A photo of two soldiers who hoisted the Ukrainian flag at the highest point of Sloviansk, its television tower on top of Karachun Hill, caused a fervent reaction in social networks. The two daredevils, who climbed the tower while terrorists fired at them, were Myroslav Hai, private of the National Guard, and Major Serhii Shevchuk of the 95th Zhytomyr Separate Airmobile Brigade of the Ukrainian Army.
“Last night a terrorist military base near Kramatorsk was completely destroyed in the course of the anti-terrorist operation. Besides, early on Thursday night guerrilla fortifications in Sloviansk were attacked and destroyed,” said acting president Oleksandr Turchynov as he opened the parliament session on Thursday morning.
Turchynov also informed that “the complete cleanup of the five-kilometer zone around the television tower which translates Ukrainian programs to Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, and other parts of Donetsk oblast, was carried out.” According to some earlier reports, a group of crack anti-terror force under the State Security Administration of Ukraine has carried out a cleanup operation against militants in the neighborhood of Karachun Hill, Sloviansk.
The Day called Hai to find out details about the hoisting of the flag, the situation in Sloviansk, the terrorists, and sentiments among Ukrainian troops and the locals. Hai turned out to be a graduate of the Karpenko Kary University of Film, Theater and Television in Kyiv. Before enlisting in the National Guard, he had taught acting at STB, a television station.
“I was on Maidan virtually from the very first days, first as a volunteer, and after an attempt at dismantling the barricades I joined Avtodozor,” told HAI. “Since the events in Hrushevsky Street I had been staying on Maidan, having sent my family to western Ukraine. When Maidan was over and other trouble began, i.e. Russians came [the occupation of Crimea. – Ed.], I joined the National Guard reserve together with my company.”
“THE HOISTING OF THE UKRAINIAN FLAG WAS THE MOST RESPONSIBLE AND INSPIRATIONAL MOMENT”
Why did you decide to hoist the flag on the tower, and how did it all happen?
“When we began to climb the tower, our worst fear was that we might be electrocuted. The towers were damaged after a bombardment. We climbed the first few flights with rubber gloves on, we found them right on the spot. Major Serhii Shevchuk of the 95th Zhytomyr Separate Airmobile Brigade volunteered to be my partner in this adventure.
“It took us nearly a week to talk the battalion commander into it: no one would let us climb up there without a safety line. As you can imagine, safety lines are not available here, plus shootings and bombardments on the daily basis.
“When at last we okayed it with the commander, we climbed the tower. It is a dizzy height, you can see all of Sloviansk plain before you. Serhii even said that he had made multiple parachute jumps, but could not remember the last time he was so jumpy (because of the height and wind). Midway they opened fire from Sloviansk. Our troops answered trying to cover us, and we were able to make it to the top. Climbing was particularly hard at the end, our legs and arms were numb. But boy, were we happy when we stood on top! The hoisting of the Ukrainian flag was the most responsible and inspirational moment. And given frequent shooting here, we enjoyed an extra opportunity to tease the enemy and humor the pro-Ukrainian residents of the city. Clearly, it was an unpleasant surprise for the terrorists.”
How do the residents of Sloviansk look at the ATO troops?
“In various ways: some wave a hand to the passing APCs on the street. Not only the young ones, but older people as well. For what I know, many residents are sick and tired of the conflict, constant fear and terror, marauding and shortage of food, and worst of all, murders right in the street. Moreover, that it is the terrorists who open warfare in the city. We try not even to shoot in the direction of residential blocks. This makes the mission so complicated. They will mortar-shell us, while we cannot respond in kind because their mortars are scattered between homes.
“We received some really inspirational letters from children and girls of Kramatorsk. They support us and dream to be liberated as soon as possible, and they say they are very scared. They are afraid not only to hoist the Ukrainian flag, but even to say they are Ukrainian, because for that you can get a bullet. The locals who handed those letters to us risked their lives.”
“WE HAVE NO TIME TO GRIEVE. WE ONLY HAVE ONE DESIRE, AND THAT IS TO ACT”
What are the sentiments like among your fellow men? Are they prepared to act more resolutely?
“They are full of pep. Recently we lost our comrades from the 95th Zhytomyr Brigade, but we have no time to grieve. We only have one desire, and that is to act. And the soldiers are ready to: the morale is high, and we only need a command. However, we realize that active warfare would result in considerable casualties. We think it would be wrong, because they are our fellow Ukrainians, no matter what kind of people they are.”
Who are our enemies?
