On April 17, 2023, while I was in Yalta in Crimea, I had the opportunity to speak with a veteran of the Ukraine war named Genadi. Our discussion took place at a school for children with special needs, which Genadi’s disabled daughter attends.
When Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine in February 2022, Genadi was sixty years old and was living with his wife and their daughter in Yalta. Genadi and his wife originally came from Lugansk, in southeastern Ukraine. His wife continues to have family members there.
After discussing the war in Ukraine with his wife, Genadi volunteered for military service in the Ukraine war last year and joined a defensive unit in Lugansk that was comprised of volunteers from all over Russia. He recently returned to Yalta from the war zone and rejoined his family in Yalta.
In our conversation, Genadi spoke with me about his reasons for volunteering and his views about how the Ukraine war might be brought to an end. You can watch and listen to our conversation here:
(Note: my guide and translator, Tanya, has prepared a written, English translation of Genadi’s answers to my questions. That translation appears at the end of this post.)
Full English Translation of Genadi’s interview, with time codes
0:06 – Genadi: Thank you Dimitri for coming here and sharing my viewpoint with your readers on the other side of the ocean.
0:36 – Genadi: My name is Genadi Nikolaevich, I was born in Lugansk oblast, Krasny Lutch settlement, for the last 15 years I have been living in Yalta with my family.
1:29 – Genadi: We moved to Yalta due to the health of my child, she is sick, and doctors recommended her to change climate.
1:59 – Genadi: We are sitting next to the centre where the founder Valentina Valyaeva is uniting sick children, invalids, kids with special needs and their parents. When our daughter was not too sick we visited the centre, but today she is not able to come here.
3:35 – Genadi: My direct relatives passed away, I am the only one left from my family. But my wife’s relatives are still there, her sister, her nephew, they still live in Lugansk.
4:30 – Genadi: When the SMO (special military operation) was announced and mobilization started, I decided I had to be there. I volunteered to go to the front line, I advised with my wife, her sister came to help with our child, and we decided I must go.
6:25 – Genadi: Back in Soviet days, I served in the airborne troops in 1981-83, we were stationed in Germany as part of the Soviet Army. Yes, every Soviet man had to be a conscription.
7:25 – Genadi: I was 60 years old when I went to Donbass during the SMO.
7:50 – This is the volunteer unit, which unites guys from all over Russia. Everyone tries to bring his share. Many guys wish to serve and be part of the volunteer movement.
8:25 – Genadi: The patch says – Volunteer Detachment, SVO 2022, the year when we served and Bars (Leopard)
9:14 – Genadi: Bars is a unit, approximately battalion in numbers. It varies. In our Bars (detachment) there were up to 500 men, they came from all over Russia, It was not the only a unit.
10:20 – Genadi: We gathered at the special training center, where we were trained and prepared and further we were sent to the front line.
11:1o – Genadi: It was exclusively my own will and wish to enter the unit and it was not easy to be enrolled at my age, there were only two men aged 60, other guys were younger. It was the call of my heart.
12:10 – Genadi: My main motivation was to support my relatives and my motherland. People made a free choice and they did not want to be subordinate to the Kiev regime after the coup, that was my main motivation. I am a Soviet person. I was brought up with the thought that the Motherland is in my heart. Donbass, Ukraine, Russia – this is my Motherland. But it was divided. Ukraine shouts – Crimea is ours! But I do not want Crimea to be part of Ukraine.
14:15 – Genadi: An illegitimate new government came into power in 2014 and started dividing us. Crimea was Russian always, and suddenly it became Ukrainian. We had our values, language culture. But the new government in Kiev announced Russia to be an enemy, they wanted to prohibit the Russian language, Russian Orthodox religion.
15:45 – Genadi: I was born and brought up in the USSR. I still consider myself a Soviet person. I am a Ukrainian according to my birth certificate, my father was Ukrainian. But I am Russian, I am Soviet. Back in those days, we did not divide people according to nationalities, Russians, Ukrainians, Kazakh. There was no hatred of other nationalities, like today we see in Ukraine, when they propose to kill Russian men, their children and wives, calling them ‘aggressors’. While I am alive, I will try to prevent it.
17:30 – Genadi: What was life like after Maidan in 2014? When the Maidan riots in Central and Western Ukraine started, they were seizing security offices, military enlistment offices, they were armed and they tried to establish their own rules. How many people took part in Maidan? Let us say at most 100 000. One hundred thousand. But this is a small part of the population. We stayed in our homes in Donbass, we were working, we did not go to Donbass. We tried to feed Ukraine and make the country prosperous. We did not take guns. They were the first who started the coup. They decided we would live their way.
