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One day of march...

A crowd of grim men aged from 18 to 65 was stomping in a bomb shelter with papers in their hands. Reservist contract of the TDF AFU (Territorial Defence Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine) in one copy, interview card, and personal data.

“It is here! Unload and bring the weapons in!” We go one by one with papers and passports.

In an hour or so it was our turn to receive weaponry.

“Assault rifle, bayonet, pouch, four rifle magazines. Sign. Good luck!”

“4th company, fall in!”

The men tried to fall in and create something of a military formation.

“Sergeants and officers who have combat experience, step forward.”

About ten people stepped out of the line. They were appointed as platoon and squad commanders.

“Raise your hand if you are carrying a weapon for the first time!”

The commander’s eyes slightly widened, when he saw the hands of two-thirds of the company.

“Now I’ll show you how to use it. Toggle off safety like that. Switch the selector at semi-automatic. Then pull the shutter and put the cartridge into the chamber. You will not be able to learn how to disassemble and assemble assault rifles now, so it is not necessary for you yet.”

“Get on the bus, everyone! Where are the drivers? We were to leave 15 minutes ago!” — company’s commander, with a lot of swearing, was searching for the drivers that would get us to the positions.

Soon the drivers showed up. On the road to the positions, a platoon commander was entertaining us with jokes and continued the briefing on weapon usage.

We drove out of the housing estates to the part of the road that goes from Hostomel to Bucha. We heard sounds of explosions from there. Suddenly, something started exploding and roaring behind our backs. That was the rockets of Ukrainian “Grads”. The men with assault rifles were divided into groups and determined their positions.

“Who wants to learn how to use an N-LAW? It’s like Javelin but British. Everything is very easy. You capture the target, wait 5 seconds, shoot and run.”

Volunteers went to the briefing. Others were digging in and determining their shooting sector.

“When the column stops, the infantry will get out of it. They will be scared and perplexed. You shoot three magazines and leave one for retreat.”

We spent three days in that forest. In jeans, winter shoes, and without sleeping bags, we slept only on two roll mats for four people. It’s there that my running nose and cough ended.

But we never saw the enemy troops. They were stopped by the regular Armed Forces units. “Chorni Zaporozhtsi” [Ukrainian for “Black Zaporozhian Cossacks”, a unit of the Ukrainian National Republic in 1918–1920 — Ed.], that were in front of us, promised to let us shoot a wheel each of the Russian vehicles, but those vehicles never got to us.

I was not about to publish this story now. It is not a heroic one. It is more about “being dumb and courageous”. But I saw how a video with dozens of men from TDF, who refused to ride to the combat zone, because they “are not trained”, “are not supplied” and want to just sit at the checkpoint at home, is spreading through the Internet.

I won’t judge them. But the enemy’s PSYOP is spreading this video to demoralize those who haven’t seen it yet and discredit the TDF as a phenomenon. Therefore, society needs to know other stories.

After the liberation of the Kyiv region, most of us volunteered to go south. Later on, the entire battalion got there in full force.

For almost a month, we have been fulfilling missions somewhere between Mykolaiv and the occupied Kherson region. Thanks to the volunteers, we have already had uniforms, helmets, bulletproof vests, and everything the most important. Except, maybe, vehicles, because our old upgraded cars regularly break down, and there are problems with fuel across the country.

Are we “trained”? For now, we’ve got two useful skills: to dig a lot and to fall down quickly, when we hear the sounds of an airstrike.

Are we afraid? Sometimes. But there is something hard to explain. I’m happy that I’m here and with these people. Because in front of the TV in the rear, you are more scared, I think.

Ukrainian Text by Andrii Rybalko, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team — May 19, 2022

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