Friday, May 27, 2022

‘Mariupol is the city of the dead.’ First account of a soldier’s life on the front lines

Lieutenant Ilya Samoilenko caresses his beard, his background is a white wall, while the sounds and shadows of orders being issued off-camera and soldiers marching back and forth are his constant companions.

“It’s a total war, because the Russian idea is to eliminate all Ukrainians,” he said.

CTVNews.ca interviews Samoilenko, an officer of the Ukrainian National Guard’s Azov Regiment, during the recent ceasefire in Mariupol on Sunday.

Samoilenko is one of several Azov troops inside the Azovstal steel plant, widely seen as the last bastion of Ukrainian defense inside the coastal city that has been destroyed by Russian air raids since the invasion 10 weeks ago . He’s a noticeable figure, with an eye patch and prosthetic arm – he’s been with the regiment for many years.

The Azov Regiment is a controversial unit within the Ukrainian military, originally a militia force formed when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and in a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to torture, rape, The allegation was credibly in a report about the ensuing struggle of beatings. press threats

Samoilenko shared firsthand with CTVNews.ca his answers to questions about the Mariupol events, the wider Ukrainian war effort, and the regiment’s extremist reputation.

CTVNews.ca is unable to verify some of the claims made by Samoilenko due to the nature of the war effort.

The following anecdotes have been edited for clarity, brevity, grammar, and length.

Your fight at the Azovstal Steel Plant of Mariupol on Azov

The Azov Regiment is the last remaining Ukrainian army inside Mariupol after a bloody and protracted urban battle. They are forced to take refuge inside the Azovstal Steel Plant, a Soviet-era facility filled with underground tunnels and bunkers, for several weeks.

On Tuesday, reports emerged that the plant was being dispatched by the Russian military in hopes of ending the standoff with Azov. CTVNews.ca was unable to reach Samoilenko to confirm at the time of publication.

“We are fighting on our own, surrounded, surrounded, blocked, [with] Friendly forces at least 100 kilometers away from us, ”Samoilenko said on Sunday. “We don’t feel abandoned. We have a daily relationship with the high commands. They know about our actions and what’s most important. We can rely on our resources and our ability. We can rely on someone to help us. Can’t believe it. We are doing it. We have suffered heavy casualties in the last few months, yet we know our potential. There are many people here who have been injured in the fighting. They are back. They are cured. And there they are constantly getting injured fighting. Well, this is our symbol. ”

For Samoilenko, the war against Russia is not just about fighting for the “survival of Ukraine”, but for the “free world”.

“We know very well that the Russians, if they are not stopped … they will go further to Poland, Belarus, the Baltic countries, maybe further to Europe, the imperialist views of Russia, not only Putin … they are doing it every time,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly expressed no further plans beyond his original outline of the so-called “special military operation” that launched an invasion of Ukraine. Its focus has shifted from capturing Kyiv and overthrowing its government to expanding Russian control over the eastern region of Ukraine.

Samoilenko said that the Azov regiment killed at least 2,000 Russian soldiers and wounded more than 7,000, inflicting enough casualties that the Russians “raised two waves of reserves” and dropped them at Mariupol.

“It accounts for 15 percent of enemy casualties in the whole of Ukraine …. and 10 percent of enemy armor, tanks and armored fighting vehicles losses,” he said. At this time CTVNews.ca is unable to confirm the Russian loss at Mariupol due to lack of data.

“For us, it’s all or nothing. The situation is that we’ve been fighting against Russia for eight years in a hot period of war. A lot of people here have a wide range of war experience, war experience. All those wars Perfected, ”he said. “Russia made a big mistake. Big mistake with invading Ukraine, because they couldn’t imagine how crazy people would be if they did. But he did. And here we are and we’re crazy. that’s the point.”

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Allegations of Russian war crimes inside Mariupol

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, harrowing accounts of rape, torture, civilian executions and other war crimes have continued. In Mariupol, a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital sparked global outrage after images and videos of pregnant women injured on stretchers surfaced.

“Russian forces killed at least 25,000 people in Mariupol alone, and at least 5,000 more around Ukraine,” Samoilenko said. “Their tactics are very blunt and simple, they use heavy artillery power, indiscriminate airstrikes and bombardments … and their primary targets are civilians.”

Samoilenko remarked that civilian casualties in the battle far exceeded those of the military, alleging that it was a purposeful action by Russian troops as modern combat capabilities allow “precisely guided battleships”.

“If you’re a soldier, if you’re a soldier, and your goal is to block the enemy’s ability to resist, your primary command targets will be command points, heavy weapons, radar systems… not civilian homes and city blocks, ” They said. “this is outrageous.”

Samoilenko said the Azov regiment, along with several other Ukrainian entities, is trying to publish as much “evidence” as possible that the Russian military is committing war crimes.

