Minsk resident Yan Melnikau is only 23 years old. For already three years, he is fighting for the freedom and independence of Ukraine.
Fighter of the task group „Belarus” gave an interview to Charter97.org.
- Yan, how has the situation in the neighboring country changed during these three years and where is the front now?
- On January 23rd, it has been exactly three years since I am in Ukraine. At first, I came not to fight, but to be at the Euromaidan. The first combat mission was on May 11th, 2014, when there was a so-called „referendum” in the „DNR”.
There were no any major changes. Front „frozed” when the first „quiet mode” was announced. Although at that time we had already entered Donetsk, we were asked to move away from the city for three kilometers. Since then, nothing was happening on the firing line. In Mariupol, they did a 20-kilometer zone and assigned forces to Shirokino. In Avdiivka, the front was held practically on the edges of the city. In February 2016, it was transferred to the industrial area of the city - to the highway, which connects Donetsk with Gorlovka. And now we can observe activization of the fighting in this direction.
Specific changes occurred not in the ATO area, but within the military structures. In 2014, the army was not able to lead an active phase of hostilities. For the first six months, fights were conducted mainly by volunteer associations, while support was provided by ordinary people.
All these years, instructors from various countries were coming to the front to carry out combat training for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Also, 3rd Regiment of Kirovograd and 8th Khmelnitsky special forces regiment was formed. In general, there are some substantial changes within the structures that were formed after the Russian aggression.
- Do you remember the exact date of your first combat mission? Do you remember what you felt at that moment? How was it for a twenty-year-old guy to decide to go to a war?
- It was the city of Krasnoarmeysk, which is now called Pokrovsk. It is located 60-70 km from Donetsk. This was an extreme point to which separatists came. They intended to spend their „referendum” there. But when we drove into the city, they already escaped. We arrived at the abandoned building, where we found pre-prepared forms with boxes “yes” already ticked off. That is, the militants have signed forms as they needed before the „referendum”.
As for the real fights and landmines explosions, I saw them when liberating Avdiivka. I participated in the completion of this operation. It began on July 28th, 2014, and I got there on the 3rd of August. There, in the new military corps, I have learned what it is - to use weapons. There my military way has begun.
As for the question, how I struggled with fear ... I had no idea what war is. I just did not even think about it. Of course, I understood that I was going to the real war, but I did not know what I would do: whether I would remember all of the skills I learned, how I would act in certain situations ... Perhaps, it was a psychological barrier, the brain did not want to accept it.
- And how did you changed during those three years?
- In 2016, I went to the front in Avdiivka again, after a short break, which was associated with retraining - with the change, so to speak, of my professional military duties. I spent a year as a part of a fire support company - in the artillery.
I witnessed how one guy was hurt, to put in medical terms – I saw a traumatic amputation of limbs. I helped him very quickly. Previously, blood caused a psychological shock for me. At that time, it was just a fact for me. Wounds were not affected my psyche as much as previously. Although he was a young man of 18 years old, he had just arrived and immediately got into a fight. I helped him calmly: I put a tourniquet, pricked painkillers and antibiotics.
When our boys were killed - Ales Charkashyn and Vitaly Telezhenko. ... I had tears in my eyes, I was depressed for several months. It was very hard to accept it morally.
But what really scared me was the moment when I realized that all the injuries and losses became the norm for me. This eventually happened to the whole Ukrainian society: when first soldiers were killed, everyone was talking about them, it was discussed everywhere - on television and radio, that a certain man from a certain city went to the front and died. Later, over time, it was reported very briefly and unemotionally: like – “today seven men were dead and five were wounded, now five were dead and twenty were wounded”. Lives of people became just a statistics. And something similar in relation to deaths and injuries happened to me.
Of course, it's a war, but I became really scared of this addiction. I realized that I crossed some kind of a psychological line.
- What can you say about the situation in Avdiivka in connection with the recent events? Why is fighting resumed?
- Now, in Avdiivka, there is hot water, light, internet for some days. It is difficult to say what were the reasons for the intensification of the use of artillery - namely, multiple rocket launchers BM-21 (in other words „Grad”) and large-caliber artillery systems „Peony”, which had not been used for over a year.
Perhaps this is due to the fact that the Ukrainian military took to the road that links Donetsk with Gorlovka. Apparently, separatists wanted to drive them out of this road, which is very important for the delivery of provisions, food and ammunition to Gorlovka.
Militants fired with „Grad” at residential areas of Avdiivka, which are located two or three kilometers from the front. It's definitely not a mistake in the calculations. All their systems are now computerized, everything is taken into account - the amendments of pressure, air, wind speed and direction. Striking errors could be just several meters, not kilometers. This suggests that the separatists intentionally fired at the residential areas. Probably, militants wanted to cause a negative reaction of the population against Ukrainian troops that were near Avdiivka.
