Ukrainian Army Commanders Tell All – Conversation From Bunker

Apr 24, 2022 67.4K Views 1.3K Comments

Deep in a bunker in an undisclosed Ukrainian town on the front lines are a battalion commander and chief of staff from the Ukrainian Army willing to talk to us via zoom. Join me as we get a unique perspective of this war directly from the source.

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► Video edited by: Natalia Santenello

– And you’re both
battalion commanders
for the Ukrainian Army?
– We don’t have another way,
just one way, fight and win.
– It’s not like regular war?
– We pay a big price to be Ukrainian,
and we deserve to be Ukrainian.
– Is there a way to get
the light on you guys,
on your faces?
– Easy. Okay, man, just turn on lights.
– Not happening.
– We are in bunker, man.
– Is there any way you can put
the camera up a little higher?
Is there a book, or
something sitting around,
or not really?
– Yes, everything
for the US citizen.
– No, I want it for you.
I want you to look the best here.
– Be brave, be American.
– Be Ukrainian, we’re all looking
up to you, Alex.
Okay, guys, I have a very interesting video
for you today.
We have two Ukrainian battalion commanders
for the Ukrainian Army in a bunker,
right now, agreeing to
talk to us on camera.
I’ve been trying to get
these guys on camera
for many of nights, and last night
they couldn’t talk because they had
to actually go fight Russians.
There were bombings
outside of their bunker.
This story is very personal to me,
for those that don’t know,
I lived in the Ukraine
for four years.
My wife is Ukrainian.
Lived in Kyiv, the
capital from 2016 to 2020.
That’s why I’m going more in on
the political stories with Ukraine
than I typically go in on anywhere else,
because I have that very close connection
to the country.
So, we have the great
privilege and unique access
to talk to these guys.
Let’s jump in here.
Alex and Alex.
Is Alex one of your best friends?
– Yes, one of them.
It’s like emotional safe place, man.
– Are you sick of Alex yet?
– Not yet, because we’ve been
living [together]
just like couple of weeks.
You know it’s like you married.
The first year is the
best and the next one
is the worst.
– You’re both battalion commanders
for the Ukrainian Army?
– He’s battalion commander.
– I am chief.
– Alex is the chief, okay.
– I am the 2nd chief, I am chief of staff.
– After me.
– So, the setting here,
you’re in a bunker,
is that what I’m seeing?
– Yes.
– Can you
put the camera around?
Can we see what it looks like in there?
– It’s like eight meters long.
– Yeah, we have two bed, two,
how you say this, room?
Two bedroom.
– And did you guys build this?
– Yes.
– Yeah.
– How long did it take you
to build a bunker like this?
– It takes probably like… One day.
– Wow, how many
of you guys down there?
– In this bunker
lives me and Alex,
and also, like duty officer.
– You guys both have families?
– Yes.
– Yup.
– Wives, kids?
– I have wife and five year daughter.
– We are waiting for kids.
– Oh, okay, me too.
I haven’t started yet, but I’m waiting.
Eventually it’ll happen.
So, when was the last time
you guys saw your wives?
– 1st, or 2nd March.
– Okay.
– The last
time I have seen my wife
when war started.
I just moved my wife and my family,
and went to fight.
– Are they both
in safe places right now?
– Yes.
– Yeah.
– Okay, that’s gotta reduce
a little stress, right?
– Yes.
– Yeah.
– You can concentrate on your work
and they try to support us,
not bother us, they
understand what we do.
They just keep support us.
– Yeah, I have a friend
from Mariupol, who I was going to do
a conversation like this with.
He really wanted to do it, but then,
he couldn’t because he doesn’t wanna put
his family in jeopardy.
He hasn’t talked to them for weeks.
He said he saw his parents on the news
in a food line, so he
knew they were alive,
but, you know, his situation is
everyone’s in Mariupol
and he doesn’t even know.
So, I can’t even imagine the burden
of that… Not knowing.
Alex on the right here, you’ve been
in the Ukrainian Army since 2014, right?
– I became officer in 2014.
I graduated from the Military Academy.
– Okay, okay.
– And I was graduated
from the Military Academy from 2012
so before the war started, yeah.
– Alex was in Crimea.
– [Peter] He was what? In Crimea?
– Yeah, I have been in Crimea
in the period when the Russian units,
or green units came.
– So, how is this time different
for you guys, 2014 versus…
When did
this start, February 24th?
How does it feel differently for you guys?
– A lot.
Like Ukraine Armed Forces changed.