“All these materials should be used as evidence at the International War Tribunal in The Hague,” he said. “The problem is that we are trapped here by the Russians … We are surrounded from all directions, and the Russians will not let us go – because we are witnesses.”

Samoilenko cited satellite photos of alleged mass graves in Mariupol as evidence of at least 15,000 deaths and alleged that the Russians are using mobile crematoriums to help hide evidence.

“Just imagine the situation. Imagine you’re a civilian and the Russians bombed your house, ruined your life, destroyed a school for your kids, destroyed a hospital, something from your house.” Block away, convenience store destroyed,” he said. “And then these ‘liberators,’ who are on bright green tanks…they’re just dropping a few pieces of bread in your mouth. When you’ve been sitting in the basement for more than two months, you haven’t seen sunlight for months. Just think of the feelings of those children who are making toys out of empty shells. They are making their own childish songs about the kind of bombs and rockets they are dropping…they just stole their childhood”

“Citizens should not be a part of it, because in Mariupol, it is living in hell,” he continued. “And right now, Russians, we hear their gossip in the radio about a group of young women walking down the street and some soldiers talking about how they should hold these women, bring beer and have fun. And by that I don’t mean to have a tea party.”

On the prestige of the Azov regiment and allegations of militancy

At one point in the interview, Samoilenko brought up allegations of the Azov regiment’s reputation and his extremist views, which CTVNews.ca previously reported.

“We’re fighting for the good, but there’s a bit of bitterness in this situation about our legacy … that we are the neo-Nazi, far-right extremists who provide white supremacy terrorism around the world,” he said. “It’s basically not true because we are just patriots of our country, we want to defend it.”

When CTVNews.ca brought up the fact that members of the regiment were known to sport Nazi symbols such as the “SS” Lightning Bolt, Sonnrad or “Black Sun” and the Wolfsangal Rune alongside other extremist insignia, Samoilenko said “I know we are.” But he added: “The wolf is not the wolf, it just has some similarity… I agree it looks like it, but it isn’t. We don’t share the ideology.”

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“Black Sun is because some of the people who formed the basis of Azov in 2014 were very interested in European mysticism. But I personally, I do not share it [view]”samoilenko continued. [in Azov], Yes, but we’re not… there’s only one thing we share. Each one of us is very determined to defend our country.”

The regiment, formerly known as the “Azov Battalion”, was transformed into the Ukrainian National Guard, where it remains a semi-separate unit with its own command structure, but still the official army of the country. is linked to.

In the ensuing years, despite attempts to present itself as a Reformation, the Azov Regiment has been linked to the far-right National Corps party leadership, and has been accused of harboring and encouraging members who are anti-Semitic. , neo-Nazis and others. Extremist ideology in their ranks, with seemingly impunity. Azov has attacked anti-fascist demonstrations, city council meetings, media outlets, art exhibitions, the LGBTQ2S+ community, foreign students, and Roma people.

Samoilenko further stated that the Azov Regiment had been denied arms, training and other military assistance from the US, Britain and other NATO countries and instead sought to learn tactics to make them more effective in fighting Russia than the US. Army field manuals were taken. forces.

“We knew by this time, we were preparing for it – and you can see the evidence of the results of those actions right now in our combat capability…. We can teach the rest of the world and the rest of the Ukrainian armies to fight. This Kind of,” he said.

CTVNews.ca asked Samoilenko if he understood why NATO countries would deny training and military assistance to the regiment.

“I admit we had some far-right people….we had these pictures with the swastika, it is true. I will not deny, but it was far from today,” he alleged, adding that the regiment had “cleared” its ranks from those who shared those views. “This childish subcultural symbolism has been thrown out of our organization.”

Asked about the recent reporting by CTVNews.ca on the involvement of the Canadian Armed Forces through Operation UNIFIER in the training of extremist factions in the Ukrainian Army, including the Azov Regiment, Samoilenko confirmed some of the findings.

“If you want to hear the interesting thing – we sent some of our sergeants to the Canadian Army Training Center of the National Guard here in Ukraine in Operation UNIFIER, who were excluded from the course because they said ‘we will not work with them ,” They said. “But you know what was very interesting, our instructors also came there to prove their skills with the sergeant, and they knew the material better in the sense of tactical medicine … after that, when these guys [Canadians and Azov Regiment members] met in person, our coaches and their trainers, they became friends – because a lot of this political nimbus, ‘these guys are bad, we won’t work with them’ aura – it disappeared because they’re professionals, they Speak on the language of professionals. ,

a message to the world

CTVNews.ca asked whether Samoilenko wanted to issue a statement or send a message to the world in view of the war in Ukraine.

“Stop being afraid of Russia,” he said. “It’s not that hard.”

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Edited by Phil Hanno

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