Soldier wants to fight, but also wants re­form

Kyiv Post - - News - BY ALYONA ZHUK [email protected] Kyiv Post staff writer Alyona Zhuk can be reached at [email protected]

Vik­tor Tro­fy­menko was shocked dur­ing his first pa­trol on the Rus­sian-Ukrainian front line more than a year ago when he, to­gether with com­rades from the Dnipro-1 Bat­tal­ion, first saw shell craters and houses that had been com­pletely de­stroyed by the fight­ing.

“We then felt – this is war,” he says, and takes a drag from his cig­a­rette. “I am sorry; I al­ways smoke a lot when talk­ing about war.”

When Rus­sia un­leashed its war in Ukraine’s Don­bas, Tro­fy­menko was work­ing as the act­ing di­rec­tor of the Misto (City) tele­vi­sion chan­nel in Poltava.

He says he’s al­ways stepped up to help his coun­try in dif­fi­cult times – dur­ing the 2004 Or­ange Revo­lu­tion, and the Euro-Maidan protests. So when Rus­sia brought war to Ukraine, he had no doubts about go­ing to fight to de­fend his home­land.

In early March 2014 Tro­fy­menko started knock­ing on the doors of re­cruit­ment of­fices, try­ing to get into the army. But for two months the only re­sponse he got from army re­cruiters was “come back later,” he says.

“I ab­so­lutely couldn’t bear just sit­ting around. I read about the Dnipro-1 (vol­un­teer) bat­tal­ion and felt that was ex­actly what I wanted,” Tro­fy­menko says.

He signed up with the bat­tal­ion late in May and, af­ter train­ing and tests, was sent to the front line.

“Ev­ery­thing seemed un­real, fic­tional. You’d have had to have been a to­tal idiot to be­lieve that peace­ful min­ers and trac­tor driv­ers were fir­ing rocket ar­tillery,” Tro­fy­menko laughs ner­vously. “For in­stance, the fire di­rec­tion of­fi­cer for a Grad rocket launcher unit has to train for a min­i­mum of two to three years. You can’t shoot it at ran­dom. It’s not a ma­chine gun.”

Tro­fy­menko served mostly near Pisky, the vil­lage near the Donetsk air­port. He calls him­self a walk­ing punch line be­cause he al­ways finds him­self in funny sit­u­a­tions.

In one in­ci­dent he was talk­ing on video about Rus­sians in Crimea when the shel­ter he was in came un­der shelling. Tro­fy­menko was wounded, and the video, which con­tains a great deal of sol­dierly lan­guage, went vi­ral. A link to the video can be found in the online ver­sion of this story on the Kyiv Post’s web­site.

“I can’t even be shelled nor­mally,” he smiles.

The video was so pop­u­lar that even Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaite watched it, and wanted to meet Tro­fy­menko per­son­ally when he was sent to Lithua­nia for med­i­cal treat­ment.

“I liked what she said first the most,” Tro­fy­menko says. “She said: ‘It’s not im­por­tant what the cir­cum­stances of our meet­ing are, I want you to talk to me not as a soldier to a pres­i­dent, but as one per­son to another.’ Her sched­ule gave us 15 min­utes, but we ended up talk­ing for an hour-and-a-half. I told her ev­ery­thing. I told her about the doc­u­ments of Rus­sian sol­diers I have seen with my own eyes.”

Be­fore leav­ing, Tro­fy­menko pre­sented Gry­bauskaite with the flag that he had with him when he was serv­ing near Pisky.

Af­ter re­cov­er­ing, he re­turned to serve two more tours of duty in eastern Ukraine. Now he is on leave, but says he might go back to the Don­bas again.

“I’m ready to fight as long as I know that the author­i­ties are chang­ing the coun­try for the bet­ter. Ukraine needs re­form – it’s cru­cial,” Tro­fy­menko says. “And peo­ple should be more de­mand­ing of the author­i­ties. So­ci­ety has to un­der­stand that there’s a war go­ing on.”

Not much has changed yet, he adds, and that’s a bit­ter fact for sol­diers to face when they come back from the war.

“Tak­ing one step for­ward, two steps to the side and two steps back – that seems to be the way our author­i­ties are try­ing to change things in Ukraine,” Tro­fy­menko says.

Vik­tor Tro­fy­menko from the Dnipro-1 vol­un­teer bat­tal­ion says the only time most peo­ple in peace­ful cities are aware of the war that has claimed nearly 7,000 lives is when sol­diers come back in mil­i­tary uni­form. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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