Everyone became a cossack. “Napalm” podcast, ep. 4. Text version

Yevhen Spirin
Everyone became a cossack. “Napalm” podcast, ep. 4. Text version


“Napalm” is a series of podcasts about photographers, journalists, cooks, pharmacists, servicemen, doctors, saleswomen, and programmers. In short, this is a series of podcasts about Ukrainians experiencing war, about the everyday life of our country, heroically resisting the Russian invasion. We want to hear the voices of our citizens, their stories about everyday and not-so-everyday life, and we want our listeners to hear those voices as well. In 2014, Vova Sheredega went to the war as a volunteer. As part of the “Dnipro-1” battalion, he received the call sign "Shamil". When the full-scale war began, he took his backpack, machine gun and again went to defend Ukraine. During these few weeks, Shamil managed to visit Sievierodonetsk, Kharkiv and Izyum cities. This is how Shamil is fighting and what is happening at the front.

Congratulations, this is Napalm. Vova Sheredega, call sign Shamil, is with us today. He was in the Territorial Defense forces from the first day of the full-scale war, then enlisted in the army. He went to Izyum, then Sievierodonetsk. Today we are talking about what is happening in the east of the country. Hello, Vova! Tell us what Sievierodonetsk looks like now.

Hello. I drove a few days ago from Kyiv to Sievierodonetsk ― through Poltava, Dnipro, Dobropillya. Then the route was through the Donetsk oblast: there are Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, Bakhmut, then Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk. The whole route was free at that time, it was 4-5 days ago (mid-March ― Babel). Until you approach Sievierodonetsk it did not seem that there was active hostilities. Civilians drove calmly in their cars. There was a free evacuation from Sievierodonetsk, for those who wish. I have already heard the fighting in Sievierodonetsk. Heard several explosions, artillery or mortar fire. In intensity, it was about the same as in 2016. That is, not even in 2014-2015 in Donbas, when artillery shelling was serious. It was calmer

What impression did the Luhansk oblast make on you?

I have never been to Luhansk oblast before. In 2014-2015 he was only near Donetsk, in the anti-terrorist operation zone. And when I first came to Luhansk oblast, I just…

Got crazy?

When you go, for example, through Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, Bakhmut [in Donetsk oblast] ― itʼs not so bad. When you get to Lysychansk city, you just want to shoot yourself. And in Sievierodonetsk when we arrived, I looked at it all… Now the Russians are already shelling the city. But, for example, Sievierodonetska Street, which has already been destroyed by artillery ― everything was burned down there, shattered ― it is not very different visually from the part of the city that was not under fire. We can say that the industrial part of the city, which remained intact at the moment, looks even scarier than the one that was shelled.

You do not understand whether it is corruption or war.

Yes. And at that moment, such a gray sky hung over us, in which this smoke from the pipes of factories spread… And the snow was thick, it was a blizzard. The snow was also gray, the sky was gray, thereʼs this black smoke. The road was broken, as if under artillery fire, which wasnʼt there, actually. And from all this there is simply a desire to shoot.

How I wanted to go home right away!

So your homeland, to be honest, impressed me a lot. But I didnʼt like it very much.

Tell me what happened to Izyum. There are no journalists there. What was the situation there at least a few days ago?

Russians are attacking Izyum from the north, from Kharkiv. We approached it from the south, from the side of Donbas. Russians did not reach Izyum itself, but they were at such a distance that serious fighting, artillery or air bombardment, could be heard. However, I did not hear anything. Maybe the situation has changed now.

But that was literally 3-4 days ago. We drove around for several hours. There was just complete silence. No explosions, no shots were heard. We passed several villages I will not name, but they were completely destroyed by Russian aircraft. These are settlements where it was clear that there was no strategic or military infrastructure. There is a typical Ukrainian village that is dying out, where several retirees live. They will die soon, and the village will cease to exist. And these villages are completely destroyed. Several craters are so huge from air bombs ― an adult will stand there with just his chest or shoulders visible. It seems that the pilot of the Russian plane dropped bombs wherever he was shot down to report to his superiors.

Readers wrote to us today asking if there were Russian corpses in the woods. Have you seen them?

There are, but not as many as we would like. Unfortunately. We would like all Russian soldiers who have crossed our border, including Donbas and Crimea, to be dead in the woods. But I hope that in the near future there will be many more.

Now no one is there for burials?

I canʼt say for sure. I do not know how it happens, how it is organized by our military.

In 2014, there was a mission.

Where there are active hostilities, civil missions do not work. There are no international services at all. Neither observers nor philanthropists. There will be more and more Russians killed, escalation is planned in the coming days, and then there will be spring. And then it will all be very sad.