“I have talked with some opponents back when we defended the bridge. When we were landed here, our mission was to settle a check-point in Sloviansk and help the paratroopers from 95th Brigade. Soon we were surrounded by a crowd, around 300 people.
“At first, these so-called locals protested against the check-point at the bridge. I began negotiations with them to explain that we were not blocking anything, we were letting all residents of Sloviansk through. For this, they only needed to produce an ID, in order to prevent provocations. Some locals were not able to do that, moreover, they had Russian passports on them. One was from Crimea. There were at least three Russian subjects. I said we could not let them pass.
“On that very day those so-called locals attacked us. When we decided to leave the bridge at night, we were not only blocked (with burning tires, among other things), but also attacked with a Molotov cocktail, which hit an APC. Then a grenade killed our comrade. Then someone in the crowd opened automatic gunfire. These were guys who looked like gangsters. There were also some locals, fanatical and scared of the Right Sector and Banderites. However, there were also quite adequate people, who could maintain a sensible dialog. Yet soon someone opened fire on us. At the request from the locals, we exhausted all our ammunition by shooting in the air, as a gesture of goodwill. However, as soon as the last bullet was spent, we were attacked. I can say that it was stupid of us, but we did not expect anything of the sort. We reckoned we were dealing with local residents.
“These so-called peaceful civilians have not only mortars, anti-tank rifles, but also heavy weapons, unknown in the Ukrainian army. Some of those people are very handy with such weaponry, which means they are very well trained.”
Are they Russian?
“I would not insist, but there obviously were individuals with Russian passports. There are men in military uniforms among them too, by all means. And it is clear that they are no locals, these do not run around with guns. Another telling fact is that men were transported in Russian Gazel trucks. The locals from the village of Andriivka hid in their houses as soon as they heard the guns.
“I am absolutely positive that the people who argued with us were under the influence of drugs. Of course, it cannot be proven without tests, but certain signs suggested that I was talking to drug addicts. Firstly, their pupils were dilated, they were jumpy and over excited. When we were attacked and we began to shoot in the air and in the ground, they rushed against the bullets. We saw that their self-preservation instinct and fear were at zero.”
“WE WILL NOT LET THE DIVERSIONISTS LEAVE THIS AREA! NO WAY”
What do you think causes such sentiments in the east of Ukraine?
“This is the result of information warfare. Russian channels are watched here for the most part (this was confirmed when we captured a television tower), and they abundantly sling mud at the Ukrainian government, Ukraine in general, our army, and the situation in the country. Lies are just pouring down. Locals have been fed these lies not for a month or two, but for many years. Adequate covering of the facts has begun only now, when we captured the television tower and turned on Ukrainian channels. This fact drew negative response among the locals, a complete rejection, since they have been soaked with lies and propaganda.
“If Ukraine carried out information warfare competently, everything would be much easier. You must work with people, talk to them. A lot of these people can be convinced by facts, and if you talk to them using facts, but not emotions, they start pondering over it. I talked to locals about Right Sector and Banderites, I supplied them with facts. The first reaction consisted of shock and angry screaming, but then a person was walking off saying ‘I need to think about it.’
“If we conducted constant information work with the local population and the elite, I mean not only MPs, but teachers, school principals, plant directors, cultural figures, artists, scholars, we would not have had such difficulties in the eastern oblasts.”
What else do you think should be done to regulate the situation in Donbas?
“It is hard for me to judge, but I have noted that mass fleeing of Sloviansk residents is taking place. Our checkpoint confirms this information. I feel that soon people themselves, who are not satisfied with the current situation, will take the side of the anti-terrorist operation and united Ukraine. Division into east and west is very relative here. We have been successfully living together in independent Ukraine for more than two decades, and now everything changed in a short period of time. I think after the roundtable on unity of Ukraine takes place and local elites speak in support of united Ukraine, the regulation of the conflict will slowly start. And we will not let the diversionists leave this area! No way.”
The whole country supports the army. What other kind of help would you like to receive from Ukrainians?
“I would like to express gratitude to the citizens of Ukraine who support us. We can feel the support, it is flowing constantly and is displayed not only in letters written by women or, for example, children from Drohobych. It is not only in phone calls and text messages, but in material aid. Very recently the Army SOS group, Avtodozor, and other civil initiatives supplied us with packages of necessary things: radios, night vision devices, bulletproof vests, etc. Help is coming. Perhaps, there is not as much of it as there should be, but for the first time in the history of Ukrainian army, soldiers receive this amount of aid. It is extremely important for us, not even that much from a material point of view, but from the patriotic and emotional ones. This strengthens our spirit greatly. We understand that our country is behind us, people who support us and who need our support and protection.”