Ukrainian youths who dropped out of school and became soldiers: ‘They grabbed Kalashnikovs pretending to go to the festival’

  • Jeremy Bowen
  • BBC News, Kiev

Formula, Jeremy Bowen / BBC

About a week ago, I met a group of young people in the center of Kiev who volunteered to defend their country.

These young people, most of whom are 18 years old, have not been out of school for a long time They said that after three days of military training, they would move to the front lines or to a nearby area to fight against Russian forces.

One of the young men, Maxim Lutsik, a 19-year-old biology student, said that after less than a week of training, trying to become a soldier did not scare him. After five years in a scout camp, he learned how to use some weapons, not just how to survive in the jungle.

He was 10 in 2014 when the protracted war with Moscow-backed separatist forces began.

Maxim, like his friend Dimitro Kisilenko, who studied economics at the same university, decided to join the military resistance.

It seemed that these young men who had been drafted into the army had decided that they no longer wanted to be children. They laughed out loud and tried to show courage when someone joked to relax the nerves.

Formula, Jeremy Bowen / BBC

Photo caption,

Maxim (far left) and Dimitro (center, in green jacket and white sneakers) getting ready for training

Some young people wore knee pads that looked too small for their age, as if they had a set of skateboards as a birthday present for their 12-year-old. Some had sleeping bags with them. A young man brought a yoga mat.

As they waited at the door of the bus that would take them to their training base, they felt as if they were going to the festival together, not counting the weapons in their hands. However, each of them was given a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Military training with sleeping bags, yoga mats

I still keep in touch with Dimitro, Maxim and other volunteers. This weekend, I visited them before Kiev where they were training. The youths were given uniforms, military knee pads and helmets.

Volunteers were trying to make the most of these basic trainings while trying to overcome obstacles created by sandbags and steel tanks.

Saying that he is now accustomed to using his gun, Dimitro said, “I have learned how to behave in war and how to use my gun, some other things that can be very important when fighting the Russians.” She smiles as if she’s having trouble imagining all this.

In contrast to Dimitro’s indifferent student states, Maxim looks more serious and uncomfortable.

“I feel much more confident than before because we have enough information about what to do on the battlefield, military tactics, combat and medical assistance,” Maxim joked, adding that he would like to see the Ukrainian flag flown at the Kremlin. .

The question on everyone’s mind is whether the fight will extend to Kyiv.

“It’s quite possible,” Dimitro said, “that we should stop them there because the war could be over once they arrive in Kiev.”

Formula, Getty Images

Photo caption,

Some tanks taken from the Kyiv Museum are also used as barricades on city streets.

Both teenagers were born in a bombed-out town near the Russian border.

Their families are still there.

When I ask what their family thinks, Maxim laughs that his mother told him to stay in a shelter and cook and volunteer instead of being a soldier.

He kept some details from them so that his family would not have to worry.

‘No one wants to die for the country’

Dimitro’s family knows he has received military training.

The young man volunteered to support the Ukrainian struggle by making Molotov cocktails, and a few days later he informed his father that he had decided to join the regional defense forces.

His father warned him not to put himself in danger because I would be a hero to Dimitro.

Her eyes sparkle when she reveals that her family is proud of her.

When I asked him if he was afraid of what would happen, Dimitro replied, “It’s nothing more, but it is human nature to be afraid, and of course, in the depths of my soul, I am afraid. No one wants to die, not even their country.” So, death is not an option for us. ”

Dimitro and Maxim talk about their future dreams, their friends, their unfinished education, their careers and of course their families. Their families must fear that, like the pre-war generation in Europe, the lives and dreams of these young men will be shattered by the brutal reality of war.

Russia’s youth are also preparing for war

On the other side, a few kilometers away, Russian youths of the same age are preparing for war.

Foreign journalists do not have access to these young Russian soldiers, but it is estimated that most of them are recruits who have not been told exactly what to do.

Most of the fighters are young.

I have no doubt that many young Russian men as well as Dimitro and Maxim have high hopes. The only difference is that perhaps one side is less willing to fight. But without the opportunity to reflect the news on the Russian side, it is difficult to make a definitive assessment.

One of the two students I interviewed, the corrupt soldier, dropped me off at the checkpoint. The professional Ukrainian army is stationed a few kilometers away, directly facing the Russian forces.

If the Russians came to Kiev, Maxim and Dimitro and other volunteers would shoot from behind their dug trenches. Boxes of Molotov cocktails, filled with rags made of old bottles that could burn with oil and polystyrene foam, which fighters hoped could stop Russian tanks, were also piled up here.

If that doesn’t work, NATO forces are raining thousands more advanced anti-tank weapons on Ukraine.

Like Maxim and Dimitro in Kiev, many soldiers, with or without uniforms, who join the fight to defend their country, wonder where the conflict will escalate.

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