If hostilities cease for some time, positions are destroyed, troops are moved or ceasefire, the relevant services will be operational. The bodies of the dead representatives of our "brother nation" will be exhumed from there. I donʼt know what to do with them next. Apparently, they will be buried in mass graves. Because it is impossible to process the burial of so many bodies under normal conditions. And there are no such facilities in crematoria.

Didnʼt you get to Kharkiv?

I was not in Kharkiv. I drove across the Dnipro city, through Poltava, and then south to Pokrovsk, Dobropillya and then north. That is, through Donbas to Izium and to the of Severodonetsk.

Dnipro now, like in 2014, an outpost?

The Dnipro is relatively calm. During all this time there were several missile attacks. However, in general, the city is functioning normally. There is a curfew. But there are not as many checkpoints and fortifications as in Kyiv. Because the Dnipro is still relatively far away, the city looks quite civil during the day. There are posts at the entrance to the city, on the tracks. I arrived at curfew at night.

I just wanted to ask about the territorial defense.

There are no their posts in Dnipro, itʼs just police working there. Like in 2014 ― such is the intensity of filtration measures. During the curfew, I arrived in Dnipro, in the city itself, after crossing the bridge, I approached the address I needed, I entered the yard to the right house. A police car pulls up and says, "Why donʼt you sleep for so long?" We reply: "We are going to Sievierodonetsk."

[A photographer] Serhiy Morgunov was arrested today [in Kyiv] ― he was just coming out of the house. And a Pechersk police officer said he was very suspicious because he had a camera around his neck.

You see, everyone is trying to work. Sometimes itʼs useful, and sometimes someone “world too much”.

It infuriates me that a lot of people in Kyiv have stopped working. But there were serious shellings in Kyiv. What about other cities?

In all the cities where I went, even where, fortunately, there have been no shellings so far ― in Poltava, all cafes are closed, nothing works. I do not understand this. I understand that someone left, someone ran away. But not everyone. And nothing works. At best, it works as take-away. And you canʼt go to a cafe in the afternoon in a city where there has been no war. I think this is very bad. Both for the economy and in general for the moral of society. And for those who come to the city, and for locals as well.

I understand the people who fled Kyiv. Itʼs scary.

But the city itself is constantly under fire. And in such cities as Poltava or Pavlograd, nothing has happened so far. And I do not understand why it is necessary to close. Unless there is a direct legal prohibition.

Because everyone became a cossack!

Yes, people either left, and those who did not go ― became the Cossacks, the fighters! They set up checkpoints in all the villages and stand there with sand arquebuses and caramults. Grandparents with mustaches.

We need to explain what we are talking about. In the first days, when Vova came home from his assignments, he said that everyone was a Cossack ― the people who went to the territorial defense in the villages were standing with rifles, no longer plowing the fields.

This was in the first week of the [war], then it stabilized more or less. But this week there were checkpoints in all the villages. The village of Kyiv oblast ― there are five checkpoints with grandparents, with children. You are stopped, your documents are checked, you are asked who you are, where you are. And there is no war. And we laughed with the guys that now all are Cossacks, no one wants to work anymore. Thatʼs not why we took up arms to return to the plow again!

And people are looking for, for example, bulletproof vests in the Cherkasy oblast [which is far from hostilities]. Why do you need bulletproof vests in Cherkasy oblast?

This is all clear: at first, there was panic. Now the situation is stabilizing. There is police on almost all checkpoints that are left.

And the number of checkpoints has decreased. Two or three instead of ten.

In the first days, the checkpoints appeared in Kyiv every day. As our “brother nation” (this is how Russians call themselves towards Ukrainians ― Babel) says ― like mushrooms after the rain. At every intersection. You go in the morning ― there is nothing. In the evening ― three new posts in the same place. Everything happened chaotically.

What do you think, in general, about the course of the war? The people on Facebook have already won the war, Moscow has been taken, the Kremlin has been burned. And each has two Russian slaves. But itʼs not really clear whatʼs going on.

One can only say for sure that we repulsed their first attack. The blitzkrieg completely failed, they did not achieve their goals. They took just Kherson [among the major cities]. In Mariupol, the city has already been completely destroyed, and fighting is still going on. Kyiv and Kharkiv were not surrounded. They did not block the most important cities, which they planned to take in a few days. I do not have strategic information, but it is likely that they are regrouping. Reserves will be raised to gradually move forward and try to block the big cities. But they will definitely not be able to move forward quickly. If they decide to continue the war instead of trying to turn it down politically, it will be exhausting for a long time. It will be like in 2015 Debaltseve ― when it takes a month or more to pass a few dozens of kilometers, cut off a small town. They probably have a lot of reserves. Large country, a lot of fools, a lot of rusty tanks. If there is political will in their obsessive leadership, that will happen. We can also do this for a long time, because the whole world will help us, in fact, we will be given weapons, money, fuel. And who will win in the end, it is now impossible to guess.