They have a new generation
of the Ukrainian officers, who grew up
in the combat action.
Also, we have much better
tools to buy
to rebuild our Armed Forces.
We became powerful, stronger,
and our people are motivated.
And the best thing is that every soldier,
every officer understands
who is the enemy.
– You guys are the heroes to the world,
or a lot of the world, at least.
At least, in the West,
there’s a ton of support.
Zelenskyy is looked at as like, wow,
everyone’s like, “Wow, look at how strong
that leader is, I wish we
had somebody like that.”
I think,
he’s being seen that way
all around Europe, the
States, other countries.
– [Alex] Yeah.
– How important is that to you guys
to have that leadership right now?
– You feel
leadership in each stage,
start from the president and
go down to all the
generals and commanding officer.
Everybody understands,
that we will win this war
because we fight for
our freedom and independence.
– Yeah, we have motivation more
than Russian units who came
to our land for fight.
And also, not too much people
in the world believed that Ukraine
can endure so long time.
– Right.
And this is why we look like…
I don’t know… Strong
and powerful country.
– Yeah.
– And we can stop
the second in the world,
Russian army.
– Yeah, it’s been amazing to watch.
I mean, the big victory
so far has been pushing
the Russians north out of Kyiv,
and Northern Ukraine, right?
That was unbelievable.
– Also, we had some small victory,
maybe you have heard
like a couple days ago.
The flagmanship, Russian flagmanship
was sinked by…
Ukraine side says it
was sunk by Ukrainian anti-ship missiles,
but Russia says it’s destroyed by themselves
because of the detonated…
– [Peter] They
dropped a birthday cake
and a candle lit the ship on fire,
that’s what happened.
– Yeah.
– Yeah. (chuckles)
– [Peter] Something like that.
So, was that big for you guys,
that victory of destroying
that symbolic ship?
– Yeah, and that ship has name “Moscow”.
It was symbolic, yeah.
– [Peter] Right.
Right, so this might seem
like a silly question,
but when you’re out fighting,
and feel free to stop
me wherever you want, obviously.
Have you come up in contact
with Russian soldiers?
Are you like face to face,
or are you very far detached from them,
or how does that work?
– Probably like 10 days ago,
we have captured two of
them, two Russian guys.
Actually, that was two
guys from Donetsk region,
who came through the Crimea, like-
– [Peter] What’s that like,
capturing those guys?
– After that what they did
with the Ukrainian
cities like Mariupol.
Around Kyiv…
– They killed a lot of civilians.
They killed and wounded a lot
of women, they raped them.
When we captured the guys,
I will say about myself, I feel like hate,
or something like that.
– [Peter] Right.
– But we captured
not official Russian units,
it was like from Donetsk region.
– [Peter] Mm-hmm.
– Not official Russian unit,
I mean not from Russia.
– Yeah, they…
– It was mixed feeling kind of, I was-
– They were civilian and-
– They just-
– Russian troops catch them
and make them military.
– And put their uniform.
– [Peter] Oh…
– It would be better if
we captured official Russian unit,
or official Russian soldiers.
– [Peter] Right.
– It would be great.
– How does that work with…
Okay, some Ukrainians
have family members
in Russia, some Russians
have family members in Ukraine.
Have you seen any of, any friends,
or know anyone that’s going through that?
Like having family there,
or what’s going on with that?
Because Russia tells a
totally different story
than what you’re seeing.
Do you have any experiences with that?
– I not have relatives
in Russia, actually, so…
– [Peter] You don’t, okay.
– My blood sister in 2010,
she moved to Donetsk region,
and we had very good relationship
before war started.
But from 2014, she really changed her mind
and she started to support Donetsk region
and Russian troops.
– Right.
– And from that time
we didn’t have any
connection, good connection.
She had and also, she has right now,
a lot of Russian propaganda
about Ukrainian troops, Ukrainian units,
“They killed civilian”
“And Ukrainians were doing bad stuff”
“And Russian units like
better in the world”
“The best in the world,
and they wanted to make”
“this country and world better”
– Well, the Russian argument
at least, Putin’s argument
is they have to cleanse Ukraine
of the Nazi element, right?
And so, correct me where I’m wrong here.
Part of the Azov battalion,
maybe a couple thousand might have
a far right Nazi ideology.
Or how would you say
that, if someone says,
hey Ukraine’s full of
Nazi’s, what would you say?
– I don’t wanna speak about
the Azov unit because
I never served there,
I’m not a part of them.
I know that Azov is one of the bravest
and powerful unit in Ukraine,
and they show this in Mariupol.
