“Each attack is 20, 40, 50 dead Russian soldiers.” “Napalm” podcast, ep. 7. Text version

Yevhen Spirin
“Each attack is 20, 40, 50 dead Russian soldiers.” “Napalm” podcast, ep. 7. 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. The town of Rubizhne is similar to Mariupol — it is constantly shelled, everything is almost destroyed, and people are hiding in basements. The same situation is with the Shchastya town. The occupiers destroyed more than 80 percent of the infrastructure there, shut down the thermal power plant, and donʼt let civilians move out of town. Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Popasna are being shelled with “Grads” multiple-launch missile systems. “Babel” editor-in-chief Yevhen Spirin spoke with the head of the Luhansk Oblast State Administration, Serhiy Haidai, about the occupied cities, the humanitarian situation, the war, and the people.

Whatʼs happening in Rubizhne now? What is the current humanitarian situation there? How heavily was the city shelled?

The situation is tough. First, itʼs shelled every day. The orcs (common name of the Russian invaders among Ukrainians due to their brutal behavior and seemingly low level of intelligence — “Babel”) have already reported to their leadership that they took Rubizhne and showed the pictures. In fact, they didnʼt capture the city. They entered the town from one direction but couldnʼt advance. On the day before yesterday, they were moved back on one of the flanks. I think that soon the Ukrainian army will throw them out of Rubizhne. Because all their attempts to capture the city end in their destroyed machinery. Usually, itʼs one tank, several armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles. Every one of their attacks results in 20, 40, 50 dead [Russian military]. We have had cases where they put 150 people to death and coming again, again and again.

This is their approach. This is how they conduct wars.

Iʼm very thankful to [Russian Defense Minister Sergey] Shoigu for wasting the money allocated for the Russian Army. For them buying $600-million-worth yachts, [luxurious] real estate. And not giving money for the army drills, for new equipment and machinery. We now benefit from this because their missiles sometimes fall [on Ukrainian land] and donʼt explode. For example, their “Tochka-U” (tactical ballistic missile, Scarab-B by NATO classification) has fallen in Lysychansk city ― and itʼs lying on the ground calmly. Their machinery breaks. They donʼt have any new types of it.

Letʼs get back to Rubizhne.

Due to constant shellings, itʼs very hard to evacuate people from there, specifically from the part of the city captured by orcs. Sometimes people hide in the basements for 2-3 weeks. From the Ukraine-controlled part of the city people are evacuated daily. 30, 40, 100 people successfully leave Rubizhne every day.

How many people are evacuated now?

Officially ― close to 15 thousand, But how many people left the city on private minibuses? How many were evacuated by volunteers? The church also evacuates people. So itʼs almost impossible to get the exact number.

How many civilians were killed? Can you name an estimate?

We managed to count 150 fatalities. But itʼs a very, very rough estimate. This is what we have seen on our own, or rescuers found a body in the rubble, wrote down who that person is, so we have the data. How many dead people are still under the wreckage, on the streets in the villages, or were killed due to shellings? Nobody can count them.

Is Stanytsia Luhanska (a settlement on the “border” with “LPR”) occupied?

Russians invaded Luhansk Oblast from several directions. The key thing is heavy machinery, helicopters, aircraft, cars and trucks with personnel started arriving from Russia. For they couldnʼt encircle our military [in Stanytsia], our army built up a line of defense right away. It goes through Kreminna, Rubizhne, Lysychansk, Zolote and Popasna. And it hasnʼt changed since the beginning of the invasion, our troops are still there. Zolote is being shelled daily for the fourth week already. With “Grads”, “Smerchs”, “Uragans”, aviation. Russians canʼt get there, our troops hold the town firmly. Part of Popasha is occupied, but now [Ukrainian army destroys Russian convoys so] the occupantʼs get no replenishment of supplies. I think that whatʼs left of Putinʼs generals will throw all their efforts into capturing Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. They necessarily need to get to the borders of the oblasts so Putin could lie to Russians that “the goal was achieved, Ukraine is now demilitarized.” And then they will hide the number of their dead, make them “missing persons”, donʼt take the bodies [from Ukraine].

What kind of people from the temporarily occupied territories are fighting against us?

Our guys capture drivers, clerks, entrepreneurs — they are all Russians who got mobilized and sent on the war. They have never held a machine gun in their hands before. Also, they take many men from the temporarily occupied territory of the Luhansk Oblast.

Were there any cases of Ukrainian policemen supporting the occupants?

Yes, in Starobilsk town. Five policemen, but these are rare cases.

It was a common thought that there are many pro-Russian civilians in Luhansk oblast.

Iʼve been living with this bias for two years. Thereʼs a part of the pro-Russian population. But every entrepreneur who manages to make money, who visits Europe on vacations — will never want to live in “LDPR”. After the occupation, people in Svatove, Starobilsk, Novopskov, Bilokurakyne went on peaceful pro-Ukrainian rallies. They were protesting until the Russians started shooting them. It shows that a lot of people are pro-Ukraine. Itʼs not “LPR” with TV channels full of lies.

Whatʼs going on in Shchastya now?

