where our main brigade was stationed. It was set up on the former location of Saddam Hussein’s army military camp. We lived in the surviving, good-quality barracks. In general, in Iraq, everything is well-preserved because of the dry climate: the buildings, the asphalt roads you could roll an egg on; the only potholes are where the air bombs fell, but otherwise the roads are whole, and don’t run off in the rain like ours do in the snow. Not far from the base there was even a former military hospital, four floors underground and four above it. It was pretty smashed up during the air raids on Iraq. It’s a pity, obviously – their medical care was at a pretty high level. In general, my impressions from Iraq remain a series of still images.
One can spend a long time describing the character and customs of the East. But I think that all educated people are somewhat familiar with them, and there is no shortage of information about the culture of different peoples of the world… So I’ll try to tell it in brief, using facts from my own life.
This is a beautiful, very fertile land. If you work hard on it, it will give you three harvests a year! You can grow almost anything there! But you have to work hard! Physical work, in the Muslim mentality, is women’s work! 🙂 That’s why they get married at age 13, and at 20, they look already 40-50 years old… The women are physically very strong and durable, and the men, conversely, are weak, but it’s the men who are beating the women and not vice versa…
Alongside our base, there lived a family. The women went to the aryk (water canal) to carry water in large water basins and barrels. One day, I approached them to get to know them. I was allowed to approach them because I am also a woman. We talked using English, Arabic, and gestures. I tried to lift one of their bowls of water and wasn’t able to lift it, even though I’m not a weak woman! But they, against gravity, set that weight on their head and carry it!!! When we came to visit them another time, I was permitted to sit with the men at the table and smoke hookah with them (because I am not quite a woman 🙂 but a warrior, after all!). I arm-wrestled their men and won. That was the time I fully realized the differences in strength between men and women of the East…
But a woman’s life in Iraq is not worth much… To get married – the bride-price is $2,500. The younger the girl, the less educated, best of all with no schooling at all, the more expensive she is. The older and smarter [she is] – the price falls immediately. The price for a dead woman is two rams. A ram cost $70 back then. One time, a girl was killed by our APC in a traffic accident. The Commander paid the father $200, and the incident was settled. If they had killed a boy, there would have been a blood vendetta… That is the difference in the price of life of people of different sexes in the East.
Iraq has extraordinarily beautiful soil! Oily, red clay, with a distinctive warm hue. It’s a natural building material, right underfoot, so anyone there can easily stick a dugout together. You can live in it until it starts raining. And in the rainy season, even we were knee deep in clay, and our armored vehicles sank wheel-deep!
There is quite a bit of vegetation there, especially in the riverbeds. So there was plenty of dangerous “greenery,” from which we got shot at… The vegetation is varied: [there are] palm trees and bushes, even some kind of flowers. The temperature drop is big: in the summer, it’s +75°C (+55) during the day, and at night it’s +35°C, which already seems cool. 🙂 In the winter,, it’s +35°С (+25) during the day, +15°С (0) at night, and that’s enough to start freezing and pulling on your pea jacket (and at first, when they were giving us pea jackets, I’d thought what do we need them for in Iraq).
The sky at sunrise and sunset is orange, almost burning up! During the day, a cloud will rarely fly by, the sky is bright, clean, blue, and the sun at its zenith is sizzling hot! Night there comes suddenly. It’s light, it’s light and then – gone! Like someone switched off a lightbulb. Then, in about half an hour, maybe 40 minutes, it becomes pitch black! The Arabs knew this trick of their dark nights well, which is why they sold us flashlights and lighters with backlights, and then when we used them to find our way around the base, those flashlights and blinkers gave off pillars of light, like a laser show! So much for base blackout! We couldn’t give a better pointer to the “Ali Babas” (as the Taliban-terrorists were called there) if we tried! So they shot at the base… Later, we got wiser… We got used to the base, and our eyes also adapted to the dark nights, and by then we groped around without “torches.” We are no dummies!