- A few days ago another “field commander” of Givi militants was killed. Recently, a few more leaders of a variety of units of so-called „DNR/LNR” were liquidated. What do they say about these murders at the front? Who did it?
- All these „field commanders” are bogus. They are just intermediaries between curators from Moscow and militants. Givi, Motorola ... One can remember about ten cases when they were liquidated by different explosives, shot in cars, exploded in elevators. You have to understand that they are not autonomous personalities, they do not even have proper education. They are just media persons, who are used to cover the actions of the Kremlin and the real curators.
It is hard for me to say who killed Givi. We should ask Mr. Putin why they remove their agents. But facts suggest that it is done not by some Ukrainian subversive group, as they say in the „news” on so-called „LNR” and „DNR”. Obviously, Ukrainian saboteurs cannot secretly enter a military base of the battalion „Somalia”, which was led by the terrorist Mikhail Tolstykh. According to their „news”, Ukrainian subversive group entered the militants’ base, shot with a flamethrower „RPO-A Shmel” and killed Givi along with his associates.
Firstly, it was necessary to know in what office he was, which was very difficult to determine even for a scout. Second, it is impossible to make such a thing and get away unnoticed. Everything indicates that the murder of Motorola, which had two circles of protection, and the elimination of Givi are actions of curators from Moscow. And we can only guess what were the reasons for it. Personally, I believe that this is due to the fact that they knew too much.
- Under what conditions are guys from the Tactical Group „Belarus” fighting? What do they currently lack?
- We are a volunteer organization, which is fighting at the front for the last three years. As for the needs, we have necessary food and ammunition due to Ukrainian volunteers. We, Belarusians, in contrast to the Ukrainians, apart from the usual needs still have problems with documents, with machine repairs, fuel purchase. This requires financial costs that are not covered in full by Ukrainian volunteers.
-Why is this happening?
- Now they help even less. Ukrainians began to massively sacrifice their means even before the war, when Maidan began. Ukrainians supported protests largely at their own expense. I know a lot of people who was helping during the first two years of the war, but now they are tired of that. Their financial capacity is also reduced. Aid flows have decreased by several times compared to 2014.
However, situation in Belarus is more often discussed in the Russian media, and, in response, there are many Belarusians who want to join our tactical group. The problem is that because of the lack of support and funding we cannot create a full-fledged department, for example, a battalion, although there are plenty of such applications. With this purpose, I am now in Europe in order to raise the necessary funds and fully operate in Ukraine.
After all, we are still facing such challenges as protection of our own country. This is exactly what Belarusians, who come to us, are interested in.
I would like to note the great support of the Belarusian diasporas in different European countries. Belarusians abroad have become more active and this is very encouraging. Warsaw – is the third city that I visited after Bialystok and Vilnius, next I will go to Munich and Rome.
- And what do those, who want to join, usually ask?
- They want to get military experience, because they understand the danger of the situation in Belarus. We have plans for the unification of the Belarusians. We want to train them to have reserves in case of threat to the independence of Belarus. We may have the same scenario as was in Crimea or Donbass.
We are doing this to have armed forces that will be able to defend our country, as it was in Ukraine, where simple guys created a volunteer battalions and, in fact, due to that, the front line is held only at parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and not on entire Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporozhye and Odessa regions, as it was planned by the Kremlin.
- Does this mean that, in case of invasion of Belarus, about which all talk and write so much, you will be fighting at home?
- Certainly. We are the only military formation of the Belarusians in the world, which raises this question, says that there is a threat and calls on to prepare for defense.
- We're talking about our guys who are fighting in the east of Ukraine. Could you make a portrait of a Belarusian who goes to the front?
- This is a man up to the age of 35, who understands that there exists Belarus and Belarusian ethnic identity. He is not just a regular citizen, like most, who know neither their language nor history. For the majority, unfortunately, Belarus - is a part of the „union state” with Russia. We have, as they say, one language - Russian. They have no ethnic identity. They believe that they are Belarusians just because they were born there and their country is called this way.
And the people, who are fighting at the front, realize that we are an independent country, that we are not the object of geopolitics, but the subject. We understand what Russia is. Even if you take a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, how many armed conflicts happened? Two Chechen campaigns, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, situation in Georgia, and now the Crimea and East Ukraine.
People who come to us are aware that if we do not stop the enemy in Ukraine, Belarus will be next. I really want to ensure that our citizens have not known the horrors of war, that the Ukrainians know. But we must be prepared for the protection of the country, we need to create anti-imperial front in Ukraine. After all, apart from the Ukrainians, Georgian battalion, Chechen groups, Belarusian Task Force are fighting there. Also, there are representatives of various countries: the French, Czechs, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians. This is the anti-imperial front. All free men, who understand who Putin is and what his ambitions are, are fighting in Ukraine.
