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Struggle at the front-line, struggle in the rear: Life of 72nd Mechanized Brigade

Author : Iryna Sampan

January 15, 2018, Ukraine’s 72nd Mechanized Brigade turns 76
10:55, 16 January 2018

Read the original text at 112.ua.

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November 5, 2017, servicemen of the 72nd separate mechanized brigade "named for Chornykh Zaporozhtsiv" (72 SMB) in honor of the Ukrainian People's Army Black Zaporizhian Cavalry Regiment returned from the war zone to Bila Tserkva, to the point of its permanent deployment. It was previously named the 29th Rifle Division (2nd formation) and then the 72nd Guards Rifle Division of the Soviet Ground Forces. In 1957, it became a motor rifle division.

When journalists arrived at the front lines or another hot spot, the direction of their work is clear – they should tell about the operational situation, shelling, wounded, dead, combat mood and greetings from the combat zone. When the unit is in the rear, few people are interested in watching marching up and down the square or what the military is doing in the time between marching and what are they doing after the war in general. However, the fierce struggle continues in the rear, is just has another character.

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"The unit came out of the anti-terrorist operation(ATO) staffed by 60%, the moral and psychological state of the personnel is satisfactory. The brigade is ready to carry out the task set by the President of Ukraine and the state to protect the sovereignty and integrity of our state," says the chief of staff of the 72 SMB Yuriy Ivanov.

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"They are all ready to return to the fighting," said Lieutenant-Colonel Olexander Samarsky, deputy commander of the brigade for moral and psychological support. "They need a little rest, they need to go home and after that, they would be ready to leave. There is a very simple reason for this. We do not have any adaptation program for the servicemen, no any rehabilitation program. The programs of the battalion or brigade level are the only programs. The military must go somewhere for the rest, that is important. I have neither financial reserve nor opportunities. Recently, we spoke with Minister Klimkin, he promised to send some soldiers for rehabilitation abroad."

Since 2014, the brigade has been fighting quite seriously: it defended Mariupol and Volnovaha, took part in the battles on the Ukrainian-Russian border, defended the Donetsk airport, released the volunteers' battalion near Ilovaisk, and now they were keeping the defense in Avdiyivka and Verkhnetoretske.

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Currently, the brigade is at home, the command analyzes its combat experience. I asked the chief of staff about the weaknesses of the brigade, which should be improved. Of course, the first answer is military technology, the replacement of old models with new ones, or at least their modernization. The second biggest issue is also not new – the army is simply buried in papers and bureaucracy.

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Well, the third problem is the qualitative selection of personnel at the level of military commissariats. Yes, we can boast with that quite high figure of contract soldiers, who came to the army (at least for the last year). But the commanders will then work with these people on the ground, and they can tell plenty of unpleasant stories.

Yuriy Ivanov joined the brigade from the very beginning of the war. During the events on the Izvarino-Marynivka line of the front, he served the commander of the command post, the deputy chief of staff for combat management, and was planning the hostilities operations.

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When I was preparing for the interview and remembered the events of 2014, I saw a great article in Wikipedia about the military operations. I do not know who wrote it, but there is a large list of basic mistakes and the reasons for the defeat, among them there were "unprepared personnel", " ineffectiveness of the control system," "enemy advantage" and many others. What did you do wrong?

Actually, we all started to learn and get the skills in 2014. Honestly, I will not say that the Armed Forces have done something wrong. They did as they should. We had a plan, our task - to cover the state border line – was voiced, and it was fulfilled. Speaking about the command of the military unit ... I think there were no mistakes.

And from the point of view of the human factor? Only the fool is not afraid of anything. In the very beginning, in 2014, we just did not have enough experience.

The last winter was “the hottest” one, especially in January and February. From 2014 we have got the most difficult part - the Avdiyivka industrial zone and Butivka mine. When we went there, the personnel was ready, in particular, the first battalion on the Avdiyivka industrial zone. This first battalion was trained with the involvement of specialists from the United States and Canada in the Starychi at the Yavorivsky landfill. And it really helped them.

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During battles in the area of the Avdiyivka industrial zone, the 72 SMB fighters managed to knock out the militants from the “Almaz” position. In the battles, 10 servicemen of the brigade were killed, including the deputy commander of the battalion, captain Andriy Kizilo, Hero of Ukraine. Six fighters (one of whom posthumously) have got an Order of Bogdan Khmelnytsky of III degree, 15 fighters received Order "For Courage" of the III degree (7 of whom posthumous).

