Chapter 1: Iraq, Part 2 (conclusion) – 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]. Read part 1 here.
By Nadiya Savchenko, posted by Svyryd Opanasovych with thanks to Nadiya’s sister, Vira Savchenko
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine senior staff
Chapter 1: IRAQ (conclusion)…
In the afternoon I walked around the base. I pulled out an Arab dress, a gift from the prince. [Ed. note: a military tv video of her reported the Prince of As Sawayrah sent Nadiya presents and asked for her hand, she rejected the proposal]. I “sexed it up,” making some slits in the fabric, and cutting out the embroidered flowers. On top, I wore a paranja [burqa] and a chadra [veil], and dressed like that, I went to check how vigilant our guys on duty are being 🙂 …
Muslim women were allowed inside the base, but only to the medical company, and even then, preferably not in a paranja [traditional head and body covering robe of Central Asia] – because what if [there is] a terrorist wearing a shahid belt [suicide bomber belt]! But I just walked on, and got as far as the parking lot and the RAO warehouses (arms and ammunition). Everyone was just staring at me… When they tried to speak, I pretended that I did not understand [Ukrainian]. When Muhammad (the interpreter) started speaking to me in Arabic, I had to raise the veil and show him that it was just me, kidding around! 🙂 Just to make sure my own wouldn’t shoot me! The guys were offended by my joke at first… Fucking crazy, they called me! Then everyone broke into friendly laughter and started taking pictures with me!
That evening, there was a “women’s celebration”! [March 8th, International Women’s Day]… [taking place] in the club, with a gradual transition to the bathhouse… I was also invited… So I went! All the women there were [dressed] as women, in half-fatigues, and I was in a dress and paranja! My “outfit” got appreciation, some gifts were exchanged… Flowers, feast, then, after the first smoking break, I left. The platoon commander yelled at me again! As if I went there [to the party] voluntarily, and not by order of the COS (Chief of Staff) and the [military unit] commissar. I got to the room, some guys came to give me holiday wishes, even though they know how much I dislike this “women’s day”! And all the “honors” associated with it! We drank another bottle. They left… And I felt I was so fucking fed up with it! So I also decided to leave… I put on an “afghan” (a kind of uniform, sandy-colored, Soviet-style; back in Afghanistan, they issued it to soldiers; the Kazakhs fitted it for me. I’ve never had a more comfortable uniform). I took a backpack, put 2 “smoke flares” in it, and one (F-1) phosphoric lighting grenade. I didn’t take the automatic because I knew that I was going on a long walk… and the removal of weapons [from the base] is a crime! And so I went on a “walkabout.” 🙂
As always, I quietly bypassed all the posts, “arches,” “passageways,” and left the base straight through the gate, under the “tower’s” very nose! All our men were celebrating “International Women’s Day”! Too busy to be vigilant! Just like I walked out, any “Ali Baba” could have walked in! Our battalion commander was always saying: “They will slaughter you like blind kittens, before you know it!” I went further out, to the road. Two trucks were driving [towards me]. Driven by Arabs. I hailed them, they stopped. I got into the first truck. Explained that I’m heading straight ahead. Nobody hitchhikes through Iraq, so these Arabs looked at me in astonishment. 🙂
But I was in a uniform, even though a woman! And there was a war going on in their country. So they quietly obeyed, and off we went. Along the way, the dirty Arab nonetheless got it in his head to ask whether I wouldn’t allow some “fiki-fiki” (if I’d fuck him))! I pulled out a grenade, jerked the ring, and, while holding the pin, clearly explained to him that the only fucking he’ll be doing would be to himself, in the ass! Fucking faggot! We drove on without any more problems. Because the driver did not know what else I still had in my backpack… 🙂
As for that phosphoric lighting grenade, I threw it into the gap between our posts – the “archway” and the “Hill” bridge. It burned like such a firework, bright enough for a blind man to see!!! But our “warriors” had gotten so wasted in honor of the women, that no one reacted. So we quietly drove through our [Ukrainian] checkpoint on the bridge. In fact, the mission of the checkpoints was to make sure Arab vehicles didn’t drive between different control zones at night, only during the day and only with documents! But Ukrainians were having a holiday. The Poles also know what “International Women’s Day” is. That’s why we also breezed through the territory under Polish control. Americans, however, are unaware of this “stupid” holiday. For them, responsibility and vigilance came first! Which is why, in the territory controlled by the Americans we were quickly stopped… First by an M16 automatic round, fired above the vehicles! The second one went across the tires! The vehicles stopped … They ordered us all to get out. Gave a kick behind the knee. Put handcuffs on all three of us (plastic tourniquets). Then they started to investigate the details. The Arabs [were questioned] separately. Checked the documents. Told us we’d be waiting in the holding area until morning. Those poor guys started shouting that I took them hostage! 🙂 And forced them to drive! 🙂 But no-one believed them! 🙂 Americans have never believed Arabs!