- I just wanted to know if it is true that a lot of Russian citizens are fighting on the side of Ukraine?
- Particularly at the positions of our guys, there are three citizens of Russia. For the sake of their safety, I will not say where they are from. But it is the western part of Russia. These are guys, who lived about two hundred kilometers from Ukraine. There is a battalion, in which about 20 people – are the Russians.
In general, the first time I met Russian citizens was on the Maidan. They even were there with the Russian flag, and no one came to them, no one asked to put away a flag. Obviously, there is a support of free Russian citizens.
- Recently, on „Facebook”, you joked that you were going to Grodno. And how do things stand with the guys who are fighting on the side of Ukraine when they return to Belarus?
- I know at least three cases when our boys were arrested at home.
- At the same time, those, who fought on the side of the separatists, are easily released.
- Yes, we monitor this situation. Good materials were once done by the site InformNapalm. They opened a whole channel that was organized partly by Belarusians - separatists from Grodno, partly by Russians. We know a few people from Minsk, Mogilev and Grodno, several fighters served in Marina Gorka - seven, if I am not mistaken. They can easily return home, make pictures with arms, post them in social networks, and nobody touches them. And even if someone was arrested, he was quickly released.
There was a guy from Mogilev region, who was arrested by the KGB. He was there for about a week: he was sitting in the office of one of the investigators, playing computer, getting food from the wife of this investigator - that is, he was treated as an ally. A week later, he was released. He continued to fight on the side of separatists and he gave an interview from there.
The dictator is interested in the fighters, who present the ideas of the so-called „Russian world”. Lukashenka – is the Kremlin’s vassal.
- They seem to be close to each other mentally. He was always afraid of guys like you, but those guys are very close to him.
- That's exactly how it looks.
- And what is the fundamental difference between Belarusians who are fighting on the side of Ukraine and on the side of Russia?
- Guys that are fighting on our side are those, who recognize themselves as Belarusians, as representatives of the Belarusian nation. They are smart, they know the history and the language. Like, for example, our dead fighter Ales Charkashyn. He came to Ukraine even before the war, he was educated at the Tavriyskiy Christian Institute. At first, he was a volunteer, he went to the front, played the guitar, then he joined us, served as a chaplain, read a prayer before each fight, supported us morally. In general, these are the guys who have a civil position. Those guys are reasonable, interested in history, with which you can sit down and talk about everything. These are the people, who have an idea, they understand what Russia actually is.
On the same side, even if we watch their interviews, people ... It is even offensive for me to say that my passport is the same as theirs. They are typical representatives of the „Russian world”. They say, that they are ready to go to Syria and other places of conflict, that they will be everywhere where Russia is. Even without analyzing anything.
- In Belarus, there are a lot of people who are not on either of two sides - an amorphous mass. And the worst thing is that this is happening with the youth. How to wake them up?
- At first, even my mother was not interested in what is happening in the world and in our country. As they say, the hottest place in Hell is prepared for those, who, at times of such events, remain on the sidelines. There must be an understanding that if you do not engage in politics, then politics will engage in your life. If you are indifferent, you become “a mass”, which can be easily controlled by any rascal. It is impossible to live without understanding and interest of what is happening around.
Sooner or later it will affect everyone. Everyone must make a choice, must analyze the situation, to take part in civic life. You cannot exist just between home and work. There is a society, there are challenges to its existence, and any representative of this society must actively engage in those problems.
Everyone says that we are living in poverty, and this or that is bad, but then you ask people: what have you done to change this? What exactly have you done in order to live better? It is impossible to claim the Switzerland’s way of life without doing anything for that.
If all Belarusians were interested in their history, developed, not just watched Russian television, but used different sources of information, analyzed things on their own instead of just absorbing views that were imposed to them by the TV, then the standard of living would be different.
You can just look at the statistics in Europe. The higher the level of education of the population, the higher the standard of living of a country. Everything is simple and related to each other. Again, it is impossible to live “like a plant”, be uninterested in anything and expect miracles.
Yan Melnikau appeals to everyone who are willing to help Belarusian volunteers:
Bank accounts in Poland:
Bank Millennium SWIFT: BIGBPLPW
Account in PLN:
PL 07 1160 2202 0000 0002 9140 0706
Account in EUR:
PL 54 1160 2202 0000 0002 9140 4904
Account in USD:
PL 73 1160 2202 0000 0002 9140 5144
Bitcoin Account: 1JDX8EqfsseSwn93v43FPtPSP2AZipddoX
WebMoney U648186160980, Z199660004837, E228502410263
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