Despatches from the Front Line by a writer and mother as she shelters whilst Russian missiles explode overhead.
Kateryna Ziborova is a professional writer and author and lives in Kyiv with her 5-year-old daughter and has sent this to us on her mobile phone whilst they are both sheltering from russian missile strikes on her home. She is angry. Although we in the “West” follow with horror the daily events in Ukraine, most of us really have no concept of the personal stress and fear that their population is experiencing minute by minute, every waking hour, when at any moment their lives could end or their loved ones, family or friends could be captured, injured or killed.
We talk about the type of “black humour” both our nations tend to use during times of stress and she says that “it is the only way to cope with the grief and remain yourself. Otherwise the only thing left is to sit down and cry but, damn it, they won’t make me cry!”.
This unabridge despatch testifies to the understandable frustrations of a young Ukrainian wife and mother for a despised brutal invader that is trying to kill her, her child, her husband and her nation every day, and so we print her words without apology.
They are real events about people she knows and whose courage and conviction we can all admire.
Ian Reed, October 2022
Stories about the Good Guys by Kateryna Ziborova
10th October 2022
I am writing this while sitting with my 5-year-old daughter on the floor in the hallway during an air raid. The fact that it is the hall is because it is the safest place in our flat during the shelling – there is a solid concrete slab overhead and two walls separating us from the street and no windows, glass or ceramic tiles nearby. Remember this tip, it could save your life – but I am distracted…..
We hear explosions that make the glass in the windows rattle and the walls of the house seem to hum. It is russia shelling a thermal power plant in a peaceful Ukrainian city. We are almost calm because we have got used to being afraid of the sounds of rockets since February.
Kyiv, the Capital City of Ukraine, multiple missile attacks on civilian areas – 10th October 2022.
My daughter is singing and reciting nursey rhymes that they learned in kindergarten. Yes, in the surviving Ukrainian kindergartens, children are taught easy rhymes so that during the air-raids they do not focus on the howling sirens, but think about something fun. Only those kindergartens, where they were able to equip bomb shelters, are working. Each child has a backpack with a warm sweater and a small water supply and food. And they have been used to wearing bracelets on their arms and legs with the name, surname, and contacts of their relatives since February 2022, after the first shelling.
A russian missile strike on a kindergarden in Kyiv this morning, 10th october 2022, within hours it was a playground again!
This is the new reality in which Ukrainians currently live, and the whole world will live if russia isn’t stopped here and now.
However, I want to tell you not about civilian Ukrainians, nor about the millions of women and children who were forced to evacuate abroad or to other regions of Ukraine because of the cruel invasion and destruction by these barbarians, but about a group of people who were not planning to be at war with anyone, but have taken up arms and are at war because they cannot help but defend their country.
In another lifetime, when they were 16-18 years old, these guys met at live-action RPG (role playing game) events. Starting with games about Hobbits in the forest, then progressing to majestic historical re-enactment festivals in medieval castles…
In time, they all had families and children, and over the years they continued to meet, go camping, or just visit each other whilst their children played together. On February 24th the russians invaded and these friends sent their families to safe places whilst they went off together to defend their country.
Once upon a time they had all pretended to fight together with wooden swords in the forest, but now they fought against the “moskals”* with real weapons.
(* Muskovites in Ukrainian).
So I want to tell you more about these cool and very “Good Guys” in a selection of small anecdotes about normal people who become extraordinary people when they defend their land. About funny and not-so-funny situations in which real people still remain human despite their situation.
Some of “The Good Guys”
Half of the group have known each other and been friends for over 20 years, the rest joined after 24th February: Bear, Hairy, Witcher, Big Panda, Owl, Kitten, Valiko, Mini Panda, Hasid, Grandfather, Lawyer, Ensign, Foreman, Boris ‘The Blade’, Swift, Kid and others. (see the end for their Official Video).
Their story begins after the terrible period following the initial invasion of 24th February 2022. This first episode happened near the city of Izyum, in Eastern Ukraine recently liberated from the russians.
September 2022 – after catching up with the “moskals”, who are very brave when they shoot at civilians, but run away, losing their guns when they encounter Ukrainian soldiers, three of our “Good Guys” seized an abandoned APC (armored personnel carrier) in Izyum. It was slightly damaged, but it was very roomy, because although the russians had stolen a lot of trophies from helpless civilians, they could not fit them in all their vehicles.
A russian BTR-90 8×8 wheeled armoured personnel carrier (APC), “liberated” by Ukranian soldiers
In the APC, strangely, the only thing worrying our heroes was that there were lots of other Ukrainians around also looking for ex russian “prizes” to be found, so our trio had to spend the night in the APC protecting “their prize” until the rest of their unit arrived so that no one would steal it “again”! Even Ukrainian villagers who are so economic and homely, they too like to tow tanks to their gardens with farm tractors!