They stay and they fight there,
and I know that they will
stay there to the end.
– [Peter] Yeah.
– Because they are the bravest guys
in the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
And about the national movement
in Ukraine, like… We are Ukrainian.
– [Peter] Yeah.
– I think, everybody
needs to have something
in your heart.
– [Peter] Right.
I don’t know if you know US culture
and politics too well, but…
So, we have this group called Antifa,
and we have the Proud Boys, right?
And one would be considered far left,
one would be considered far right.
That would be the equivalent of saying
a country’s gonna attack the USA
because of the Proud Boys, or Antifa.
These are very, very small groups
in numbers, they make up
almost nothing, right?
And so, the argument I find to be
a little bit silly because in all my time
in Ukraine living there,
I never came across any neo-Nazi ideology.
And of course, it exists, and it exists
in all countries.
But the argument is quite ridiculous,
especially since you have
a Jewish president (chuckles),
that obviously doesn’t believe
in neo-Nazi ideology.
– [Alex] People are crazy.
Look at the size of Ukraine
and also look at the size of Russia.
Like, we don’t attack Russia,
Russian attack Ukrainian.
And then, if you look down the history,
you can see that Russian, many times try
to take our freedom.
They try to control Ukraine,
they change language, change history.
– Rewriting the history.
– Make crimes against
Ukrainian people, kill
a lot of people, struggling…
But now, now is the time
to show to the Russian,
the Russian people th at
we are another nation.
We deserve to be a part of the big world.
We are free people, independent,
and ready to fight for our freedom.
And this is not just like…
– Like a regular war.
– It’s not like regular war?
– It’s not just fault of Putin,
it’s not like because
“Putin, our president”,
it touched everybody in Russia.
– It’s their culture.
– Because Russian just watch this,
they don’t try to stop Putin, you know?.
– [Peter] Yeah, I saw some people
have tried, but they got locked up
for a long time.
That’s my understanding.
– [Alex] Yeah.
– But I don’t know how many are trying.
– Hey, try… Ukrainians tried, in 2014,
they tried to be free.
– [Peter] Yeah.
– But Russian doesn’t try,
they have like 140 million population.
You can’t imagine how
many people they have.
– They don’t try.
They don’t wanna do this.
– From my experience
traveling the country,
you guys obviously know more than me,
but all over the country, when I was there
in 2016 to 2020.
The vast majority of people
were very much Ukrainian,
very much pro Ukraine.
There is a small percentage
of the population
that’s more pro Russian.
How would you explain that to people?
– It’s because all our countries
are post Soviet Union countries
and the old generation of the people,
they lived their best age
and life in the Soviet Union.
And they think if Soviet Union come back,
they start to live the same life
like they live when they
were young, you know?
– And I found none of
the young people felt like that,
is that fair to say?
– Yeah, because it’s like…
Communist propaganda works like
the same way like Russian they don’t see
another world they don’t see
how the other people live.
And they think that the lifestyle
which they choose is the best,
but it’s the wrong opinion.
– Right, well, look,
I’ve never been for…
Look, I wasn’t for the
Iraq invasion that we had.
This invasion is obviously unjust.
So, it’s very obvious, I think,
for those that want to
spend some attention
on the situation to
realize a sovereign country
has been invaded.
You guys are very much your own people.
That’s one thing I noticed when I lived
in Ukraine was… People were, despite all
the problems in Ukraine,
and every country has problems.
People were very proud.
From 2016, when I moved, the EU opened up
for travel, so many young
people were traveling.
People from when I moved
there in four years,
nobody spoke English.
When I left, so many people spoke English
because they were
connecting with the world,
and wanted to be more a part of the world.
They were looking West, not East.
It was like a renaissance period,
it was a very exciting time.
Like all these new
restaurants, art installations
in Kyiv, and I could feel that,
I don’t know if it was patriotism then.
I think it was, actually, but I could feel
that pride and that nationhood.
It was patriotism, right?
So, when and this is just my opinion here.
Putin obviously, didn’t
have intel on the ground,
I don’t think, to understand
that if you just had
to go to coffee shops around the country,
that could be Kharkiv,
that could be Kyiv, Lviv.
And listen to people talk for 10 minutes,
they’d realize, these
people wanna have nothing
to do with Russia.
They’re way more interested
in their own country
and being on their own.
And so, what I…
Metaphorically speaking,
it’s sort of like,
that old boyfriend,
where the girl broke up
and he can’t handle that, right?