Since when are you in the army?

Since 2005, I am a career officer. I have graduated from Odesa Institute of the Land Forces and came to serve in the 72 brigade. I was the chief of staff of the battalion, and then I graduated from the academy and was sent to the command of the Land Force. I served there half a year. Before the war, I have returned to the brigade.

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The rank and file sergeant structures, actually, interested me. Their training, growth, and motivation. Captain Konstantyn Rudenko, commander of the company, with the call sign "Basalt," says that his contract has ended already in April this year, but so far he is thinking whether to sign the next one because he just does not want to leave the guys.

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"Where should I go? The crowds of guys come to me and ask to stay. I am responsible not only for myself but also for those people. It is very difficult and complicated. I am 45 years old, I am not a boy, I do not have enough health to run here and there, but I am ready to fight. They listen to me only, you know," the company laughed.

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You mean that this way, which you have passed since 2005, was not enough to feel experienced enough in 2014?

It is impossible to learn at the polygons, until ... You see, we studied the theory, but there was no practice. And every hostilities or conflict, each time, depending on the circumstances that develop, lead to a new way of thinking or military decision-making.

Has the team grown rapidly since 2014?

It has grown very fast. Since 2014, all the tasks assigned to the team have been fulfilled. With each rotation, the professional level of the officers, sergeants or soldiers is constantly growing.

Yes, I think about those events, I analyze them. They are just unforgettable. Your position does not play that role but the main work is still done by the soldiers. The soldier is the link on which the officer depends. We remember those who died, each commander must take care of his personnel, because the most difficult thing is to look in the eyes of the parents.

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Now I will tell you about the labor office. A soldier comes from ATO and resigns from Ukraine’s Armed Forces, and registers in a labor office. They take into consideration the salary of his last year, together with the ATO fee. And this is quite good money, I should admit, something like $ 625-715. Then the state pays him some $ 180-200 within three months. Then this amount is reduced to $ 140 for six months. He waits during the winter, comes back to us in the spring and says: "All right, guys, I am ready to serve again, everything is fine." Then he again signs a contract for half a year and leaves again. This is how it works.

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This story was told to me by the officer of the 72 SMB, but I have already heard it before, because again - this is the problem of the whole Ukraine’s Armed Forces. However, do not rush to draw conclusions regarding such servicemen. In the ATO zone, the soldier gets his $ 250 cash back, plus payments for the first line up to $ 350. The soldier remembers that his family lives in the rear, and its members have to eat something and pay for renting an apartment, utility service, pay for a kindergarten or a school, buy clothes. A serviceman leaves something for himself, and something he sends to the family.

Related: Memory Alley of ATO soldiers was opened In Kyiv

Now let us imagine the situation. The subunit is withdrawn from the ATO area to some point of permanent deployment. What does it mean? First of all, it means minus $350 monthly. The situation with food is not that well too. The enlisted soldiers are fed three times a day, contract workers get only the lunch, officers are not fed at all. There is no shelter, because the place in the barracks is given to the enlisted soldiers, first of all, and non-native contract soldiers, but not to all of them. That is, it is necessary to rent accommodation, to spend money for travel and food so that some $100 remain from the salary to be sent to the family. It is more profitable to quit, live at home with your relatives, receive normal money, and return to the service before the brigade leaves for combat positions.

Yes, the state compensates a bit for the subletting of housing for servicemen of the Armed Forces. In Kyiv, this is $107 per month, in the regional centers this amounts to $80 per month, in other localities - $50 per month. If the military has three or more family members, they pay more.

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In October, the President Petro Poroshenko announced that it is planned to build 100 new hostels for contractors in 2018. These hostels are expected to comply with NATO standards. Obviously, in the future, this will solve part of the problem with housing, but now the military would be happy even to live in Khrushev’s project apartment.

Probably, for many times have you heard about this phenomenon when servicemen do not want to return from ATO zone back to the civilian life. That is, they want to go home for a short time, to see their relatives and then go back to the front. And you can scream about the post-traumatic syndrome as much as you like to, but more important factor here is the confidence of the rank-and-file or officer that he and his family have a place to live, what is, and that someone needed what he did on the front line.

The 72nd separate mechanized brigade "named for Chornykh Zaporozhtsiv" is a very unique in its military way, its people, with their stories and actions, but not unique with the problems that these people will face when they leave the war zone.

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