Our heroes were bored waiting, so they began tinkering with the engine and eventually managed to start it without any instruction books or Internet help. In the morning, their unit arrived and their mechanics told them that everything was wrong with the repair, and began to redo it their own way. The result was that they managed to reconnect the batteries the wrong way around which then exploded, splashing the poor repairman with acid in the process whilst ruining their good US military uniforms, which had been so kindly delivered all the way to our guys by plane, ship, train, cars and almost on dog sleds.
A russian AFV (armoured fighting vehicle) being towed away by a local Ukrainian farmer.
Whilst in the newly liberated city of Izyum, our guys found that they had to clear a fuel petrol station of mines which, like most of former occupied Ukraine, was liberally covered with land mines by the retreating invaders. “moskals” running away never forget to scatter mines wherever they can.
Soviet and russian lightweight anti-personnel “butterfy” mines are banned by over 150 countries. They are scattered everywhere from mortars, helicopters or aeroplanes in huge numbers, where they glide to the ground without exploding. Many are in drab colours so they cannot been seen easily and will explode upon contact by humans , animals or vehicles and some are in vivid colours and their shape is particularly attractive to young children who mistake them for toys.
The road around the petrol station was dotted with these petal (butterfly) mines, so it was impossible to pass or drive. So our heroes searched around and found a large metal track roller from a smashed russian tank and launched it along the road like a bowling ball, clearing the road of mines for others to pass through. A new game invented: Ukrainian “combat bowling” so to speak.
“Combat Bowling” in action
After Izyum, they pushed on to the next strategic target and the russian supply hub at Liman. The youngest of our Good Guys unit, who was a bartender in civilian life, found another abandoned russian tank that the invaders had left in the forest when they had fled. Unbroken and in good working order complete with weapons but no fuel, he thought the tank would come in handy for them. The only problem was that it consumes too much fuel and there is no chance for anyone but a larger army unit to feed it, so they had to give it to the military. ‘But it’s mine! I captured it!’ – our hunter almost cried, hugging the tank’s track as he handed it over to the military. The tank was thus presented but without machine guns. If the “Good Guys” say there were no machine guns, it means there weren’t any, and they did not take them – honest! (A good machine gun is always useful back in the household, especially at war).
Abandoned russian T80 main battle tank
To give some idea of the differences in the two opposing forces, one day whilst scouting, our Good Guys noticed two “moskals” in the middle of a field. The russians walked like it was a weekend stroll, carrying their sniper rifles, almost singing. This was so strange that our heros couldn’t quite believe it and first contacted all neighbouring units by radio to find out whether these soldiers were real, because it was hard to believe in such idiocy even from “moskals”. But they had to believe it. (it seems this level of russian unprofessionalism is quite common). So our Good Guys kindly offered the two idiots the opportunity to surrender to the overwhelming Ukrainian presence. In reply the two russians simply decided to open fire, and received in response a volley of 40 guns with obvious results.
One russian survived with a bullet wound in the shoulder and another in his backside. Later, in captivity, he stated that he thought that his captors would castrate him and he had to continually reassured by our Good Guys, until he was taken to hospital, with the simple but logical response – “why do we need your balls?”. The whole world had just seen in what terrible condition and unspeakable torture some of the Ukrainian defenders had suffered, when they were eventually released from captivity.
Before and after captivity.
Senior Sergeant Mykhailo Dianov of AFU 36th Independant Marine Brigade during the defence of the Azovstal Steel Works – the final stronghold in Mariupol.
The Azovstal defenders of the steelworks in the southeastern port of Mariupol are famous Ukrainian soldiers to whom the attention of the whole world had been riveted for weeks, and so the “moskals” had to restrain themselves somehow for the cameras, but the majority of Ukrainian military and civilians who fall into the hands of the russians are not treated so good.
Bucha, Irpin, and Izyum showed the whole world what russia does to civilians, and they treat any captured Ukrainian military much, much worse. Medieval inquisitors would turn grey with horror if they knew how barbaric the russians were. So, for the captured “moskal” in our story, the idea that he would be castrated seemed normal. But in Ukraine, like the rest of the civilized world, it is unacceptable behavior. We are human beings, not “moskals” and we treat all those who are injured and feed all prisoners of war who are also kept in good living conditions.
Interestingly, representatives of the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) and HUR MO (Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine) both desperately wanted that special ops prisoner for information. One of our “Good Guys” suggested they arrange a fist fight for the “moskal” which caused great hilarity within the Company but it is a secret who got the prisoner in the end.