You fought in 2014. If we compare then and now, we can say that 2014 is just a nursery group?

Yes, the links to 2014 seem ridiculous to me. I was recently stopped at a checkpoint near the village which has a local territorial defense. We start arguing with them, they donʼt let us in. And a military man from the post says to me: "Where were you in 2014?" And it seems to me that 2014 should be forgotten. The intensity and real seriousness of the war now and the involvement of the entire state and apparatus, the entire military machine ― is incomparable to 2014.

Our familiar pro-Russian guy stopped being pro-Russian and went to the territorial defense.

Aha. And the Russians, obviously, had an expectation that everyone would run away at once, would give up.

And they will run to Poland.

On the contrary, it became a switch for many when the aggressors fired from planes on half of Ukraine on the first day. Everyone went to the military registration and enlistment office on the first or second day and still goes there. People who were not interested in politics, who loved Russia a little, who were skeptical towards Ukrainian anti-Russian wars. Everyone understood that Russia was the enemy. In 2014 most countries did not understand this.

On the first day of the war, at 11 oʼclock in the morning, I went to the military registration and enlistment office and I was very scared, because I thought I would come now, and there is no one there, maybe a few more crazy people with me. And the soldier will tell you to go home. But there were already 50 people on the street. I went inside, all the corridors were clogged like sprats in a can.

You were the smartest, because you went there immediately and were able to get to the army. Everyone who came on the fifth day was sent home.

Those who do not have a military specialty. Ordinary people are not needed at the front now. There is nothing a machine operator can do in a war of this magnitude. Tankers, gunners, rocket launchers ― they take them, they are needed.

We communicate with people from the occupied territories. I know whatʼs going on in “LPR”, for example. There are no men in Luhansk. All hospitals are overwhelmed with wounded. A wheelbarrow with a loudspeaker rides: “You wanted independence [from Ukraine] ― go and win.” But there is no one to win. And they report on the advance of the army: “we have taken control of the village of Katerynivka-8”. In which there are two houses and since 2014 no one has lived there. Why such silence started now? Are they digging [up their positions]?

They now need to either curtail it all politically, or change their tactics, try to regroup, increase reserves, form new units, drive equipment, prepare a new offensive. But such an offensive is more positional.

To capture Kyiv?

Do not capture, block. Now there is no talk of storming Kyiv.

So I wanted to ask what you think about the storming of Kyiv.

It is impossible to storm Kyiv. At least with the forces with which they entered Ukraine. You can try to take Kyiv as Berlin in 1945. But… For how long are they trying to take Mariupol? And they still cannot suppress the resistance of our military. Even if they take Mariupol in the end ― if they plan to take all the cities in the same way, they will not have enough army for that.

They can try to block cities, to block roads, bypass Kyiv, for example, from north to south, around the ring to cut off completely, to make a blockade. To sit around and shell the city, to cause a humanitarian catastrophe, to put political pressure on the leadership of Ukraine. There may be such a strategy, one of the most likely.

But I donʼt think that will happen. Tell me, what do you think of our leadership? Without personalities. I think we now have a cool military leadership.

Yes. Everything turned out much to be better than they seemed. And eight years have passed not in vain. Although everyone was constantly criticized. There are mistakes, of course. But if someone had been told before the war that there would be a military situation like this in three weeks, no one would have believed it.

The Russians did not expect this either.

They fell victims to their own propaganda. Listened to their propagandists, read reports on how cool everything is. At the same time, for eight years they convinced themselves that the Russian army was not at war in Donbas. And from "when the Russian army really comes to war, then everyone will be defeated in two days." And they really believed that as soon as a tank with a Russian flag entered Ukraine, everyone would raise their hands at once, put on trousers, dance happily, and girls with ribbons would bring a loaf of bread and vodka.

And most of our citizens have been saying this for eight years: “If a Muscovite comes to us in Kyiv, then we will all leave. If he will come to Lviv ― we will all go to war." You see? They did not lie.

Now there is a lot of hatred in the west of Ukraine about people who go from here to there. What do you think about it?

I think it is worth getting rid of people who run from war in their country from one city to another. And give them peace. Let the services, the military registration and enlistment office or the police, decide who to mobilize and who not. We need to let people fleeing the war come to their senses. At least a week or two to live calmly and decide what to do in this life. Everyone may have different conditions, different situations. We must first understand that these people are moving from one Ukrainian city to another. They are in their own country.

Thank you. Vova Sheredega was our guest. This is Napalm, and this is our fourth episode. We will continue the podcast until Ukraine wins this war. And if it does not win, it will cease to exist, and this is just impossible. Glory to Ukraine!

Glory to heroes!