– Heinrich, we are talking to you on February 24, 2023, exactly one year after the full-scale invasion. You are now at the frontline. Could you tell us where you were on this day a year ago?
– I was at home in Mukachevo. I was on sick leave. In the last days before the invasion, like everyone else, I probably lived in the news. I did not believe until the last moment that a full-scale war was possible. I didn’t understand how we could go back to the Stone Age in the 21st century. To start a war with thousands of victims, with people suffering? Economies should fight, raising the living standards of their citizens, not weapons and people on the battlefield. But we have what we have. I learned about the start of the full-scale invasion from television. Then I received a call from the company where I work and was told to come to receive a summons. I went to work on Friday, and on Sunday I was already at the military registration and enlistment office. That’s how I ended up in the territorial defense. And on March 11, we were already in Sumy region.
– So you were sent to the frontline without any prior training?
– Well, I had some training. I did my conscript service. I started it in the Soviet army and finished it in the Ukrainian army. I was one of the first to swear allegiance to the Ukrainian people after the declaration of independence.
– What is your military specialty?
– I am an aircraft weapons mechanic.
– Did you know that you were being sent to Sumy region?
– No, we didn’t. We didn’t know anything. We didn’t know where we were going or what tasks we were going to perform. We were given weapons and that was it. We were traveling on passenger buses that were packed to the brim with weapons. All the luggage compartments, all the seats in the cabin. We sat on top. We traveled only at night. It all looked like scenes from a movie. On March 17, we were already in Sumy region. We were attached to the 93rd separate mechanized brigade “Kholodny Yar”.
– Who did your unit consist of?
– It was the first hundred mobilized from the Zakarpattia region – from Berehove, Vynohradiv, Khust. There were those who had not served at all. There were guys who returned from working abroad when they learned that the war had started. Only 30% of us had some military training.
– Were you in the Sumy region all the time?
– We were in the Sumy region until the beginning of May. Then our unit moved to the Luhansk region. There we performed our tasks for about three weeks. It was in the area of Hirske. We can say that we received our baptism of fire there.
– Yes, the whole backbone is here with me. Some were wounded and had to be discharged. But not only Transcarpathians are with us. There are guys from Kyiv, Donetsk region, Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia, Vinnytsia, who evacuated their families to the west of Ukraine, and then went to the military registration and enlistment office and returned with weapons to defend their native land.
– On March 4, you will have been at the front for a year. What helps you to stand?
– A sense of humor helps the most. And, of course, hope for victory. That’s where we get our strength from.
– Have you been home this year?
– I was on a ten-day vacation once.
– Where are you now?
– I can only say that we are in the east. I can’t say more than that.
– Today is the anniversary of the invasion. Is it felt at the positions where you are?
– It’s an ordinary day. Here we have constant enemy provocations. Every day they shell our territory, the community where we are located.
– My military ID card even says that I am a carpenter. When we arrived at the position, I first made sheds to shelter from the rain. Then I started building dugouts. I had to make them according to all the rules of engineering construction. My experience helped. We made a small kitchen, a sauna, and a shower. I did all the carpentry work. We have no points in the rear where we can retreat and take a break, wash. We are at our positions all the time. Therefore, we had to arrange our own life.
– Do you have any problems with the supply?
– No, we don’t. We have everything we need. The Armed Forces, volunteers, including those from our native Zakarpattia, our fellow party member Yaroslav Dumyn, the Fisher-Mukachevo company, and friends provide us with supplies. We cooperate with the Lviv Military Administration, and their volunteers have sent a vehicle for our unit and night vision devices. As of now, we are provided with everything, we are only waiting for the Leopards. Just kidding! (laughs).
– What was the most difficult thing this year?
– The most difficult was the fighting in the Luhansk region, under constant shelling. It was hard morally. But we realized that we had to stand up for freedom, for freedom of choice, for the peaceful life of our children.
– People who are close to you. It’s important to know that you have people who will not let you down.
– Yes. They are reliable. They all come from different fields – teachers, entrepreneurs, and big businessmen. They are self-sufficient people who managed their own teams in civilian life. In terms of organization, there were some problems – we had to bring everyone together and get them on the same page. I am sure we succeeded. If we are given the right information, told the truth, if the commander knows what he wants from us, what results he expects and tells us honestly, we are ready to fulfill any task. Understatements and lies do not work.
– When you return home after the victory, what will be the first thing you do?
– First, I will remember those who died for this victory. Many friends from my company died. I will have to honor them.
– What was the happiest moment for you this year?
– When the Ukrainian Armed Forces liberated our territories. There was also a special moment when we were driving through Sumy region to the frontline in March, and people came out on the roads and saw us off. They baptized us in the air. They were crying.
– Yes, we do. Local residents were constantly helping us. They would bring us food, pick up a parcel from Nova Poshta, and try to help us with everything. We interact with them all the time. For example, on New Year’s Eve, we bought gifts for their children at our own expense and went door-to-door to congratulate all the children, regardless of age. I’ll send you a photo.
– Children handed us letters, including those addressed to Santa Claus, drawings, and recited patriotic poems. It was another moment when you realize for whom you are fighting.
– Did the attitude of local people to you differ in different regions?
– Yes, I’ve already mentioned Sumy region, how they saw us off, how they helped us. In Luhansk region, there was a hostile attitude. The attitude of people is different, just like the sky over each region. The most beautiful night sky is over Poltava region. Then over Sumy region. In summer, the sky was beautiful near Kramatorsk. But it was different everywhere, just like the people.
– How is your family coping without you?
– They are coping well. It’s hard only when there is no connection, when you can’t call or hear the voice.
– When our children return to live education, stop running to bomb shelters, and each of us returns to our favorite peaceful occupation, then I will realize that we have won.
– Where will we celebrate the victory?
– I would like to celebrate with our “Europeans” in the geographical center of Europe, in Rakhiv, where our last congress was held. And at least in the same composition.
The interview was conducted by Yulia Pidkurhanna