Espreso. Global

Ukrainian warrior on Mariupol defense and terrorist attack in Olenivka

26 February, 2024 Monday

Kyrylo Masalitin, a veteran of the Azov Special Forces Brigade, has served for a decade, experiencing numerous battles, capture, and surviving a terrorist attack in Olenivka, along with sustaining shrapnel injuries in his leg

At first, he wanted to be a draft dodger, but then he became a volunteer

When the war with Russia began in 2014, Kyrylo was a 20-year-old student at the National Mining University, participating in the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv and Dnipro. He had never been involved in military affairs before. He admits that he initially wanted to avoid military service and, as they say now, become a draft dodger.

"I remember those days when the annexation of Crimea began. It was then that the first realization emerged that the revolution would continue. The methods of response by the authorities at that time were entirely pro-Russian. This is very typical for Russia: people come out, they are beaten with batons - everyone stays at home. But it works in Russia, and it doesn't work for us and never will," Kyrylo begins the conversation.

The man is originally from Horishni Plavni, Poltava region. His parents had no idea about their son's plans to go to war, as he was a student at the time. But the university started calling them and warning them about Kyrylo's intentions.

"In the summer of 2014 in Dnipro, my friends and I started preparing little by little. We held training sessions, practiced shooting on weekends, worked on tactics to have minimal knowledge. If in the first months I personally still thought it would all end quickly, then after Ilovaisk, I understood: it would drag on for more than a year," recalls Kyrylo.

The Azov Battalion was his immediate choice. However, since academic leave is not granted for service in volunteer units, he decided to skip the winter session and then enlist randomly, figuring out the rest as it came. "My mom cried, my dad accepted my choice, and said I was doing the right thing. Of course, they were very worried. They didn't refuse, but they were shocked," adds the soldier. But within a few days, Kyrylo garnered absolute support from all his relatives. They continue to support him to this day.

In Azov, soldiers' lives are treated with respect

Azov, which was still a battalion at the time, Kyrylo chose not by chance. For him, an important indicator was that in Azov, soldiers' lives were treated with the highest respect. As an example, he recalls the events in Ilovaisk.

"At that time, the Azov battalion was perhaps the only unit that withdrew before the city was surrounded. For me, as a civilian, it was an indicator that the commanders look at the bigger picture and value their personnel. Essentially, they value human life. It's been 10 years, and I understand that I was not mistaken," emphasized the fighter.

At the young age of 20, he was already a participant in the Pavlopil-Shyrokyne offensive operation, which took place in February 2015. He recalls his first battle calmly and without emotions. "Well, imagine: the end of 2014 - the beginning of 2015, my training was not at a very high level, relative to what you can get now. It wasn't easy to adapt. You have no idea what to expect, and when it starts, the survival mode kicks in, and you just do what needs to be done. On February 11, there was a second attempt from our side to storm the enemy positions. There was a plan, but in the place where I was, events unfolded slightly off-plan. Essentially, we were just enduring artillery duels, while it flew from side to side, it was impossible to lift our heads," recalls Kyrylo.

The Russians were not so much targeting us as wiping the city off the map

The Azov fighters prepared diligently and responsibly for the full-scale war throughout the years. Sometimes, without weekends or breaks, they greeted February 24, 2022, in full combat readiness.

"Our entire separate Special Operations unit was on standby at the bases. Everyone understood that it was about to begin. At 03:30 a.m., I woke up to the sound of my roommate's phone call; he happened to be on duty. We received the 'assembly' command – it's a combat alert. At the same moment, I heard an artillery barrage from the east, seemingly targeting our forward edge – the towns of Shyrokyne and Kominternove. That's how my day on February 24 started," recalled the serviceman. "And then came the defense of Mariupol, for a full 86 days. Azovstal Plant became the last line of defense, which we held and it became a symbol."

Before the soldiers moved to Azovstal, there were one and a half months of fighting for Mariupol itself and its outskirts. According to the defender, there was a breach on the right bank on April 15. And on the left bank, they held the defense for another week before retreating to the plant.

"I was struck by how the Russians destroyed the city. As soon as they could reach Mariupol with artillery and planes, they began to wipe it off the map. It was clear when they were targeting us, and when they were just aiming for anything within a designated square. They leveled people's homes to the ground. It was shocking how many civilians were killed. I remember driving through one intersection, and one day I saw three dead bodies lying right on the road, the next time I went there, there was already a pile of them. That's when I realized they were just dragging them out and stacking them there. They buried them in the courtyards, but there were so many dead that it was impossible to bury them all," the Azov fighter continues.