I don’t wanna call Ukraine a girl,
it’s just a metaphor.
But there’s this crazy controlling,
jealousy thing going on,
but Ukraine has moved on.
You guys, I can’t give an exact location,
obviously, but you’re in the south
of the country is that correct?
– Yes.
– Okay, it’s
hard to really describe
that part of the world for those
that haven’t been in it,
like anywhere, right?
So, one thing I wanted to point out
that I’ve been seeing on Western news
is people often confuse the languages.
They think if people are Russian speaking
that means they’re pro Russian,
and I often have to explain, look, no.
You can actually have
the most pro Ukrainian person that speaks
Russian language, that’s
their native tongue.
I just wanted to hear your
guys thoughts on that.
Like in your battalion
are you speaking Russian,
are you speaking Ukrainian?
Are you speaking both,
or how does that work?
– I started speaking
Ukrainian after 2014.
– Okay.
– Sometimes I can speak Russian,
because a lot of people
in Ukraine speak Russian
and understand Russian-
– [Peter] Right.
– But in Ukraine, it’s not a big problem.
You can speak language whatever you want.
Like what language you prefer.
So, it’s not like, oh, you speak Russian,
you need to be punished.
No, no, in Ukraine you free
to speak whatever you want.
– Like in other country,
people who live near
the border with second country,
you can hear people who
speak with the dialect
with some words from another language.
– Yeah,
and when I lived in Kyiv,
it was sometimes especially confusing
in the beginning.
One person would speak Russian,
the person they’re speaking
to would speak Ukrainian.
They conversed back and forth,
and I was just trying to pull down words
and figure out what language
they were actually in.
But yeah, I just wanted to clarify that
because I find that to be often…
That story to be mistold as in language.
For example, my wife, when she lived
in Ukraine, spoke mostly Russian,
but now, I think, this last couple months
is gonna really turn mostly everyone
to speaking Ukrainian, right?
I mean, do you feel that, or what
is the sentiment you feel with people?
– In the battalion we
have different people.
Some of them speak Russian,
some of them speak Ukrainian,
but all control signals and commands
we give in the Ukrainian language.
– [Peter] Okay.
– And I think, Ukrainian language
identifies us like Ukrainians.
So, it’s very important
and each Ukrainian need
to learn and speak Ukrainian.
– And I don’t think
there’ll ever be confusion again.
You guys have been to the States, right?
– Yes.
– Yeah.
– So, I think,
quite often Americans who haven’t traveled
would be like, “Oh,
Ukrainians are like Russians,
or whatever,” and they call
them Russians, or something.
I don’t think that mistake’s
ever gonna happen again.
I think, it’s very
clear who are Ukrainians
and who are Russians.
I have nothing, personally,
I have Russian friends,
I have nothing against Russian people
on a personal level.
I have everything against this policy,
or any support for this bull*** war.
– I had once situation
in the USA airport when we speak Ukrainian
and one of the US ladies
started to speak Russian,
and she ask us, “Are you from Russia?”
And we’re like… And it’s
actually after the war started,
it was the end of the February.
So, we were like, “No,
no, we are Ukrainian.”
And she was like,
“Oh, you Ukrainians, sorry, sorry.
I don’t wanna say that
you are Russian.”
– I hope no one in the world
will confuse Russia and Ukraine.
– And you know, I don’t want
that someone recognize me like Russian.
We pay a big price to be Ukrainian now,
and we deserve to be Ukrainian.
– Well said.
You guys are all paying
the ultimate price,
but this is the time of it’s…
It’s your country, or you lose it, right?
I mean, is that how the feeling is?
– We don’t have another way.
Just one way, fight, and win.
– Guys, what is…
What are your days like right now?
Is it completely random
as in like, last night
you had to go out and fight?
Do you stay in the bunker
until there’s activity,
or how does it work?
Like what’s a day in the life
of you guys right now?
– It depends
what’s going on around.
If we have some task,
or the Russian troops show some activities,
we need to be always with the unit
And understand
what’s going on around
and try to control and
command our forces.
– The one of us should be in the bunker,
like all time, in order to connect
between our units and control,
and communicate with the higher staff.
– Right,
say during the day time,
you go out of your bunker,
are people going about,
there’s no normal life, obviously,
but somewhat normal life
as in going to the grocery store,
are there businesses open where you’re at,
or how does it work exactly?
– You cannot
take here grocery store,
or something like that.
Each supply that we have is from
our Armed Forces.
– When you go out
in near town,
or anything, how is it operating there,
how are people functioning?
