Mykhailo Saienko, a fighter from the 25th Battalion Kyivan Rus, became a sensation across social networks after being interviewed by Hromadske nearby the funeral of former Party of Regions parliamentary faction leader Mykhailo Chechetov.
Saienko was not attending the funeral but just happened to pass by on his way to the bus stop. He went unnoticed by the hordes of journalists on the lookout for prominent politicians. Hromadske journalist, Bohdan Kutiepov, was interested to hear more of Saienko’s story and sought him out through Facebook. Kutiepov went to visit Saienko at a military hospital in Irpen where he is receiving treatment.
Saienko told Hromadske that he used to work as a sales manager of electrical cable sales for overseas markets but when the protests started in 2013, he decided to join the people on Maidan. He explained that his motivation lay in that he did not want to live under the system created by the former President Yanukovych and his allies. According to Saienko, during the protests he did not hesitate to do whatever was needed, “If Molotov cocktails needed mixing- I was mixing them, if there was a need for someone to stand with a shield near a burnt bus – I would stand there”.
When Yanukovych fled to Russia and Russia-backed separatists began fighting in the East, he decided to join the military. However, as he had no military experience, his application was rejected twice. Eventually he joined the police battalion, Donetsk, and then later the Kyivan Rus battalion, a volunteer military battalion under the control of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. He jokes with sadness that he has survived four ceasefires, none of which were upheld by the enemy. The logic behind the Ukrainian authorities’ actions is clear for Sayenko. Their witch hunt for deserters and draft dodgers as well as desperate attempts to reach an agreement with the separatists demonstrates that they want to put an end to this war more than anything. But he warns that history shows that these methods will not work.
UN figures show that a total of over 6000 civilians and Ukrainian military personnel have died in the conflict. Due ad hoc nature of the separatists command and Russia’s continual denial of the involvement of Russian regular soldiers, however, the exact number of losses on the other side is unknown but it is thought to be in the thousands.
Film and photos by Bohdan Kutiepov, March 2015
Text by Isobel Koshiw