Former POW Maxim Ermolaev: "Our commander accidentally shot himself in the train..."
Maxim Ermolaev from Uzhgorod is only 25 years old, and he has already experienced war, captivity by separatists, abuse, hunger and fear that he would never see his loved ones. On September 24, last year, he returned home after 27 days in captivity. Since then, he has never spoken to journalists about the war, but now, when the horrors are somewhat forgotten, he agreed.
"The captain shot himself in the head in a train compartment"
On the day, when we met with Maxim, he had just received the combatant documents. That is 10 months after returning home. The guy quit the army, he says, he has served long enough. Especially since the separatists made it clear: if they catch him again, there will be no exchange, they will kill him immediately.
"April 9, last year, I received a call. I was not hiding, went to the military commissariat immediately. There, they sent me to the 51st Mechanized Brigade and said that I would spend there only 10 days. I realized that it would take more than a few days, when we were taken by bus to Volodymyr-Volynsky. There, we lived in an old abandoned military unit, sleeping on mattresses on the floor. I was sleeping on eight stools stacked next to each other.
5 days later we were sent to the military range. There was no training as such. They let us fire only 4 cartridges from a rifle, otherwise we would spend whole days lying in the field.
After the "training" at the range, we were put in a train and sent to Donetsk region. Our commander accidentally shot himself in the train. He was sitting in the compartment with soldiers and showing them how to disassemble and assemble a gun. He assembled it, put it to his head and fired. I do not know whether he did intentionally or accidentally, but most likely it happened inadvertently. It is good that no one else in the car was hurt. I was riding in another compartment, heard the shot and ran there right away. It was the first death I saw on this war.
"After Volnovakha, there was a revolt in the 51st Brigade"
Our base in Donetsk region was in Novoukrainka. Soldiers were distributed to different checkpoints. I was serving in the Rapid Response Team of the 3rd Battalion, that's when I took part in fights and came under fire for the first time. A lot our men would die then, because we were completely unprepared for battles. For example, I was given an old uniform, a helmet made in 1947 and uncomfortable boots. Nobody had body armor, there were few vehicles and they would often break down. After 18 of our soldiers had been killed in Volnovakha on May 22, a revolt started at the base of the 51st Brigade in Novoukrainka. The soldiers would say that they did not want to fight with their bare hands.
After the scandal, the 51st Brigade was taken out of the ATO area and sent to the military range "Shyroky Lan" in Mykolaiv region. There, we were properly trained, learned how to arrange a checkpoint properly, fired from different weapons, had medical training. In June, we were sent back to war. This time to Rubizhne, and then to Severodonetsk.
After Severodonetsk we were supposed to move to Lysychansk, but it was difficult, because all bridges across the Seversky Donets had been blown up. Therefore, the 24th Brigade moved to Lysychansk from the other side and liberated the city. And we were sent to Donetsk region - to Starobeshevo and Ilovaysk.
"We went to swim and came under fire from "Uragans"
It is near Starobeshevo where I came under fire from "Uragans" for the first time, and to be honest, I will probably never be so much scared as I was then. We went to swim at the pond near our positions. We took neither helmets, nor body armor. Suddenly, in the middle of a corn field we heard a strange sound that I will never forget. Then, there was a loud whistle, flash with a black smoke in the air, and then everything around began to explode, like in science fiction films, and pieces of corn and soil flew into the air.
We were literally naked and barefoot, had no shelter. We saw a small ditch nearby, dived into it, and whispered "Our Father" until the shelling was over. Later, a local girl, whose aunt was living in Russia at the border with Donetsk region, told us that the "Uragans" had been launched from Russia.
That girl was virtually the only one who openly supported Ukraine then. She helped us a lot, and because of that she later had to flee her home because separatists were hunting for her. The majority of people openly hated us. It was very difficult mentally.
So I served until August 24. We were then holding positions near the village of Dzerkalne in an abandoned farm. On that day we saw through binoculars tanks approaching us. For a long time we could not understand whether those were our tanks or not, because they also had some white marks. The commanders did not give clear orders, just told us to wait. And so we were waiting until Russian tanks got too close to us. We had no chances in a battle against them, because we had only one tank, and they had at least 15.
Then we had the impression that they knew the exact location of all our positions. They opened fire at us from all weapons that they had, they would shell us for two days. We were hiding in trenches, and the command would just say on radio: hold on, the reinforcement is coming. Leaping ahead, I will tell that no one came. It was very scary, we were even drinking valerian from a large jar to calm down. It would not help.
A few of our guys tried to break through, but they were shot. Overall, there were 90 soldiers of the 51st brigade entrenched in that farm. On the third day, we were delivered an ultimatum: either we surrender, or they open fire from mortars. We agreed unanimously and then realized that we had done the right thing, because were saw dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles hidden nearby. Raising our hands up, we came out of the trenches. We were captured by Russians, as far as I know, from Pskov. They took us to the field, where we stayed for a few days. We were not given any food, so we would eat and drink watermelons that were growing there.
The Russians, who were guarding us, admitted that they were soldiers of the regular army and considered themselves heroes. We tried to talk with them, to explain why we were there. Maybe, some of them had doubt after those conversations, but most of them were convinced that they were doing the right thing.
"I realized that I am a slave for them and my life is worth nothing"
On the third day we were put in large covered truck and taken somewhere. Through holes we saw that we were riding off roads first, and then suddenly drove onto the highway in Russia. We understood that because there were Russian license plates on cars and their police on the roads. For two hours we were driving on the highway, and then off roads again. Thus we were brought to Snizhne. There, we lived in a garage at the local police precinct. We slept on the ground, then got hold of a few mattresses and blankets. There, I ate some bread with sausage for the first time after all those watermelons. It was so delicious! But then they would feed us rather poorly.
Every morning at six or seven o'clock we were taken out to work. Shortly before that, on July 15, aviation had bombed the tax office and two high-rises in Snizhne. I do not know whether it was a mistake of our army, or how it happened... So they sent us to clear the rubbles. The work was physically very hard, and there was so much dust around that we could not breathe.
I do not know how guys can endure six months there. It is morally very hard. You understand that you are a slave, your life is worth nothing for them. When they humiliate you, you can not say anything, you just have to look down and take it. Thus, I spent 27 days in captivity. During this time, some of our guys were exchanged, so there was hope that they would take me from there. Several times separatists allowed me to call home. It was sort of a kindness in return for my family transferring a certain sum, say 10 hryvnia, on their phone account. I knew that my mother was knocking an all doors in Uzhgorod, at the military commissariat, and the Security Service of Ukraine, and was even going to go to the Donbass for me. I dissuaded her.
And one fine day, they came up to us, called several names, including mine. We were put on a bus, taken to Donetsk, and from there to some checkpoint. There were a lot of journalists with cameras, the OSCE, the military from both sides. Then we were taken to Kramatorsk, fed, given cigarettes. Then they took us to Kharkiv, where we finally could wash, have our hair cut, sleep well. I was so skinny that I could not recognize myself!
What has changed for me after the captivity? I became more confident in myself because I never thought that I could endure such tribulations. I sleep well, but I get startled by fireworks. Also, when I returned, I was very angry that people here go to discos and festivals, while guys are killed on the war. It's not fair".
Source - "Pro Zahid"
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