The stars appeared in the sky gradually, and the sky would become so very starry, you could see as if by day! It always surprised me, this feature of the Iraqi sky … 🙂
You could see the Big and the Little Dipper there, only from a different perspective and at a different angle. But most of Iraq is, nonetheless, a desert, though a fertile one. There are frequent droughts and constant dust in the face, but once there was a real sandstorm! It was a spectacular sight when it was approaching! Like a tall sea wave of terracotta color! Just a wall of sand and clay, moving in on you! And the sky starts turning the color of the ground. We were told to hide in the barracks. I was on the tower on the roof at the time. And I could not take my eyes away from the fury of the elements! [I watched] till I was no longer able to breathe for the sand! Then I went down to the barracks and spent a long time spitting and cleaning the automatic [gun].But I do not regret it! When else would I see a miracle like that! In general, I enjoyed watching the nature of Iraq, this strange, not very understandable Eastern country.
The land there, in addition to being fertile and beautiful, is also rich … Oil rich!
I was very surprised when I first saw the puddles on the ground – not from the rain, but from oil … Fatty, oily stains, that seep straight out of the ground … And oil always means money … And money always means war… So the wealth of this land also destroys it… Just as right now, the wealth and favorable geographical position of our land is killing Ukraine…
To paint a general picture of Iraq, it is a country after a war and devastation, or more precisely, a country where war will never end… It is a fall of morals, dirt, poverty, grief for some, profit for others… But life still goes on and keeps moving … But, to conclude my “lyrical poetry” and “landscape painting,” Iraq for us was just a job. So I will continue speaking about Iraq as I would about work, and will continue to “dispel the myths” about myself…
To describe it honestly and simply, it looked something like this: the USA imported democracy into Iraq, and in exchange exported oil. They drove it out in eighteen-wheelers, 40-ton tanker trucks, 40 vehicles per convoy. From that number, the Arabs would knock out 6-7 vehicles from grenade launchers, on every trip. The convoy would fly through such shelling zones without stopping, for when an oil truck has been hit, there is nothing and no-one left to rescue …
The mission of the intercontinental peacekeeping coalition was to ensure the convoys’ free passage through the Iraq provinces. To do this, control over the provinces was divided as follows: the more oil-rich provinces were controlled by the US and English troops , the more agrarian provinces (such as Wasit), by Ukrainians, Poles, Salvadorans, Estonians. The task was to maintain order in the province, to prevent terrorism from developing, to make sure there was no concentration of weapons and clustering of “Ali Baba” cells, to put checkposts on the road to ensure passage of the convoys, and of course, to help local people develop democracy, to distribute humanitarian aid, to build schools, and to assist local people in conducting democratic elections.
Anyone with a mind can easily observe that all invasions of one state into another start about the same: coalition means occupation, and peacekeeping is a good cover slogan for the coalition. Russia did the same thing, and in the same sequence, in Crimea, and it is trying to do it again in Donbas!
Further events unfolded as follows: democracy required fair and transparent elections. Elections needed polling stations, and the best fit for those were schools, [and building schools] also meant patronage for the future. The once existing schools were destroyed during past airstrikes. To build schools, the US allocated a “briefcase” of money per province. I do not know how it was in other military contingents, but in the Ukrainian one, it went down like this: the command took half of the “briefcase” (later, half of what they kept for themselves, which was $300,000, they tried to smuggle to Ukraine inside the coffin of a colonel who died of a heart attack in Iraq. That actually happened!). The other half they gave to the sheikhs (elders and rulers recognized by the people), agreeing with them about building schools and preparing for democratic elections of a legitimate authority, in the form of a mayor (the sheikhs were an illegal self-elected power! That’s why there are always two authorities in Iraq – one that was put there (appointed), and one chosen according to the laws of the Muslim world. One must be able to stay friends with both). The sheikhs took the money and promised schools… In turn, they also “halfed” the money: half went to build schools and create workplaces, and the other half was spent on weapons used to blow up the same school during the elections… Of the 9 schools that were built in the Wasit province, 4 were blown up!
That was how we lived then… that was our job… So try telling me that the world hasn’t gone mad?! On the global scale of common sense and justice, these things are absurd, and this situation allowed everyone to make a living. And if the war never ends, it mus be beneficial for all!!!