Meanwhile in Liman one of our heroes captured yet another APC infantry fighting vehicle. It was a good vehicle, but our heroes needed something more load-carrying like for example, a Ural off-road truck, which the Ukrainian National Guard guys had just captured. The exchange failed due to the bureaucratic intervention of “the management” (in their offices far, far away). But in the end the National Guard soldiers could not start the truck after all, and just left it. As you can imagine our Good Guys, with lots of jokes and swearing, got the Ural going but it had a flat tyre and there was no screw jack. The Ural, weighs about 8 tonnes and it will forever remain a secret of the unit how they changed the wheel but they repaired it and it ran – but only for exactly 3 kilometers. The driver hit a detached steel track from a tank in the darkness, the Ural hit it, ran over it and flew into the ditch. Not phased however, they found another Ural and did a little parts swopping!
Captured Ural 4320 truck with the V sign of the russian naval units
There are very different people in our Good Guys unit, with different pasts in peaceful life. Bartenders, lawyers, shooting instructors, cinematographers, ordinary businessmen, blacksmiths, computer programmers… For example, there are three brothers whom until 24th February, were smugglers, and on February 25, they loaded their “work” truck with everything they could “find”, from uniforms and equipment to canned food and ammunition, and rushed to the east to defend their country.
The Good Guys have an inside joke that they are not only a combat unit but also a “cleaning company”. Because in every new place of deployment from where the russians are thrown out, they leave a terrible mess and our troops spend time when they can, cleaning up after them. Why most “moskals” soldiers defecate where they sleep remains totally unclear and unimaginable to us, but it is a fact. I think there must be something strange in the ‘mysterious Russian ‘soul’ that so many have to live in trash, and if there is no trash around, they urgently make some. So, having arrived at buildings recently liberated, our guys try to find the contact details of the rightful Ukrainian owners. If they are still alive, they call them, and ask permission to stay in the house. People in a civilized world are usually brought up to ask permission to enter someone’s home. Well, except for russia, but we are talking about the civilized world, aren’t we? So, having received permission, our Good Guys first clean the house, repair what they can from what is broken and before leaving, clean up after themselves. And they do this every time.
Destruction and looting of Ukrainian civilian homes by russian troops is widespread
Speaking of combat stories, one time our Good Guys were in a position with one of our “Spear” Self Propelled Guns (SPG), and our heroes were looking for a target in the forest using a reconnaissance drone. The camera on the drone suddenly showed a unit of russians with an AGS (Soviet era 30mm grenade launcher) brazenly emerging from the forest, and slowly beginning to set it upright on the road ready for firing. Our Good Guys were astounded by such impudence and passed the coordinates of the “moskals” to a neighbouring mortar unit. And while our guys were reloading their SPG, the neighbouring mortar unit also shared the russians’ location coordinates with the artillery. So, as you can imagine the volley was triple: SPG, mortars, and artillery. The “moskal” mortar unit evaporated. Literally.
A drone re-configured to drop grenades
You should know that the drones in the unit are not some special military drones, but ordinary tourist “Mavic” ones, which our Good Guys modify so that these drones can also drop grenades. And there is one very talented drone operator in the unit. He once saw a “moskal” UAZ (russian military jeep) from a drone, and dropped a grenade on it. The car’s wheels were damaged, and the russians scattered around. Our Good Guy waited for a while. He waited for one “moskal” to return and replace the wheels on the car, then dropped another grenade. The wheels blew out again. The drone operator waited a little longer, and when the stupid but very stubborn russian came back to change the wheels again, this time the grenade was thrown in such a way that it hit both the wheels and the “moskal”. Our Good Guy hadn’t time to play this game all day!
UAZ -469 the ubiquitous russian general utility vehicle in use since 1941
In every city, town, and village, through which the Good Guys pass, they try to save animals from hunger and thirst. Dogs tied in the yard or to the fence and forgotten, or cats locked in houses and apartments. Some of the animals are left with the liberated Ukrainian civilians, and some of them still roam with the unit, because they do not want to leave their rescuers.
The Good Guys “camp followers”
The main thing in life is to remain human in any situation and circumstance. To defend your land, to help the weak and wounded, to feed the hungry, and certainly not to be a “moskal”.
Long live Ukraine!
i). “moskal” is commonly used Ukrainian name for russians – in English it is translated as ‘muscovites’.
ii). I would like to stress that I deliberately write “russia” & “russians” with a small “r” and I insist upon it because there can be no respect for a terrorist country.
Kateryna Ziborova, Kyiv, Ukraine – October 2022.
See “The Good Guys” Video here :
Producer: Ian Reed
French Translation: Geneviève Monneris
Version in French – click here: https://afheritage.org/une-lettre-de-kiev-les-braves-gars-par-kateryna-ziborova