20:14 – Genadi: After Maidan, a new government was installed and their first decision in the Rada was to prohibit the Russian language. Our region traditionally spoke the Russian language. Can you imagine in Canada they do not allow you to speak your native language? What would your reaction be? People did not agree with this policy. They started organizing volunteer units and check-points to stop our opponents entering Donbass.
21:48 – Genadi: Then everything happened as America planned. They supported a new government. Military forces entered Donbass. Do you remember how it started? When people were unarmed and the military vehicles rushed into crowds? Then Donbass residents started getting the arms and they resisted.
23:30 – Genadi: Life stopped. What kind of life does one have during the war? Life stopped in the Donbass in 2014. People hide in the basements, bomb shelters, children cannot freely go to schools, people only think about survival.
24:55 – Genadi: Yes I did take part in combat, but our battalion was on the defensive live, we were under bombardment.
26:08 – Genadi: I saw that Polish soundless machine guns were used against us, and my comrades were dying, That’s what I saw. I did not see Poles face to face. I was not involved in hand-to-hand fighting and was not their prisoner of war, but their guns kill us, this is a fact.
27:00 – Genadi: Zelensky wanted to take Crimea by force.
27:49 – Genadi: For me, Zelensky is not a President, he was and still is a comedian. What he is talking about – this is his fantasy, nobody ever will return Crimea to Ukraine. I am 61. I went to the SMO and it was my small share. Now I want to be enrolled into the peoples’ resistance movement which is now under creation. In case Kiev decides to take Crimea back, I will go to the isthmus of the peninsular, as my forefathers did in previous wars, I will try to stop the entry of the enemy into peninsula. They will never come here.
30:18 – Genadi: I am 61, I do not fantasize. There will be no life in Crimea if they come back. Why should I fantasize about future in Crimea, if we can see real life in Ukraine today? I hope I will never see the day Crimea might become Ukrainian again.
33:13 – Genadi: The main way out of this situation is to ask the USA not to interfere in our relationships. This is the most important thing. If the USA stops supporting Ukraine, I am positive 100% that we will continue to live a peaceful and friendly life as it was before. Ukraine and Russia are our joint home. Our parents and ancestors were constructing and creating future in both countries. Why does the USA divide us? If it was not for the USA, we would have lived a good friendly life.
35:55 – Genadi: The war has been raging almost for 10 years in Lugansk and Donetsk, and it left scars. Some people were frustrated, offended and deeply insulted. But I believe that we are brothers, we are one nation, Russians and Ukrainians. Like in a family – husband and wife may quarrel and beat each other, but sooner or later they come to peace and live further, because they know this is the right way to be. When we as brothers will share all troubles and happiness with Ukraine, everything will be fine. Whether Donetsk and Lugansk are part of Ukraine – it’s not very important, because peaceful life is more important.
38.18 – Genadi: East or West, people are the same. Sometimes we want to live a better life in comparison with our neighbours. Envy is not a good trait, we should be glad for each other. If you live a better life in the USA or Europe – we are happy for you. I am a patriot of my country but I remember back in the Soviet days we envied people in the West as they lived a better life. Now Russia is rising and others envy that we live a better life now. We do not want a neighbor next door who will have a stone in his pocket to throw at us.
41:02 – Genadi: Maybe I was straight-forward but this is my opinion.
A fascinating interview honest and highly informative of a people rendered invisible by the Western media and threatened with genocide by the Neo Nazis regime in Ukraine. The existential reality confronting the Russian speakers of the Donbass is well described by this ex Soviet citizen.
Great interview. Interesting perspective, but I wonder if he would like the ‘West” to stop interfering if he was Ukraine instead of Russian since Russia has the upper hand. Unfortunately I didn’t hear much – or didn’t really understand- about why he thought Ukraine was a threat that had to be stopped. I don’t think we hear much actual debate about the whys and wherefores of this war, and am pretty convinced there is more to it than we hear in the mainstream media.
What I heard that he was Russian so whatever Russia did, he had to support that action. That sounds like dangerous and potentially war inducing/continuing thinking to me. Of course my opinion is coming from a place that suggests no-one should be killing anyone just because they think the other is going in the wrong direction….esp civilians. It is just as wrong now as when the Europeans did the same thing to North America and elsewhere around the globe.