I live with 20 combatants, all recruits in Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces, in an old house in Polesia, a wetland region north of Kyiv. The columns of Russian troops aiming for Kyiv passed through here. Every family can tell you about the horrors of the occupation. Residents of the area help us with food: milk, eggs, venison. We help them with gasoline and our presence. They are calmer with us, they say. If we are here, there is no enemy.
In late March the Russians were forced to turn back from the capital and my unit was moved into the woods near the border with Belarus. We heard stories of murder and looting, mined cemeteries, raped girls and boilers stolen from houses. When we entered a new village, the women would surge towards us, hugging, crying and thanking us. But we were embarrassed. We hadn’t liberated these lands; we hadn’t chased the Russians away.
My unit moved here to prevent a new attack on Kyiv, to build defensive ditches, dugouts and bunkers while more armed units are fighting in the east and south of Ukraine. We have come to terms with the fact that the war will be long and we will have to reconquer our territories one at a time. This is a great and terrible war. But I know that we will win. We have no other option.
I’m lying on an army couch. I haven’t taken off my shoes because I’m on patrol in half an hour. We are preparing to go somewhere closer to the fighting in the east or south. I’m glad because, right now, the stoves in our house are so hot that I can’t breathe. A long night of patrolling the woods is ahead of me. I’ll lie down for a while, then I’ll make myself a coffee, fill my flask and go out into the dark woods, hoping to finally meet a deer. I have never seen a live one before.