Martin Brest:

"Vic­tory is not pos­si­ble un­til the peo­ple start to truly love their mil­i­tary"

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Martin Brest, In­ter­viewed by Yuriy La­payev In April, Martin Brest wrote a post about de­layed tour of duty and bat­tle pay­ments to the ser­vice­men of one of the front­line bri­gades. This caused public out­cry; De­fense Min­is­ter Poltorak re­sponded to the post.

“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

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