The situation is dire. The town is almost destroyed, 70% of it is in ruins. The situation is much worse than around Kyiv.

Whatʼs happened to the thermal power plant (TPP located in Shchastya is the largest in the Luhansk oblast, it was shelled heavily since February 21)?

Itʼs possible to restore it, but that would be very costly. They shelled it with “Grads”, have damaged all the converters, 40 tons of machine oil has leaked, everything was ablaze. Russians wonʼt be able to restore anything. They wonʼt find the necessary equipment due to the sanctions.

We were all looking for some logic in these chaotic shellings and destruction of the places they captured.

There is no logic. What logic can be in a thug who drank four bottles of booze and started crushing boutique showcases?

Whatʼs going on with the food supply in the oblast? Is it sufficient? We are not speaking of the occupied territory now.

No, it is not sufficient because the orcs are shelling the warehouses. The food supplies and humanitarian cargos are now being managed by the oblast administration. Volunteers and two-three different organizations also bring something. Speaking of the situation in Rubizhne ― itʼs impossible to transport food there at all. Same with Popasna. Sievierodonetsk is under the shelling, however, there is access there. Siever [slang name for Sieverodonetsk] has a population of 100 thousand. We use trucks, minibuses, large buses to transfer [aid]. Tomorrow we will start bringing [aid] to Lysychansk, Kreminna, Girska communities, and part of Popasna if possible. Overall, [now we have] 32 train cars of humanitarian aid.

Itʼs specifically sad about Popasna and Zolote, as both have been suffering for eight years already.

Well, the Russians are under attack there, and in Popasna there are battles inside the city already.

People post on social networks like: “Everyone has left the Luhansk area, save us, its a treason.”

I have a question for such people. If you post something online, you have a [cellular] connection. If you have a connection ― read about daily evacuation, come to our warehouses in Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk that operate daily and receive humanitarian aid. And people are writing: “Weʼve been in the basement for two weeks now and canʼt get anything. No one brings anything to us.” We canʼt check each and every basement. If you can text or call a hotline and your phone still has power after two weeks [of the shellings] ― call the hotlines, leave info about your location, help elderly people in the nearby basement.

You should understand people are going nuts following a week of shellings.

I do understand it. I am trying to look soberly at all this. Tens of thousands of people are praying for help. Sometimes the SMS or posts on social networks are very emotional. But we are doing a vital thing. We receive humanitarian cargos daily, sending them to the settlements daily. I am asking people all the time: “Please, help each other, keep being humans. If you have received aid, and you know there are people in the nearby basement hiding for two weeks and havenʼt received help, reach out to us so we can deliver it to them as well.

Is there any accounting, or do you at least try to count the number of ruined residential buildings, kindergartens, schools?

This is very complicated. We understand whatʼs going on with the hospitals, as there arenʼt many of them. We know about schools as each has a headmaster. We talk to them, and we understand: there was a hit, no hit, the destructions are this bad. Speaking of the residential buildings, it is unreal to count the destructions now. Firstly, how can we measure damages in Rubizhne if the shellings there never stop? How can we calculate [damages] in Sievierodonetsk if “Grads” are shooting all the time? The same situation is in Popasna, the same is in Kreminna and Lysychansk.

Are there any politicians from Luhansk oblast who are helping you now?

All those “defenders” of the oblast who have used to speak of how they love the region disappeared. No phone calls, no help. One local scum has even brought bags branded with one political party to a humanitarian aid center to put aid in those bags and give them to people. When I found out about this, I called and said: “If tomorrow morning they call me and say heʼs back to the [humanitarian aid] center, I will come and shoot him in the leg by myself”.

How do you coordinate with the headquarters?

I have daily contact with the Presidentʼs office. At any moment, Iʼm in touch with the ministers I need. Almost every day, as much as necessary, I am in contact with Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. Everything regarding the coordination of humanitarian cargos is [coordinated] through the presidentʼs office. I am in touch with the “Ukrzaliznytsia” (Ukrainian state railways operator) supervisory board, they are all helping, and I am in touch with my colleagues [from other oblast administrations]. Western Ukraine is sending train cars of cargo to us.

During the last month, we all, to some extent, have known the big war is coming. But have you known the invasion will start on February 24 at precisely 4 am?

There has been an understanding this was coming. However, there was no information that it would happen at 4 am. We have imagined it would be happening as it actually has happened. Weʼve talked through probable invasion over the past few days. Twenty tanks came from the Russian side, they formed a three-kilometer line at the border. They moved 500 meters and stopped. Later in the evening, they brought some machinery. I have predicted the most significant breakthrough would happen here, from Donetsk, Luhansk, that they would reach oblast borders, advance to Kharkiv, and probably cut Kherson off because they need water in Crimea. However, I have not predicted what actually happened.

The whole country is now working 24/7. What would you like to say to the Ukrainians?

This is not a war against the Ukrainian political regime. What has been happening in Ukraine is a miracle for the whole world, a wonder for the entire world. For America, Europe, and Russia. I beg you: stay together, so the words “East and West together” are not only the words but the action. We can not be defeated while we remain that strong. Especially by Russia.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko