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“First they interrogated me and then started giving me antibiotics.” Azov soldier “Wikipedia” released from captivity
14 September, 2022
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Vladyslav, an Azov soldier with the call sign “Wikipedia” who was released from captivity Photo: Mykhailo Mieshchierinov / hromadske

“First they interrogated me and then started giving me antibiotics.” Azov soldier “Wikipedia” released from captivity

Vladyslav came to meet us in the evening — immediately after the procedures that he was undergoing since morning. There are still fresh scars on his body. But his words are full of faith and confidence that Ukraine will win.

We’ve already won. I can’t imagine what the Russians need to do to make it the other way around.

He jokes a lot. He shows a recently recorded video on the phone: Olena Tolkachova, the head of the Patronage service of the Azov regiment, left a gift for Vladyslav on the bed — a T-shirt of his unit, dark glasses, and a stuffed animal. 

What I didn’t expect, what doesn’t fit in the “moral standards” is a stuffed tardigrade. Hayka [Tolkachova’s call sign], you’re just the best! This is what I really needed,” Vladyslav laughs in the video.

He gets serious when we start talking about the war. However, he still does not miss a chance to smile. As if the war didn’t hurt him at all.

Vladyslav, a soldier of the Azov Regiment with the call sign “Wikipedia”

Photo: Mykhailo Mieshchierinov / hromadske

These bastards will go further if you don’t stop them

Vladyslav joined Azov in 2018. Before that, there were years of preparation and reflection — how to leave your small business in Odesa, friends, and the usual ordered life. 

In fact, I made this decision for myself back in 2015. My military friend sent me a video from the shelling of Mariupol when they were hitting the Skhidnyi district. I knew that these bastards would go further if you don’t stop them. At that time, I had no relatives and friends in Mariupol, and the war did not affect them at all. But I knew it was only a matter of time. People didn’t understand me when I said that I wouldn’t want to work as an engineer in Odesa when the war would begin. That I wanted a front-row seat. I wanted to be in a trained unit.

At the age of 26, Vladyslav finally made up his mind and went to Azov. He laughs saying that he could no longer put it off — he was aging, starting to think about retirement. He came to Kyiv, filed the documents, and enrolled in the Boot Camp.

It was a month of uncomfortable, harsh conditions: no connection with his previous life and friends, with grueling physical exertion that made him doubt whether he would be able to see the evening.  

At first, Vladyslav failed to meet the physical standards — he didn’t do one more press-up and two more abdominal crunches. 

“Azov has a principled position: if you are late for one second when running — well, that’s it, my friend, sorry. You can try to pass it one more time in a month. Now it’s obvious to me why. The units that have harsh training conditions show the highest efficiency on the battlefield. The full-scale war also proved it.

A month later, Vladyslav tried to pass the tests again. This time it was successful.

Vladyslav in Mariupol

Photo: Vladyslav’s Instagram

A long-standing dream weighing as a 12-kilos backpack

His life was changing rapidly, and he had to sacrifice a lot for the service. His closest people were different now. The Azov companions were gradually becoming real friends.

The service put pressure on your personal life. Someone let themselves have it, but I didn’t take any risks, as much as I could. I understood the potential danger. Only a few people from Azov knew whether I had a person I loved and who she was. Yes, now all my relatives are in the territory controlled by Ukraine, so I don’t have to worry about them. But I only found out about it recently. 

Even the Red Cross didn’t know that I had a sister and couldn’t find her, and I think this is a good indicator. Therefore, the enemy wouldn’t reach her either.

In Azov, Vladyslav learned to be a UAV operator. This was something that he quickly mastered thanks to his technical education and previous work in a service center for the repair of equipment.

His long-standing dream of being a combat medic was a bigger challenge, the training course was even tougher than the Boot Camp. Vladyslav explains the specifics of his work in detail and a comprehensible manner.

“A combat medic is a fighter, same as others. But in a critical situation, he should also provide aid. He starts working when the tactical situation allows it. If he sees a wounded person, he does not leave the fire area under his control. Only when there is time, or if the group commander allows it, the medic runs and works according to his specialty. He cannot be replaced by a medical aid-man, a nurse, or a surgeon with extensive experience. On the battlefield, they will do worse than a trained fighter who has completed a first aid course. He knows what to do and will be able to save his wounded companion. Will the surgeon save him? No. Therefore, when civilians ask what they should do now, I often say: take a course in combat medicine.”

Azov uses the American protocol for providing pre-medical aid, says Vladyslav. In addition, all fighters have unified first-aid kits located in the same place. If in the event of injury, a soldier is rescuing his fellow soldier, he must know exactly where his first-aid kit is and what is in it. This allows us to transfer a fighter from one unit to another and be confident in everyone at critical moments.

In addition to the first-aid kit, Vladyslav also had to carry a 12-kilogram medical backpack, in which he placed his long-standing dream.

Vladyslav during the interview with hromadske journalist Olesia Bida

Photo: Mykhailo Mieshchierinov / hromadske

They attacked the whole Ukraine — and it was their mistake

Being a combat medic, Vladyslav understood in the 20th of February that a full-scale war would begin any day now. There was news that Russians were supplying blood to mobile hospitals — and this is not a substance that will be stored in refrigerators for a long time. On February 24, this is exactly what happened — the Russians attacked Ukraine. 

“At that time, I was at the base in Mariupol, sleeping in my bed, hugging a cat pillow. Everything was fine. I certainly looked like a terrifying punisher. Around 4 or 5 in the morning, people could hear the first explosions. The commander came in and said: “Guys, wake up, the war has begun.” Come on, focus, and get to work. We headed out of town to secure the main lines of defense. Although, no one was ready to such a scale, of course.

Vladyslav saw the news about how his native Odesa is being shelled, and how tanks with Russian flags are riding in Kherson Oblast, where he rode a bicycle as a child. 

Then, heavy battles took place in the Mariupol direction. The actions of the Russian military did not add faith in our victory. A week at most — that’s what Vladyslav thought about the prospects of Ukraine at that time. On February 28, he was wounded, and for a month he was out of action.

“My companions and I got to Mariupol through planted areas. There, our guys got in touch with us and took us to the Mariupol hospital, where we underwent surgery. I thought I’d lost a lot of blood, but no. “A lot of blood” was still ahead.

For a month, I was nominally fighting. I was applying bandages and helping. And when I was able to stand up so that my head wouldn’t spin, I returned to the fight.

Vladyslav during his time at Azovstal

Photo: Vladyslav’s Instagram

“The last point that we do not leave is Azovstal”

Vladyslav does not remember when exactly he ended up at Azovstal. He assumes that probably it was in the 20th of March because a few days after that they received Starlink. At that time, Azovstal was already intensively shelled, and thousands of Mariupol residents were hiding in the bunkers of the plant. 

“Certain units were there for a long time — they had been checking the bomb shelters. They prepared the shelters separately for civilians and military personnel.

A month before the start of the full-scale aggression, we had a plan: if they come at us, we will fight back till the end in Mariupol. The last point that we do not leave is Azovstal. In fact, this is what happened, because when we were leaving the plant, we no longer had heavy weapons. We still had five 120 mines of different nomenclature (the military will understand me). This is ridiculous. This could only wake up the enemy.”

Azovstal was constantly shelled. Especially when the Russians came to a distance from which it was possible to fire artillery shells at the plant. Ordinary people added faith in victory. 

My companion was ambushed once. And in Mariupol, most of which was already occupied, a local man saved him. Can you imagine? He just stopped, threw him into his car, drove him to the post where our forces were located, and handed him over. “I don’t know how to help him. He’s yours,” he said and left. 

Do you understand? A local resident in Mariupol, risking his life, saved an Azov soldier. And it was THE Azov soldier — big, young, tattooed. The best of us. Imagine what the occupier would do to that man if he saw whom he was saving. Thanks to him, this soldier is now alive, in the ranks, working. At that moment I realized that we had every chance.

Photo of Azovstal, taken by Vladyslav while he was there

Photo: hromadske

I’m not going to fall for it until Radis says it on the radio

In early May, all civilians were evacuated from the Azovstal bomb shelters. On the evening of the 16th, they started to evacuate the seriously wounded soldiers. Vladyslav was among them. 

“At that time Russians could monitor 70% of the plant’s territory. They occupied the main high points and could see almost everything.

We were carrying a wounded soldier to a dilapidated medical bunker. There was an unexploded bomb lying there for a week, it broke the ceiling and the shelter collapsed. The guys were sleeping next to it. On the way to the bunker, we heard about plans for extraction and evacuation. First, they would evacuate the seriously wounded soldiers and then all the others. I didn’t believe it. I’m not going to fall for it until Radis says it on the radio. And on the way back, we were hit by an anti-tank guided missile. Two of us were wounded and two survived.” 

Vladyslav’s leg was broken. He was losing a lot of blood. He understood the nature of the injury and managed to provide himself with first aid. He just had to ask his companion to finish twisting the tourniquet on my leg — his wounded hands didn’t have enough strength. 

Vladyslav reported on the radio what had happened to him. 40 minutes later, he was taken on a stretcher to a medical bunker, and on the operating table, he lost consciousness. His leg was amputated. 

“I remember only some fragments of evacuation, like a slideshow. They carry me out of the medical bunker and lift me through the aperture in the ceiling. Then they carry me under the sun, I’m hot, I feel bad. They rock me, it hurts. They put me on the ground on a stretcher. Nearby, I can see our guys and the enemy soldiers in green uniforms with the letter Z. I remember being on some kind of bed. Not a stretcher, not a floor. Then I found out that it was Novoazovsk. From there, I remember the way to Donetsk. I passed out. In Donetsk, only at the end of the week, I began to come back to life. I could communicate normally with my neighbors in the ward.

Vladyslav, a soldier of the Azov Regiment with the call sign “Wikipedia”

Photo: Mykhailo Mieshchierinov / hromadske

They had only one task — to keep us alive” 

In Novoazovsk, the seriously wounded were sorted. Those who were in critical condition were taken to Donetsk Hospital No. 15. The rest were taken to the colony in Olenivka. Vladyslav was sent to Donetsk. For the first five days in the hospital, the Azov soldier with an amputated leg did not receive any medications. In addition, he had an eye wound and was losing his eyesight. Instead of doctors, investigators came to him for questioning.

“They wanted to know biographical information, occupation. They interrogated some soldiers more, others less. Probably, I was not interesting to them, I was an ordinary soldier.”

On the fifth day, Vladyslav began to receive antibiotics and painkillers — Analgin with diphenhydramine and dressings with iodine. The food in the hospital was at the level of “keeping us alive”.

Vladyslav never saw any representatives of the Red Cross during his stay in the Donetsk hospital. After his release, he learned from his companions that during the sorting of the wounded in Novoazovsk, they were given a glass of tea — allegedly from the Red Cross. 

“Of course, we can’t verify this now. But there were also stories that representatives of the Red Cross in Donetsk allegedly tucked us before we went to sleep, kissed us on the forehead, and gave us medicines. What did I really see? Russian-made medicines and dressings. The doctors were local, from Donetsk. It was the same level of medicine as in a district hospital in Ukraine about 15 years ago. One of the doctors complained: “If I had the medicines that I had 10 years ago!” But 10 years ago Donetsk was controlled by Ukraine…

On August 22, at the press conference of the released Azov soldiers, Vladyslav told that the invaders used torture against some Ukrainian soldiers: they stuck needles in wounds and tortured them with water.

“They had no task to make our lives comfortable — just not to let us die.”  

However, the Donetsk hospital did not guarantee this either. One of the released soldiers, after being examined by Ukrainian doctors, found out that after two weeks of such treatment in captivity, he could have died. Another soldier had to undergo another operation on an amputated leg.

Not a day passed without the military being convinced that no one needed them, that Ukraine had forgotten about them. And at the same time, the fighters constantly heard talks about the exchange — how the invaders made lists and rewrote them several times. Some of the servicemen were once even taken 500 meters away from the hospital and then returned.

“They said, “They abandoned you. They don’t need you.” We didn’t believe them, of course”.

On June 29, at 4 am, Russians woke up the Ukrainian military, checked everyone according to the list one more time — and took them out of the hospital for exchange. This time for real.

In Kyiv, Vladyslav began full rehabilitation — he underwent eye surgery and doctors began to prepare him for prosthetics. 

“In Donetsk, I could only tell if they were shining a flashlight in my eye. Now I’m starting to see a little bit. Yes, I can barely see things. So far, it’s easier for me to cover my eye with a blindfold so that I can see well with a healthy eye. I’ll make myself an eye with a thermal imager and will be a universal soldier,” the military keeps joking.

We finished talking when it was already dark outside. We asked Vladyslav to take picture of him in our studio. And he answered: “Take a picture of me so that I look fierce”. And he stopped smiling for a few seconds.