"Victory is not possible until the people start to truly love their military"
“Victory is not possible until the people start to truly love their military“
Veteran and blogger on problems and spirit in the Army, veteran activism and life after war
An infantry sergeant that blogged throughout his service on the frontline and has over 25,000 followers of Facebook, Martin Brest spoke to The Ukrainian Week about problems in the Army, the funding for soldiers and veterans, and his own search for comfort.
What is it like to come back from the war? I mean the psychological aspect...
That's a military psychology issue, but I don't quite trust those who represent that field. I don't even believe in its existence. I know many psychologists, but it's about something else. If you want to come out of war, you shouldn’t go into one. If you went there and took part in it, you will certainly change. When you come back, you will still be in a sort of wartime mode. This is not about everyone, but this happens to the majority. At war, I grew a third arm, so to speak. I won't be able to get rid of it when I come back. So I don't have an answer.
You often go to the ATO zone even after you have demobilized from the Army. What does it mean to you?
I'm not a volunteer and I don't try to be one. I didn’t enlist in the Army as a volunteer either. On the contrary, these (volunteering and military service – Ed.) are two separate routes. You either support the Army or serve in it. When I spent some time as a small-time volunteer, I realised at one point that I was simply deceiving myself. I just had to answer the question I asked myself: are you a man of war or not? If you're doing all this to be closer to the action, forget about everything and join the Army. That's what happened to me. Now travelling to the front and just the ATO zone is like returning home. I feel like I'm on a long holiday when I’m at home. It takes me a week and a half to readjust to normal civilian life. To get back into war, one night is enough. You wake up and you're fully there, ready to get on with everyday tasks. You realise that you are more comfortable there. It's a little selfish – I go there for my comfort. I make no bones about it: this is a sort of military tourism, at my own expense without causing problems for others. Sometimes, these trips come with some benefits for the military, sometimes they don't.
In one of your trips you raised the issue of wages not paid to one of the units. The servicemen got them in the end. Is this just normal civic-mindedness or more long-standing problems in the Army that constantly require outside intervention?
Don't overestimate my contribution. I just write a post on Facebook* – there are hundreds and thousands of us. I really didn't do anything – the most I can do is express my opinion on a free social network. The stars aligned: I wrote about it and the minister read it. I'm not a mission, I can't solve all the problems – maybe next time the minister just won’t read my post. The salary accounting process in the Army, especially for tours of duty, is very confusing. If we try to work it out and get to the bottom of it, we will sooner or later end up at Parliament, because the respective legislation should be changed. Work on wage payments was perhaps
not efficient or quick enough, but it was being done. In addition, I didn't do the calculations and collect the necessary documents myself – the military agencies did. I am glad that this happened, but I can't take the credit. I have already got over the “celebrity syndrome" and take it in my stride now. I don't fix these problems, the relevant people in certain positions do. Of course, there is always temptation to think that you can do something and influence things. That the Army currently employs about 300,000 people and when they can’t cope, here I am, a sort of crisis manager solving everything through Facebook. But that's not the way it actually works.
In my fifteen months in the Army, I lived with my eyes wide open. I am a civilian and was curious to know how it all works, who is responsible for what. I didn't sit there and wait for my discharge but tried to understand things. Because if you don't think at war, you'll lose your head or start drinking very quickly. So I am a bit clued up about the regulatory documents and understand what the problem was. Most importantly, this conflict helped develop an algorithm with the rear services that will simplify and speed up wage payments. Now these soldiers have started to receive the wages that are very important for them. Some people complain that only "laborers" join the Army. But that's not bad. For the men I see there, UAH 7,000 hryvnias ($270) from the Army is a real chance to get on their feet. Some may not have decent work in their villages and can’t go to work in the cities for a higher wage because they lack education. In the Armed Forces, they will earn for their futures: some for weddings, others for studies. No matter how strange it sounds, the Army and the frontline is now an island of stability and hope. That's why I got involved in that incident, because this money is very important for the soldiers. Anyway, the funds were there, they didn't go anywhere, they just didn't get to the right place because of someone's negligence.
You didn't get any threats after that?
Of course not. I don't fight against the Army. I don't infringe on anyone's interests. So how can there be any conflicts? That would be if I had something against smuggling... But I have my own, somewhat unpopular opinion: I am not against it. I sat and watched what was taken along the Mariupol–Donetsk road. Chicken. Not weapons, not drugs. It's not my problem. Let specially trained people deal with this.
In general, I understood that there is no need to try to solve problems in the Army. Because sooner or later you will end up giving instructions to the General Staff. There are more than 700 people there, so you can't be cleverer than all of them – it's just technically impossible. Of course, you can write on Facebook that "A seventh wave of mobilisation is needed" but that's it. The General Staff has people with calculators who know for sure whether it is necessary or not. Solving any one problem will not increase the number of professional soldiers and will not lead to victory in the war. Victory depends on other things. Now I'm starting to sound like a "military expert", which I'm really not.
Still, what does it take to win the war?
I can't speak for the entire country, so will touch on a topic that is closer to me. One of the crucial points is government contracts to create militarythemed Ukrainian patriotic content for radio and television. Victory is not possible until the people start to see their Army in a positive light and truly love their military. For now, people don't like the Army. It's enough to turn on the TV news – it's usually negative. We need high-quality films and documentaries, interesting series about the armed forces. Preferably from independent commercial production studios. Television rules the world. Whatever it says, that's what people will think. For now, it's unclear why the country has UAH 20 million hryvnias for pseudo-WWII veteran NGOs but doesn't have anything for patriotic cinema. War is always about money.
You try to help soldiers who are now at the front in different ways. But then you return to the capital and see events like clashes with ATO veterans in Kyiv and Dnipro on 9 May as signs of revanchism. What should be done about this?
The revanchism of Russia? We weren't Russia. We were more or less under its influence. So I don't want to say that Russia is taking revenge: we didn't lose the war to them. The revanchism of political parties? I don't want to get into this subject. Half of them just change their stripes to match current interests anyway. Revenge of the titushky? They were just a tool – ordinary people who were paid. They make money that way and such people exist in all societies, although they are fewer in sound ones, of course. As for veterans, today, unfortunately, they do not constitute a real force capable of organizing themselves and defending their interests. On 9 May the police barricaded veterans in a building in Kyiv – the next day, theoretically, all 20,000 ATO veterans from Kyiv Oblast should have stood outside the police station. No one came. In Kherson there was a pro-Russian rally: veterans went to see what was going on and stopped it. Good. But why did they have to go? Are there not enough locals to do that? In Dnipro, about 50 people came out after the May 9 in a city of over one million. At the moment, there is no unity among veterans. But negative circumstances are kickstarting the process of unification. In Kyiv Oblast, there are nearly 400 veteran organisations, which, in my opinion, is 390 more than they actually need. And they mainly work on securing benefits for war veterans. It is necessary to set higher goals.
IF YOU WANT TO COME OUT OF WAR, YOU SHOULDN'T GO INTO ONE. IF YOU WENT THERE AND TOOK PART IN IT, YOU WILL CERTAINLY CHANGE. WHEN YOU COME BACK, YOU WILL STILL BE IN A SORT OF WARTIME MODE
born in Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast, graduated from Kyiv Polytechnic Institute as a power engineer. He joined the 41st Motorised Infantry Battalion in the 6th wave of the mobilisation campaign, then was transferred to the 72nd Mechanised Brigade as a Sergeant. He started to work on the radio station Army FM after being discharged