Russian Tankman in Ukraine: Abridged version

As promised. I have converted some verbose parts into key bullet points and translated the more interesting pieces, because this interview is very long and does not necessarily merit word-for-word translation (actually EuroMaidan already did

One request: Before making reflexive comments, at least try to read the, as well as the postscriptum in the end of this post, "on the authenticity of this report".
Should answer a lot of your questions about the situation and my views on it.
Without further ado:* Dordzhi Batomunkuev, 20 years old, 5th independent tank brigade (Ulan-Ude), unit #46108. Drafted into one-year army service in November 2013, signed up for three more years of professional army service in June 2014. Personal ID 200220, military service record card # 2609999.

* After being drafted and training, showed good results in combat training and physical fitness. Submitted a request to join the professional army.

* Moved to Rostov (Russia) for "field exercises" in October.

* Although his unit were told they were going for “field exercises”, they all knew and accepted that they may end up in Ukraine. Anyone who did not want to go could easily opt out.

* Unit markings were painted over while in transit. Then spent 3 months training, as planned.
“We were trained really well, all kinds of specialists - our snipers, everyone”.

* Almost at the end (on February 8th), their battalion (31 tanks) headed out to Donbass.
* They left all ID papers and cell phones at the base in Rostov. At no point did he resign from the army.

* Soldiers were not briefed on where they are going and why. He says everyone knew the situation and the struggle of the Donbass Russians, so they were spared the “patriotic” platitudes:

“-Did your officers or political education specialist talk to you about Ukraine?
- No, everyone fully understood the situation. What’s the point of spoon-feeding us the same stuff over and over? Nobody tried to brainwash us with that “patriotism” crap. We knew everything when we got on that train [to Rostov].”

“When did you find out you were going to Donetsk?
-When we read the road sign that said “Donetsk [city limit].”

* Local population supports the Russian troops:
“The closer we got [to Donbass], the more people greeted us, waved their arms. When we were driving around here, [in Donbass], local grandmas, granpas, kids, were blessing us with a cross”* Part of the “understanding”: “Our government understands we have to help, but if we send troops officially, then Europe and NATO will act pissed. Although NATO supplies [UAF] with weapons themselves.

* Soldiers did not know the overall battle plan, but officers stayed with them.
“We were not told [that we’re trying to encircle the enemy]. Here’s the firing position, shoot that way, stop anyone. Whoever keeps going - hit em with live rounds. “
“Our officers are great. Not a single one was afraid. Everyone was equal, colonels and privates, because we fight side by side. My battalion commander, a colonel, he’s in Rostov now [in a hospital], he burned in his tank just like I did. … We needed to liberate that one village, and we did it. It’s all good.”

- “Any KIA?
- No. Minakov lost a leg. Also, as far as I remember (i.e. during Feb 8th-19th), battalion CO was burned, his gunner Chipa, my gunner Spartak.”

- “Were you carrying out the same tasks as militia, together?
- No. Sometimes they take an objective, and refuse to go further - too dangerous. We can not order them to go. But we have an order, so we go.”

“- How were you wounded?
- I hit an enemy tank, it blew up. We hit another, but it had reactive armor, it worked well. It hid in a grove. We moved, and it hit us.
The sound is so loud - BANNGG. I open my eyes - I see fire, very bright. I hear “trr, trr” - powder burning in the shells. Trying to open the hatch, and can’t. I’m thinking that’s it, I’m dead. Then I think - is this it, at 20 years old? My head cleared up. Tried to move - I’m still alive, good. That means I need to get out.

Tried to open the hatch again. It opened. Got out, fell from the tank, started rolling to put out the flames. I could see a bit, found some snow, started trying to use that, didn’t work. I feel my helmet is burning, I take it off - I see the skin on my hands fell off as well. I put them out… Then a BMP came, the driver ran out, he had a fire extinguisher. He put me out. The infantry sergeant had morphine, they put me in the BMP, and retreated under fire. … Some dude was there, later, talking, always talking to me. They were constantly giving me painkillers so I don’t go into shock. I was put in the ICU in Gorlovka, then transferred here, to Donetsk …. Woke up the next day from hunger, they fed me.”

[Possibly Dzhordzhi's tank - two T72Bs at Logvinovo]

* Dordzhi’s unit was working in the Debaltsevo encirclement, repelling breakthrough attempts.

“We see tanks going, BMPs, infantry - we hit them right away. I had a good tank, T72B, [it has] sight 1K13 for night gunnery, launching guided missiles. … 44 shells in a tank, I even had 9 guided missiles. We were shown how to use everything. Bunkers, firing positions - we could destroy anything reliably.”

“Have you ever hit civilians?
- No. Civilian cars, we would wait until the last possible second. When we were certain that those are UAF soldiers - we would hit them.”

“I’m not proud of it of course. That I was destroying, killing. Not something to be proud of, you know. But, on the other hand, I know this is to protect civilians that I’ve seen with my own eyes - kids, old men, women, guys. But I’m not proud of it.
You understand that there are other humans there. Of flesh and blood. But on the other hand, you understand that they are the enemy. They kill innocent people. Civilians. Kids. [You see POWs] shaking, begging not to be killed. Asking for forgiveness. Let them repent…
We captured a few. Everybody really wants to live in the end. They are all people. All have mothers. … Each man has a fate. Maybe a sad one. But no one forced them to do this.
Conscripts - thats another matter. Maybe 2-3 thousand there were conscripts. They were forced to go. I started thinking what would I do, if I was a 18-year old kid. I think I would have to go. They are forced. They are told they will be killed

and their families will be killed if they don’t obey. One kid said they had no way out. I ask him - “Did some of you kill civilians?” - He said yes. I ask - “Did you?” - He said yes.
… The mercenaries from Poland or Chechens that are fighting for their [jihad], that can not live without war - those need to be eliminated.”