They asked me, “Who are you?!” I said: “Ukrainesoldier!” (Ukrainian soldier). They asked what’s in the backpack? I said – “fire!” 🙂
They got scared, and one dared to take my backpack and look. The others shouted at him: Crazy! After seeing there were only 2 “smoke grenades,” the guys calmed down… They called a Russian Jew, a guy with glasses who knew a bit of Russian … He didn’t ask a lot of questions. They were not interested in what happened and how I ended up in the Arabs’ vehicle. They just asked how to contact our base. I explained – through a “field wire!” 🙂 They were surprised and said that they don’t have such a thing…
I asked them how they communicated. They said through the “Pentagon!” I said, “Then contact them!” I wanted to use the toilet, but they were afraid to cut off my plastic handcuffs, so I went to the toilet and undid my fly with my hands still handcuffed behind my back… Oddly enough – somehow it worked! I went to the toilet, I even got my pants back on. But I failed to do the fly back up. I walked out and asked the Americans to help. The guys started laughing, but one still knelt and did it up. Then they cut the plastic handcuffs off. They asked if I was hungry. Fed me, strangely enough, with buckwheat porridge! It was even quite tasty! Turns out, they don’t eat at their “McDonald’s”! 🙂
Then we walked around the base. I communicated with everyone in pieces of any language I knew, and gestures. They told me that they have to serve a year in “hot spots” to receive benefits for education, healthcare, or housing. That their base gets very frequently fired on, so they even sleep in flak jackets and helmets, not to mention [with] their weapons. Our base was fired on a few times, so when an alarm was sounded, we would hide in the passage between the barracks, using it like in a bomb shelter; and we walked around the base without protection, only with our weapons. I asked about the food, they said that they do have a “McDonald’s,” but also cook normal food. I explained to them that most of all, we all want borshch soup and bread with [pickled] herring, because bacon is at least some kind of substitute for lard, but we are really craving salted [pickled] fish. They did not even know what that [pickled herring] is! 🙂
We walked around like this until morning, spending time nicely. They showed me the base. It was very similar to ours. In the morning, they brought me to the headquarters and said that soon “mine” will come for me [people from Ukrainian base]. While there, I observed the work of their officers some more…. Maps, computers, electronic panels … Their information comes through much more precisely and quickly than ours does.
While I was enjoying this “international experience sharing,” a signal went from the US base to the “Pentagon,” from there to Ukraine, and to the Ministry of the Interior. That was why the President of Ukraine, at that time [Viktor] Yushchenko (“Maidan 2004” was happening while I was in Iraq; we were rooting [for the Ukrainian people] a lot, saying that we should turn our APCs around and head home! What are we doing all the way here in Iraq?! [Ed.note: Viktor Yushchenko was elected in Jan. 2005, as a result of Maidan 2004, known as the Orange Revolution]) knew that a soldier disappeared from a Ukrainian base and ended up with the Americans, before the [Ukrainian] base command knew about it. 🙂 From Ukraine, [the signal went] on to mission control in Baghdad, then to the brigade in Al-Kūt, and finally from there – to the base in As-Suwayrah!
And then it began! The morning hangover after March 8th! No one could get their bearings! [How can it be that] commanders do not know the count of their own units, and the whereabouts of “their people”?! Which soldier was lost – that was unclear! And when they understood that it was me! The convoy that was coming to pick me up was made up of two platoons! Plus the command! Nine BTRs [APCs]!!! Armed “to the teeth!”
They’ve been equipped with everything. Even grenades, by the crate. Like never before! The presentation of my “escort” was enough to even make the Americans scared! 🙂 Am I really such an important “bigwig” to [require] such protection?! But we traveled back safely, without incident. Everyone stayed silent. The morale officer sat close by. Just to make sure nothing would happen. I was close to bursting with laughter, but tried to stay serious! We arrived at the base – and then it began … The doctors came running, asking if I’d like a shot of sedative? I told them to fuck off! They took away my automatic, nice and quiet… Maybe so that I wouldn’t, by chance, shoot up half the base and then myself! 🙂
Then the “eights” and “sevens” came (in other words, SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] agents) and started to question [me], to sniff around … How [did I leave]? To what purpose? How did you get out? How did you end up there?
What tales didn’t I invent for them… That I got an e-mail with threats from terrorists, that they would take my sister hostage if I don’t go out; that the Taliban kidnapped me directly from the base; what didn’t I make up… They were walking around, tracing my tracks, [looking] where I exited, tracing cigarette butts! I’m a smoker, right! Hence, I should have left a giant trail of cigarette butts! Idiots! This circus went on for 3 days. Then I got sick of it! I said: “Either put some charges forward, or, if I’m a soldier, then give me my weapons back!” They could not indict me, because what I did was technically a flight “to the battlefield” and not “from the battlefield” – so they couldn’t call me a deserter. So it was a simple walkabout [AWOL]. Even without weapons – so only punishable by disciplinary reprimand, if [I was gone] for less than 3 days, and I was missing from the base only for 9 hours! Well, considering it was wartime, they could also dock some percentage [of my pay]. They thought for a bit. And then they decided not to “mess around” with me. The rotation was ending soon, and I could be sent to Ukraine on the first flight (all screw-ups were always sent back on the first flight), out of harm’s way. So as not to have to explain – how could a soldier disappear from such a “well-guarded ” base?! That way was better for everyone, and then they would sort me out later. So they gave me back my automatic without a fuss.
When one of the “sevens” [agents] was returning my machine gun, just from looking into his eyes, I already knew that my machine gun would not fire… When you get to know and constantly see the same people for half a year, you start being able to read their thoughts …
It was raining; while walking, I pulled the trigger of the loaded machine gun; there was no shot … I enter the room, take the gun apart and see: somebody has filed down the firing pin of the trigger mechanism (“striker”) – crudely, with an emery stick! Why, you bitches! Did you think I don’t know my own weapon inside out, even with my eyes closed?! Or that in half a year here, I haven’t cleaned my machine gun even once?! Just what did you think I was doing here?!
So I go to the guys’ company and ask – who is the bitch [that did this]?! The guys pretend they have no idea… Clear as day! Even my friends turned their backs! Because I got them in trouble! Fine! They should have paid more attention on guard duty! Finally, one [of them] managed to say that when they were ordered to file down the firing pin (the order came from the Head of Operational Headquarters!), not one of our guys agreed to do it … And so the sergeant-major did that himself. Oh?! Of course! Wouldn’t put it past that one! Fine, I’m not saying anything to anyone! I continue serving as before! They don’t let me go on outside missions anymore, but I still go on the beat, armed with a “stick”!!!
Rotation day. [We] organized a convoy. Loaded our belongings. I, of course, was on the first board to be sent away. I get in the APC [armored personnel carrier] and take the “owl” lookout position. The chief of staff is watching all this, knowing that my machine gun can’t shoot! Because it was he who ordered the firing pin to be filed down! And nobody says a word to me [about it]. No one asks me to leave the lookout position… They don’t want to get involved! Well, what are you bastards doing?! I’m riding in a defensive position, armed with a stick!!! I will be the first corpse, my APC will be the second! Because I won’t be able to shoot back! Will at least one [of you] morons order me to dismount?! Give one sensible order! In half a year! They stay silent…
Fine. So I guess we’re going like this. Obviously, I was not going to risk the APC’s crew, so as soon as we left the gate, I swapped my stick of a machine gun with an SVD [Dragunov sniper rifle] of a guy sitting inside. We reached the departure base quietly, without any attacks.
At the departure base, we sat in hangars, cleaning out guns and preparing them for return. I cleaned my machine gun, fastened the clip, and, after approaching the [weapons] return station, pointed the barrel at the RA [rocket and artillery forces] major (the one responsible for the weapons):
“Give me that!” he grabbed my machine gun by the barrel and pulled on it. I managed to hold on to it.
“You think I haven’t replaced the firing pin?! Or that my clip is empty?”
“Nadia, Nadia…” he raised his arms. When I pulled the trigger, he fell on his ass! (I didn’t change the firing pin, and I had no ammunition, so there was no shot, but a “click” was enough!
I hurled the machine gun into his foice] and told him, “Change the pin! Fucking pricks!!!
They all realized that I knew…
I went outside to have a smoke, all shaken up, and the brigade commander himself drove over to take a look at me! General Papko! He came in a car. Stopped some way away. [They] started pointing fingers at me, for him to see… As in, there she is! The pain in the ass!!!
He took a look and drove off …
What I did was simply a disciplinary violation! And what they did… Was a crime! Firstly, [it was an] intentional defacement of a weapon, and secondly, they sent a soldier into combat with a stick in her hands!!! And they all understood this… And they also realized they would not be able to shut me up. Unless they killed me! For they really had no idea what to do with me…
We flew back to Ukraine in an IL-76, the same [airplane] we used to get to Iraq. Back to Mykolaiv again. [It was] March, cold. Parade, orchestra! Welcomed with bread and salt! Decorations and medals for everyone! Well, of course, this was the first board from the mission in Iraq! The “heroes” are back from the “war!” This is all bullshit, because the first board always takes back alcoholics and screw-ups! And those who are at odds with the command! But who knows that?! So the “fools” are always lucky to get decorations and medals! Hence my attitude towards medals! Useless bling!
Then comes customs. Then the quarantine holding area. Three days of medical examinations – and [back] to the [military] bases!
Of course, a drinking epidemic ensues! Everyone is happy and wasted! They cannot get enough of looking at girls in mini-skirts, without paranjas! Even I started to like the girls!
After looking at no one but guys for six months!!!
They tried to bring me back to Ukraine for “indecent behavior” [promiscuity or fraternization], but when an ob/gyn wrote “virgo” in [my] medical book – everyone’s jaws dropped! How can you serve with men for half a year and remain a virgin?! That’s how!
Then the neurologist asked me:
“Why did they tell me to pay particular attention to you? You seem like a pretty adequate person!”
“Doctor, if they told you to pay close attention [to me], then they must have also told you what to write [in my medical record]! You write [what you need to] so that you don’t have any problems. I will deal with my [problems] myself!”
He wrote, “post-traumatic stress syndrome after losing comrades in combat.” Can you believe it?! Well, fine, so be it!
Then – [I am] back with the Airborne troops! With my own 13th Airmobile Battalion! There, nobody was asking me about anything anymore! Only rumors and gossip flying around! Combat [battalion commander] “Chuma” [Plague] only said, “Well, Pulya [Bullet]! You sure threw everyone in for a loop!” And the brigade commander, Colonel Shvets, when running into me on the stairs, asked:
“How you doing, soldier? All is well?”
“Yes, sir!” I replied!
I remember my first meeting with the brigade commander. At the time, I was coordinating drills, and was just trying to bring about some “order,” and set out the [semblance of a] schedule. Suddenly, the doors open and the brigade commander walks in. He was quite a youthful-looking colonel; and the green stars on his camouflage uniform were hardly noticeable. In the ground troops department, I got used [to the fact] that “big” bosses wore everyday clothes [to work], while all airborne troops wore fatigues! So I took him for a contract soldier! And he [just] stood in the doorway and kept quiet. I looked at him and said: “Well, hi there, I guess?!” – he smiled, turned to the battalion commander and said: “You’d better teach the private how to greet the commanding [officer]…” – and left. That was my first blunder!:)
Both the battalion commander and the brigade commander took a lot of heat for my prank in Iraq. But they [never] showed their resentment. 🙂
Or maybe they were not offended at all?
But, in any case, I am grateful to them, among other things, for the training and for the school of survival that is the Airborne troops!
Glory to the Airborne troops! Glory Forever!
Afterwards, everyone was quietly praying that I’d go to the fighter pilot school, just like I intended to, and leave to serve in “big aviation,” because, they said, if [I served] in the “army” (on a helicopter that is), the paratroopers would refuse to jump!
[Because] it is terrifying to jump after this psycho!
And I got accepted! And the ground troops [finally] got rid of me. And crossed themselves [in relief]! But not for long! Because after [graduation from] the Kharkiv University of Airborne Troops I was sent to serve on helicopters after all…
To the dumb question: “Why?! … Why did [you] go for a walk in Iraq?” I say: “Because I’d had enough [of them]!” Telling me that the army is not a place for women! I’ve had enough! They called me “uncontrolled,” “unpredictable,” “fucked in the head.” I’ve had enough of them being afraid of me! A good rider is not afraid of the mare! He guides it! But a bad horseman – the mare will take wherever it wants! Maybe they shouldn’t have been so afraid of me, and shying away from me?! I am a perfectly normal and conscientious soldier! No worse than any other [soldier]! And the fact that I am a woman does not prevent me from doing my duty and my job! And if men have problems with me being a woman … they can go quietly jerk off [in the corner]! Instead of fucking with my brains!
And so I went to prove to men how incapable they are to perform their “normal manly work” – military service!
I have written about Iraq and the war in Iraq the way I saw it, with my own eyes. I will never start saying, like some, “I don’t give a fuck! I fought! I got handfuls of medals! I wouldn’t take them!” [reference to a viral Internet poem, author unknown] If someone disagrees with me, they can write their own story. I will read it with pleasure, so as to look at Iraq through the eyes of a “stranger”!
Source: Svyryd Opanasovych FB
Photos are screenshots from a Ministry of Defense military video “Nadiya“
Read Chapter 1, Part 1 of Iraq here
One of Savchenko’s attorneys, lawyer Ilya Novikov, holds up a copy of her book which should go on sale tomorrow:
Dear Nadia, we are thinking about you. Be calm, be patient if you can. Take good care of yourself. We need you. Slava Ukraini!
FASCINATING ACCOUNT! I hope it reaches many parts of the world. We pray for Nadiya and hope she will be free soon.
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HOPE !! never ever stop fighting !!! I send you my love …..
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Dear Nadia, I HOPE you are free by the time I get a copy of your book! Your trial has started; your statement to the court should make all Ukrainians proud!!! We are praying for you.