You either endure it or go insane

After the heroic defense of Mariupol, hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers found themselves in the hands of Russian invaders. Kyrylo Masalitin was among them. He ended up in Olenivka and was in that barrack where the terrorist attack, orchestrated by the Muscovites, took place. During his time in captivity, he lost 20 kilograms, although he claims he never had extra weight. After returning from captivity, he weighed only 55 kilograms.

Despite such harrowing memories, the soldier humorously recalls the daily life and conditions in the Olenivka barracks. There, he celebrated his birthday and stared death in the face.

For a month and a half, some of us lived in the yard because there was no space inside at all. We slept wherever there was a free spot. And it was the same in all the barracks. They fed us: pearl barley porridge in the morning, their version of cabbage soup for lunch, and another type of porridge for dinner. We called it 'porridge with dolphins.' The Russians kept repeating to us, 'but we are feeding you.' They considered it their great achievement.

Upon arrival at the prison, there were some conditional entertainments available. The guys had books they borrowed from the library at Azovstal. They made themselves chess sets, drew playing cards on pieces of paper. Masalitin adds that he personally was not subjected to physical torture, considering himself very lucky in that regard. However, moral humiliations were constant and directed at everyone.

"You have to endure all this because you simply have no choice. So either you go through it, or you go crazy. You can't prepare for it because you never feel safe there, you never know what may happen in the next minute, hour, day. You just have to accept that you're in such a reality and you have to go through it. That's it."

The Russians peculiarly treated the Azov soldiers - they hated and at the same time feared them, although they didn't show it. This was evident through their behavior, which was meticulous and peculiar. Kyrylo believes that the behavior of the Russians indicated their weakness.

"Look at their logic, or rather its absence: if you're already a prisoner of war, it's like a wounded beast, theoretically defeated, and there's no point in further humiliation. But they don't think that way. It's like children in school who, sensing someone's weakness, start picking on them. We didn't show any signs of weakness, but we were prisoners, and we couldn't give them a proper rebuff under those conditions," the defender says.

There was no feeling that I would die. Not today

Among other things, he remembers well the moment of the explosion that occurred right in the barrack where he and two hundred other comrades from three other barracks were moved the day before. He woke up to the Russian Grad rockets working around the camp. The first explosion occurred near the barrack. At the moment of the explosion, he was standing and just watching it, and a minute later, it hit the barrack itself. Kyrylo suffered shrapnel wounds to his abdomen, arms, and legs. He still has two fragments in his legs.

"To be honest, I simply got lucky to survive. I don't know why, but at that moment, there was no sense that I would die. Just a clear understanding that it wouldn't be today. I don't know how it works," reflects the fighter.

After the terrorist attack, he spent several weeks in a Donetsk hospital. Propagandists with cameras were sent to him there, asking questions to the captives under the influence of drugs. Then Kyrylo was returned to Olenivka.

"About the release, I didn't know anything. They just gathered us by the list, took us out in the morning, and left Olenivka around 6 or 7 in the evening. The first hint that we might be exchanged was when I heard the last names of our wounded guys. I understood that they were severely wounded and that it made no sense to send them to another colony. Although I knew that logic and Russians were incompatible things, I still hoped it was an exchange. Then they took us to Taganrog on KamAZ trucks, transferred us to a plane. It became completely unclear where and why – whether we were flying very far or back home," recalls Kyrylo.

Three components of a good serviceman: discipline, training, motivation

Kyrylo knows from his own experience how important it is to work with personnel and has seen the journey of the unit from battalion to brigade.

"At a certain point, when the second or third Minsk agreements took place in 2015, we were taken off the front line. It became clear then that the only way to exist was through development and professionalism. The unit chose this path and developed, trained, and fought. We tried to do our job as qualitatively as possible. The defense of Mariupol later demonstrated in practice that what we were preparing for was not in vain. In the conditions we faced during the defense, if the unit had been poorly trained and unmotivated, the defense would have ended very quickly," Maslo says.

He recalls an incident when his comrades found themselves surrounded in the city with only two bullets left in each of their magazines. Therefore, the fights literally came down to the last bullet.

He says he considers most of the guys who are fighting to be heroes and doesn't want to single anyone out. Moreover, warriors often show heroism not immediately.

"In my practice, there were people whom you couldn't tell during the training phase that they would become brave warriors or possess a strong character and so on. But when they start fighting, you realize that you were wrong and didn't see a warrior in them. And vice versa, there are those who seem like they could single-handedly liberate the entire Ukraine before the combat starts. But then they struggle and can't adapt quickly. That's why you can't pick out specific traits in recruits. But three components must be present in any serviceman. These are three fundamental factors – discipline, training, and motivation," he emphasizes.

Kyrylo Masalitin believes that Ukrainian soldiers can succeed in this war. Although he prefers to avoid banal phrases, aiming to bring victory not with words but with deeds.

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