- “Have you personally seen Polish mercenaries?”
“No, but I’ve heard about them”.

* They avoided talking to civilians, had orders not to communicate. Civilians often came up to them. In Makeevka (town next to Donetsk), they were told the majority of locals in vicinity support the Kiev government. Civilians often brought them food and tea, they would take it, but avoid eating it just in case.

“If that’s true and 70% of people don’t support you, why did you come there?
- 70% of one town isn’t a big deal. One has to respect the wishes of the people as a whole. If Donetsk wants independence, they should have it. I talked to nurses and doctors here, they say they want independence and government like ours. One problem though: If, hopefully, DPR becomes independent, what are they going to do? ... They have no economy, no economy - no success.”

“- Will your family get any additional money for this?
- I don’t know. That’s how these things are in Russia - nobody knows. Maybe they will pay me, or maybe it will turn out officially I’ve been discharged [from the armed forces] long ago. My conscription term was over in November, maybe they will say I’m a volunteer.”

“-Do you regret this?
-Too late for this now. No regrets. I know I was fighting on the right side. … You see the news - Ukraine elections, “color” revolution, then Odessa and Mariupol [massacres]. When I was in basic training in Chita, I saw people being burned alive in Odessa. We were all appalled by it, that was wrong, inhuman.
I went… well it was wrong to send young conscripts like me here. But I went anyways. Not because of duty, but because justice had to be done. Here [in the Donbass] I saw how they [government] kill and abuse people. Justice has to be done for that, as well.
Sometimes, Ukies would go on our radio frequency. I remember one telling us: “You subhumans from Moscow and Rostov. We will kill you. Then we will kill your wives, children, we will get your parents. We will not stop. ... We will kill you like our Chechen brothers did, cut off your heads. We will send you home piece by piece.”

“- What will you do next?
War is over for me. I did my part for the DPR. Now I’ll live a peaceful life. Study and work. My body is recovering, working.
I’ve traveled around the world. Have been to Nepal, Tibet. It’s very pretty. Been to China, India, Mongolia. Been to Sochi. … But lake Baikal is best of all. I have a summer house there. ...

I don’t blame anyone from our side for what happened. This is combat - you don’t know the outcome. Maybe you win, maybe you’ll lose. Maybe you stay there, maybe you survive like me.”

“- Do you have any issues with Putin?
- I have no problems with him. He’s a very interesting man, of course. Crafty, “we’re there - we’re not there”. Tells the world there are no troops, yet here we are. On the other hand - think about it. If Ukraine joins EU, UN [he means NATO I think], they would be able to deploy their missiles here, and we would be in their sights. They wouldn’t be over the ocean, but right here. So this is also protecting ourselves, our security. Remember the Cold War - they wanted something, [deployed missiles in Turkey], we deployed ours in Cuba and they were like “Ok, ok, we’re pulling back”.
Right now, Russia is wary of them. They’ve only recently started recognizing Russia has its own interests. Back in the day, USSR and USA were two superpowers. USSR fell apart, now we’re trying to recover, they’re trying to push us back down, but we aren’t going to give in now. If they take Donbass and put their missiles here, they could hit Russia anytime.

- Has your political officer told you this?
- No, that is just what I feel and understand. I’m not an idiot, you know.
Some people don’t see it, yes. But I’ve asked officers, they say this is a possible scenario. So we are protecting ourselves in this war, as well.”

… Dordzhi was transferred to a hospital in Rostov last night. No one has contacted him or his family. His mother went to [the base of] his unit, and they said they have record of him being deployed and they will fulfill their obligations to him, pay all medical expenses.


PS. On the authenticity of the report:

I had my doubts about the authenticity of this: Novaya Gazeta is one of the most pro-American agencies operating in Russia, their reporting is very slanted and occasionally faked, and this interview seems far too long and well-worded for someone missing a face and hopped up on painkillers. No video or even audio record is available, and it does look suspiciously like something re-written after the fact.

Not to mention a few suspicious inconsistencies: the number of shells in a T72B is off, sight model implies T72B3, service number is missing a letter, location of the guys summer house is way off from his supposed hometown, etc. etc.. It is potentially possible that this interview was entirely imagined by the reporter - me, or any of the other bloggers I know can take a random soldier’s personal info and write a piece just like this.

Two reasons I decided to devote time to translation and inform LL of this (apart from how popular this is):
- First, the reporter in question has published several honest pieces on Donetsk and Gorlovka before, talking about indiscriminate government shelling killing multiple civilians daily

- Second, and most importantly, THERE ARE RUSSIAN TANKS IN UKRAINE. That won’t change even if this interview is partially embellished or fully fake. We already know that there are quite a few T72B3 in pictures and video from the conflict zone (check out for more pics). We know there are volunteers who recently served in the Russian army manning some of them. Whether their records show they are still serving or not - is that really so important for practical purposes? Merely a legal sticking point.
See the for further discussion.