What drives a young man to leave a safe country to fight against Novorossiya?
This article originally appeared at ARD Panorama. Translated for RI by Roman Kut
The 18 year old Dimitri was born in Donetsk. In 2012 he came with his mother to Munich where he until recently attended a secondary school. In the last months he collected donations for the Ukrainian army. Panorama spoke with him before his departure. Meanwhile Dimitri has arrived in a training camp of a volunteer battalion in the district Winniza in the west of Ukraine. There he‘ll first of all complete a military basic training before leaving for another training camp.
Panorama: Dimitri, why do you want to go to Ukraine?
Dimitri: I was born in Donetsk and have lived there until the age of 15. The most terrible thing for me was when I saw that my former school was bombed. One teacher was killed. I just couldn’t believe that this place of my childhood turns into a battlefield. I see the terrorists entering my school who then claim that the ukrainian army is responsible for this. At this moment I‘ve felt helpless and perplexed. I can’t do anything about this being here in Munich. It was probably the moment when I had the feeling that I have to be in Ukraine.
Panorama: What are you up to exactly?
Dimitri: I‘ll join a volunteer battalion of the ukrainian national defence and go into a training camp.
Panorama: You want to fight for Ukraine?
Dimitri: Yes, I want to go to Donetsk
Panorama: How long does this training last?
Dimitri: Several weeks, because they practically aren‘t regular armed forces. The’re sort of peoples militia but I can’t say exactly.
Panorama: Does it mean that you‘ve never fired a gun?
Dimitri: I’ve already fired a gun, not professionally like in the military, but rather as hobby.
Panorama: You are just about to graduate. Why do you drop out of school now?
Dimitri: I turned 18 in January and I thought: The first thing I can do after attaining full age is to get actively involved in this unit, to protect my country and free my home city.
Panorama: But you also could graduate first.
Dimitri: Well, the situation in Ukraine is so unstable that one can’t really say what happens there in two years time. That means I can’t just wait and look on helplessly.
Panorama: What has your head teacher said?
Dimitri: My head teacher tried to change my mind for two hours. I replied that he surely has a point rationally, but emotionally he can’t imagine, how it feels like, if your city is occupied and is bombed every day. He has said it’s a crisis of elites in Ukraine and neither Poroschenko nor Tymoschenko or Janukowytsch have done anything good for Ukraine. And that I’m going to be only cannon fodder because I’m not able to do anything. But I very well think that in this training camp I’m going to prepare myself properly.
Panorama: But you also could help from here.
Dimitri: If all people think that way, then nobody will be left there or just those who are conscripted, bit it’s not so good. I want to defend my country. The way it’s necessary. Unfortunately with a weapon. I feel to be ready for it mentally.
Panorama: In Germany many don’t believe this crisis can be solved militarily.
Dimitri: The Germans always compare it with the situation in Germany during the Second World War. This is wrong as the war back then was an aggressive and imperialistic one, against other countries. Our war is a defensive one against similar imperialistic ambitions of Putin and other russian imperialists. That means we solely defend ourselves, we don’t want to conquer even an inch of the russian territory.
Panorama: Is there no peaceful solution?
Dimitri: I believe Ukraine has to hold the line as long as Putin’s regime in Moscow is in power. As long as it is the case the crisis can’t be resolved entirely, neither militarily nor diplomatically. We have to be patient and to make sure that these terrorists don’t invade the country even further.
Panorama: Is it risky to go there?
Dimitri: When the European Football Championship took place in 2012 in Donetsk and in many other cities in Poland and Ukraine, there was a shirt with something in English on it like „I was in Donetsk, I’m not afraid anymore“. Back then it was a joke. I was also in Donetsk and I’d like to go there once again. Therefore I’m really not afraid. It’s hard for me to live without Ukraine, without Donetsk.
Panorama: Are you not afraid?
Dimitri: No, I’m not.
Panorama: You might die.
Dimitri: I’m ready to die for Ukraine and for Donbass, for Donetsk.
Panorama: What does your mother say about that?
Dimitri: Well, like every mother or every wife of a man who goes to the front or into the war, she is of course against it. She perceives it very emotionally but she accepts my decision.
Panorama: Do you have family in Donetsk?
Dimitri: Yes, my grandmother and my grandfather live there.
Panorama: Do you keep in touch with your grandparents?
Dimitri: Not that much because they support the other side. It’s quite difficult for me to speak with them but sometimes I call them.
Panorama: Do your grandparents support russian separatists?
Dimitri: Yes, as they‘re originally from Russia.
Panorama: What about your father?
Dimitri: My father left our family when I was six years old. I cannot regard this man as my real father.
Panorama: But he’s a Russian and he‘s on the other side?
Dimitri: Yes. I perceive him as a proxy of my enemies. He was always hostile to me, also before this conflict. Nothing has really changed in this regard.
Panorama: Why did you go for a volunteer battalion?
Dimitri: The army does a good job but they aren’t affected ideologically. In these battalions of national defence an ukrainian idea is presented but not an aggressive one like some people in Germany imagine. It’s not a neo-Nazi idea, no, it’s just an idea that on the ukrainian soil a free ukrainian state shall exist.
Panorama: There are right-wing battalions.
Dimitri: It’s difficult. Nevertheless they fight for our country, they defend our country. For this I’m greatful.