By Alexandr Mamaluy, and Kateryna Zaikai
Edited by Voices of Ukraine
“At the front, it seems the whole country is fighting together with us. Back home, you understand: no way.”
Alexandr Mamaluy, a former judge in the Kharkiv region Economic Court and a sniper in the 93rd Mechanized Brigade, told us what a soldier feels after returning home.
“For a few days, you return from the front to your hometown. On Friday morning after receiving a departure order and being given a half an hour to get ready, you take a couple of sparkling water bottles as a quick shower, and, with a crunch, scrape off your three-day stubble.
Having put on your “Sunday” uniform, you grab your rucksack and run to the car. Your pistol is put in your belt, spare magazines and ammo packs into your pockets. Though you are going to the rear, anything can happen, but being taken prisoner is not for us.
And now you’re leaving, farther and farther away from the front. The swelling sounds of our SP guns and the bullet storms of the separatists’ weapons fade away. Guys from the support group give you money and cards, point gifts – someone asks for a knife, someone wants a bucket hat, someone orders some pieces for the car…
You nod, promise to bring everything, but there is a single thought in your head: you are going home, but they remain here.
In the evening you will drink cognac, and they will go out to battle, without you.
You will sleep in a soft bed with a woman, and they will not sleep at all – at best they will take a nap on a mat on damp concrete, huddling up to one another for warmth. All these thoughts scratch at your soul.
Guys give you a lift to the National Guard’s checkpoint on the border between regions.
– Hey, military! 93rd Mechanized Brigade, a company of snipers! I’m on my way home for a short leave.
“Natguards” and “Berkuts” at the checkpoint ask you how things are going at the front. On your phone, you show them photos of the enemy occupier’s fortifications, destroyed weapons, prisoners. The “Berkuts” quickly hitch a ride.
– Where are we you going? Will you give a veteran a lift up to Novomoskovsk?
And then you are driving peaceful roads. Here people don’t shoot at our columns from a bush and our soldiers don’t shoot through every big green area. Here, death will not fly at you from the midst of the roadside foliage, but you still peer into the dense greenery on the sidelines. More than once have you lain in wait, hidden in the tall grass, and you know it’s almost impossible to be ambushed from the car. But you still look narrowly. An illusion of your own fate control.
At a WOG gas station, you get a huge civilian hotdog with a Pepsi-Cola. Over the next couple of days you will have no stew, no biscuits, and no noodles.
A huge air-conditioned bus is taking you home from Novomoskovsk. Fellow travelers see in you “a person from there,” perhaps because of the uniform (a Soviet, separated one), military around here don’t wear that.
They question you on the situation at the front, and you say everything is good, you say that your mechanized brigade soldiers on, and if somewhere things are bad, you have not heard about that, and you say only your 93rd four-times-order-holder brigade is doing just great! Why do they need to know that in your platoon, after two months of war, eight people were left behind there…
Here it is, your hometown. Spiffy, bustling, beautiful and native. You are walking through its streets in a mint uniform, with a rucksack on your back, people are turning back. A 40-year-old troop corporal is a rarity in the city, the domain of military students.
It’s like an embarrassment of riches, so many beautiful girls, it’s the beginning of the school year, so students came. But against your will you also notice men of military age – lots of them. They are walking with girls, sipping beer on verandas…
Amid the euphoria of being home, the first irritation stirs – why don’t they serve?! Why do so many people avoid the draft? The war goes on, the hard war! The enemy has come to our land, came in with his armored vehicles, artillery and motorized infantry. We kill, we are killed, while they’re hanging around night clubs and picking up girls.
And the first “syndromic” thought appeared – well, bastards, give us time: when coming back from the war – we will ask all of you what you were doing while we were unsparingly defending our homeland.
We will ask all of you. We have such a right.
And you understand that from now until the end of your days, you will divide people up into those who have fought, and all the rest.
In the streets, nice cars drive by, smartly dressed people go around.
Hatred is taking your breath away.
You knew that it would be like this, you were warned about it.
Guys, who have gone on holidays earlier than you, told you that the hometown is full of nice cars with Donetsk and Luhansk license numbers (separatists, bastards, crowds of them come as IDPs, gah!). That lovely girls have found other f ***, more comfortable, who don’t sleep in the hellhound steppes of Donbas, but here, close at hand. Travels, boutiques, restaurants, personal attention. We cannot give that – we are fighting. We are not on trend. We are out of the choice frame. Not men, but something strange, glamor magazines don’t write about soldiers, we suck.
That’s true, guys.
We are really not relevant here. At the front it seems the whole country is fighting together with us. Back home, you understand: no way.
In general, all young guys dodge military service and avoid responsibility. We, after coming back home for a few days from f#cking hell, we are incomprehensible and dangerous for them. We were like they are – managers, lawyers, accountants, businessmen. Now we are gunners, snipers, tank drivers, intelligence men.
For the majority, that’s an incomprehensible metamorphosis.
For them, we are soldiers – something akin to a werewolf. Skin-changers. It’s unclear how to communicate with a werewolf. Soldiers aren’t interested in stories about the Maldives and the purchase of a new Porsche. While soldiers’ stories about hell fights are unpleasant and cause a feeling of being ill-at-ease.
And it seems a sacrilege, an insult to the memory of the guys fallen in battle, to hold a conversation with a well-fed, prosperous civilian about those who did not return from a mission, about soldiers killed and missing snipers from your company.
And you’re just drinking. Silently.
The irony of fate: there is a dry law in your company, and at the front you do without alcohol easily; but in the peaceful hometown of your childhood, it’s impossible.
Your two holidays are passing in this way, they are passing in communication with family and a bottle.
…On Sunday, you will join the volunteers’ cars carrying aid to the front. These brave people, to whom the military owe an enormous debt, will drive you to the National Guard’s checkpoint on the regional border. Here you will find a company-support car. Another vacationer, sitting down in a ride, is cheerfully shouting to you:
– Sasha, how did you rest?
And you’re making OK fingers and yelling in response:
– Excellent, bro!
The guys have brought your gun and you move into their car.
You’re again among your friends.
Among the people who don’t care about your social status and money, what’s important is that you are not a chicken and that you shoot well.
Vacation is over.
You’re driving, looking carefully at the roadside greenery.
Shooting out a large bush area.
There, at home, civilians often ask you a question – why? Why do you fight? You are no longer a young guy. Are you an eager beaver? In response, you’re trying to explain something about the oath, about the motherland, that it’s a shame to avoid the army…
But most importantly that you have kept silent, that when fighting you have an absolutely good conscience every day.
You are there where you have to be. You’re doing exactly what you need to do.
Once upon a long-forgotten feeling…
In your childhood you loved to reread a book with the title: “People with a good conscience.” Now you’re one of them.
By Alexandr Mamaluy
Source: The Kharkiv Times
This translation work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.