– When this active phase,
of this war started, the couple weeks,
all business were stopped.
– And right now, Ukrainian
government understood
that we need to work.
– So, people go
about normal lives, as in, they get up
in the morning, they eat breakfast,
they go to work?
– It’s difficult to say
that it’s normal life, because each hour
we can hear the siren
because the Russian
missiles shoot everyday
in the civilian cities,
and the big cities.
Today I read the news
they killed five civilian people
in Kharkiv.
You feel war in the air.
– Yeah, what is that like
for those that have never felt it?
It’s just you’re constantly on edge,
you’re not sleeping, you’re not eating,
or what is…
It’s different for everyone, obviously,
but what do you think it’s like
for Ukrainians right now
that just know that…
The don’t know what
tomorrow brings, right?
Is that fair to say?
– I think, at that time people understand
that Ukraine Armed Forces stop Russian,
and they trust us.
– [Peter] Yeah.
– So, some of the big cities start
to come back to normal lives.
– During the first couple of days,
a lot of people moved to abroad
to Poland, to other countries.
And right now, a lot of people come back.
– What do you guys need right now
as far as the Ukrainian Army,
what do you guys need?
– I think, we need stronger,
more bigger units, and also,
an air defend assets.
We need because we’re weak
in that direction.
And also, we need more pressure
from the international community
to more sanction to Russia
to stop this machine.
Because they still have a lot
of money to continue.
– Need to stop buying Russian gas.
– I know, it’s difficult
for the other countries,
but on my point of view, a lot
of European countries have to stop using
this gas and oil because it’s giving money
to Russia to supply this war.
To supply Russian units on Ukrainian land.
– [Interviewer] Right, but how are aid
and things coming in right now?
Like food is plentiful,
is everything coming in
at the moment?
– We feel support from
everywhere, starting
from our high commanding Armed Forces
and from the civilian side.
A lot of civilian people
help for the military.
They cook food, like-
– Oh, that’s great.
They collect money to create
some volunteer organizations.
– Who cannot fight
with rifle in the hands.
They try to support in different ways,
you feel like each Ukrainian try to help
and support Ukraine
Armed Forces and people
who hold rifles.
– So, that’s
the one good thing out of this, right?
Everyone came together?
– [Alex] Yes.
– So you feel fully supported?
– [Alex] Exactly.
– Yeah, we feel supported,
also we feel support from
international community.
Because without the support from US side,
from European Union side,
it would be more difficult
to fight against Russia.
Because on my point of
view these sanctions work,
but not as much as we want, but it’s work.
– Guys, I give you all my support,
we’re all rooting for you.
A lot of respect and admiration for you,
your country, all the people
that have come together, all Ukrainians.
It’s the most horrific situation,
but the one beauty is
everyone coming together
and the strength of your
country, and your people
is admirable to all of us.
We all stand aside respecting you guys.
So, thanks so much.
– Thank you.
– Yeah, it’s lastly for I would like
to say thank you for you, for your job,
because based on Russian propaganda…
They use propaganda to put in
the people’s minds wrong way,
wrong meaning.
And people who work in media, like you,
you can give more realistic information
from the first source.
And you did a great
job, thank you for that.
– [Peter] No, thank you guys.
Again, you didn’t have to do this,
and you got bigger issues to deal with
than an interview.
So, thank you for that, and Alex and Alex,
maybe we’ll see you
again in a month, or two,
where we could catch up.
And then I look forward-
– [Alex] Okay.
– I look forward to the celebration, okay?
One day maybe seeing you guys in Ukraine
and we’ll have some champagne,
or however you say it.
And celebrate the victory.
– Definitely. Glory to Ukraine!
– [Peter] Glory to Ukraine!
Thank you, guys.
Okay guys, thanks for watching.
I have a link down below here,
it’s bangcookies.org.
I’m not trying to sell you cookies at all,
but the owner, George, this guy I know,
who has started a fund in Ukraine.
He’s actually there right now in the west
of the country.
A lot of his staff, the
employees out of Ukraine,
and it’s really hard
to find an organization
that you can trust.
This is the most trustworthy one
I have found to date.
So, I got that link down below here
if you wanna donate.
And the guys just told me some
of the money actually directly makes it
to their battalion.
So, you’re actually directly helping,
which is very cool.
I just wanted to offer you
a different perspective
to the situation.
I don’t think, at least I haven’t seen
too many battalion commanders
in bunkers, talking on camera.
A lot of thanks to Alex and Alex
for making this happen.
Thank you for tasking interest,
until the next one.

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