That was a general overview of the situation. Now, this is how it was from day to day:
The base I have already described. All bases in Iraq were in the same mould. In large cities, where civilization is preserved, such as Baghdad, Babylon, Al-Kūt and others, there were large multi-coalition bases. We rarely went there, but visited when there were convoy missions. Otherwise, small shipments bases such as ours were scattered across the provinces. “Wild people” was what soldiers from the large bases called us. 🙂
We really were different from them – wilder, in more worn and beat up uniforms, with a lower level of culture, and the greed in our eyes when we were able to get to the assortment in American stores! Our people would grab everything! Especially appliances! The same happened in the canteens, because the selection of food there was greater than at our base. Frankly speaking, that kind of behavior was disgusting to watch! That was also, in part, the result of living in a closed base, with 400 people who see only each other every day. You wake up in the morning, and instead of “good morning” you just want to say “f-off” to one another. 🙂 At larger bases, they had armies from different countries, so there was at least some sharing of experience…
Because of this “culture” of ours, incidents happened sometimes. One day, our “gentlemen” decided to help a US Army sergeant (a beautiful petite mulatto woman) carry a machine gun. 🙂 There would have been an international sexual harassment scandal, had it not been explained in time that we are just from the “Ukrainian Army.” Later, our guys saw the same “girl Sergeant” chewing out a huge bloke, a US Army soldier, for some screw-up, and him dutifully taking orders from a ” broad.” Our guys choked on that for a long time after! 🙂 Yes, the difference in the mentalities of the people of the world is huge…
Americans, Salvadorans, Poles, and Estonians used to drop by our base – not frenquently, but a couple of times – and it was interesting to talk with them. Once, an American convoy stayed overnight. They set up camp in the middle of the base. There were two women in their unit – a “Hum-vee” driver and a mechanic. Our commanders insisted that the women sleep in the medical units with our gals. The American commander was very surprised – why shouldn’t the unit bunk together? But he gave in, so as not to argue with idiots… Later, he came by and told the girls that they had night watch at the unit’s place of deployment, so they spent the night walking around the tents in the rain, even though one of them had a birthday that day, and we had just cracked open a bottle of “Baileys”… That’s how it is! Over there [in the US Army], a soldier is a soldier! Maybe if our f-tards hadn’t tried to impose our “regulations” on a foreign army, those girls would have had a good night’s sleep!
All bases had American logistical support. They have a firm called KBR. Their motto is “We go where the army goes!” They hire civilians and pay them very good money ($100k USD per year) to work in “hot spots.” They provide everything! Construction, dining rooms, delivery of fuels and lubricants, basically everything that’s needed for daily life! And they take care of everything perfectly! They hire cooks and construction workers builders from different countries! For example, our cooks were from Bangladesh. The cleaners, sewage workers and handymen were hired locally. Payment was different for everyone, according to their contract and depending on the standard of living in their country.
The soldier has one task, to fight! Not walk around collecting cigarette butts! Sometimes, [the task was] to escort a supply convoy, for security. That was the best military logistics structure that I have ever seen. The base was provided with everything! Even hot water, when the air temperature was 75°C! But our assholes also dragged their own logistics supplies there, with disgraceful field kitchens and washbasins, and a whole staff of freeloaders! Well, why not? You’ve got to launder the money somehow! The US paid for every unit and piece of equipment, so our guys dragged all kinds of crap there! Even if it weren’t operational! Who cared? As long as they got the money, and whatever was needed – KBR would provide!!! Typical for us!
The US also paid a flat rate per day for a live combat unit (a soldier, General – they didn’t care!). That came to $6,000 a month. Then the authorities of each country evaluated the life of one person at their discretion: a US Army soldier was paid $3,000, a General,– $6,000. In our case [in the Ukrainian army], a Private received $670, and a Colonel,– $2,500. How’s that for a comparison?
Ukrainian authorities valued their own General the same as the US valued a Private, and the life of a Private no more than the life of an Arab woman …
The wages in the Ukrainian contingent were the lowest. Where the rest of the funds went to, one can only guess. An army that earns big money from missions could easily re-equip itself and dress all in new [uniforms]! But instead [we] waltz around bare-assed! This continues even to the present day, when Ukraine is at war! Our would-be-warriors continue carrying out peacekeeping missions in Africa, and in many other places… I don’t even know whom to ask, “What the hell?!” Our “warriors” are fleeing there from their direct duty to protect their people! To fill their own pockets and those of for corrupt generals and bureaucrats?! While people are being mobilized!!! To whom do I even ask this question?! Whom?! Myself, maybe! I’m a member of the Commission on the Security of Ukraine and an MP! Oh, just let me get out of prison, and let me at those sons of bitches!
Source: Svyryd Opanasovych FB