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Memories of an ordinary volunteer fighter #7


When the air raid siren alarm caught me outside the barracks, the first thing I was afraid of was, “Oh, no, if they hit the barracks building, my Nintendo Switch will be lost forever.” For some reason, I didn’t worry about the people in the barracks.

It’s weird. Yes, I despised most of my brothers in arms, I treated them with disdain because of their obsession with cigarettes. But in fact, they are kind, caring people.

You’re walking along the corridor and all of a sudden someone gives you for free a pair of combat boots that they bought for several thousand hryvnias [~200 USD — Ed.].

“Here, try them on, if they fit, take it.”

After the weekend, the guys brought a lot of goodies and happily shared them.

“Take everything you see on the table.”

When breakfast, lunch, or dinner was served right at the time of my duty, someone always came to replace me.

“Go eat, Oleksa.”

All of them respect each other’s right to rest and carefully make sure that no one is on their duty for too long and goes to bed on time. And if someone was on duty for too long, he was always compensated for that time.

So little by little, I started to feel empathy for them. Shortly, we were overtaken by the covid epidemic. Half of our platoon ended up in the hospital, but I and the others calmly performed our guard duties, although there were two of us left on the post instead of four, and sometimes I was doing it alone. When the patients started coming back, we didn’t hesitate to let them go home for a day. After all, they stayed in the hospital for two weeks.

When there were already three of us at my post, the platoon commander offered me to go home for the second time, I refused because I knew how difficult it was to do that job for only two people. You have to be on duty for 4 hours and rest for 4 hours, alternating with your partner around the clock. When there are three of us, it’s only 3 hours of work and 6 hours of rest.

And when there were already four of us on duty, I planned a second day off. I agreed with Natalia, the company commander, platoon commander, and all my duty partners. It was supposed to be a luxury weekend. Stand-up evening in our comic book store, games with my daughter, love with my wife, craft cheese dinner…

“Are you the one who wanted to go home tomorrow for the weekend?” the platoon leader asked me.


He shakes his head in disagreement.


“We pack all our things and move to Lviv tomorrow.”

At that moment, I learned a lesson: you need to take advantage of all opportunities and never consider anyone.


Did you know what a person really feels before going to a real war?

You’ve probably also read a lot about the bureaucratic farce and the “mega-training” of volunteers and their full support, right? “There is a war in the country! Did you think it would be a resort?!” — a common phase I receive as a response to the stories described below. People like to equate storytellers with traitors, whiners, and weaklings who do not want to fight. But an ordinary volunteer fighter Oleksa Melnyk does not whine, he simply tells in a literary form about his own experience, about his own sincere emotions, fears, and feelings.

You may not like these parts because you don’t want to believe in that sort of chaos in the Ukrainian army, but we have what we have today. Along with our defenders, who are still willing to protect our land and our families. THEY ARE ALL HEROES!!!


All day long I was overwhelmed by a mixture of anxiety, resentment, and frustration. And also a sense of guilt as I remotely imposed on Natalia a charity Stand-Up evening today promised to come help and betrayed her.

I felt unspeakably sorry for myself. I was afraid of the unknown. I felt that now my childhood was over for real, and we were going to war.

We were told to pack all of our stuff at the base. The hustle and bustle of cleaning, packing things, and preparing for departure were a little distracting from heavy thoughts. I even slowly bathed and shaved. I started to feel quite calm. I thought, “Hell with it, if we go, then we go, someone needs to do our job.”

Then, I glimpsed through the half-open door the company commander in his room.

“So where are we going? Clearly not all the way to Lviv. Somewhere in the region?”

The company commander smiled with the “my sweet summer child” expression and said:

“Lviv? We’re going a thousand kilometers away.”

And I turned sour again. I didn’t say anything to Natalia because it didn’t matter. Instead, I texted her, and encouraged her while she was preparing for the night, holding two stand-up evenings in a row. But all the worries returned.

While packing my bags, I panicked for the first time. I began to think hard about what would happen to my family if I died. What else can I tell, explain, promise, forgive, let go, approve, or advise?

My hands and lips trembled, and my breathing began to throb. I stopped, took a deep breath, and spoke softly to myself:

“I’ll be back, I have a lot of things to do, and I’ll solve all of them.”

When I packed up all my belongings, I went for a walk to the nearby stadium. I slowly made circles — to increase my step count. I looked at the fresh lawn that had hatched after the first spring rains, caught the wind with my face, and listened to the band I recently discovered called Tsarstvo Shuta [from Ukrainian “Kingdom of the Fool” — Ed.]. Ukrainian despite the name [the name is an allegation to a russian rock band Korol i Shut, meaning “The King and the Jester” — Ed.].

Natalia texted:

“Dolia is afraid again that you will be killed.”

“I’ll be back, I have a lot of things to do, and I’ll solve all of them,” I repeated.

I talked to Dolia. She promised to send me the monster story she wrote. She was glad that we have two new games on PlayStation 5 that she can play with Natalia. She doesn’t like my calls, but I really like listening to her.

I’m sure I’ll be back.


Ukrainian Text by Oleksa Melnyk, a volunteer fighter, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team — Jul1, 2022

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