Tuesday, March 21

“The Russian looks like a formidable army, but it’s just a facade”

Ivan Hunchenko poses sitting in his wheelchair in one of the long corridors of the hospital on the outskirts of Lviv. / Z.Aldama

A soldier wounded in the defense of kyiv tells how Ukrainian troops face enemies in particularly bloody battles

ZIGOR ALDAMA Special delivery. Lviv

On the night of March 15, Ivan Hunchenko had a bad feeling. For this reason, the next day he asked his superior’s permission to leave his trench for a moment in the woods of the town of Moshchún and seek coverage for his cell phone. “I called my wife and told her that she had had a nightmare, but she reassured me by saying not to worry about her, that she and a guardian angel protect me.” He clings to that last one to explain why he’s still alive after two grenades blew off part of his legs a week later.

“That same day, when I was on the phone, I discovered that the Russians were only 40 meters from us. I sent the coordinates for the artillery to aim correctly and we managed to destroy four of their mortars and kill several of them, “he recalls in the military hospital on the outskirts of Lviv where he awaits the umpteenth operation so that he can walk again inside a anus. Orthodox Easter is celebrated and we have managed to sneak past his relatives. “The fighting was hard, but the Russians and the Chechens withdrew, and we managed to hold our position, which was key to preventing them from entering kyiv,” he explains.

However, the joy was brief. The Russians regrouped and the 72nd Artillery Brigade, to which Hunchenko belongs, was overwhelmed. “We started the war with twenty-seven men and the day they wounded me there were only nine left because we had suffered many casualties. So we asked for reinforcements », he says.

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They were joined by several troops from another brigade and together they dug a trench a few meters from the enemy, who used attack helicopters and fighter jets in an unsuccessful attempt to take the capital in a few days. “We covered it up well and at night we heard the Russians loitering above. At that moment I was afraid that they would take us prisoner », he comments, emphasizing that the Chechens he was facing are not exactly known for their kindness.

He awoke to the first shots of the day, which soon turned into artillery shells. “The Russians tried to surround us and managed to wound several officers. Our machine gun stopped working after two reloads and we decided to beat a retreat to regroup », he says. For a moment, he thought they would lose their position. “But we fought back and it was the Russians who had to back down.” In this macabre tango, Hunchenko’s brigade reached the enemy position. “We were surprised to see that they had burned the bodies of their fallen comrades to leave them lying there,” he says, proud that they managed to kill a Kremlin major.

But in his new position, Hunchenko and his partner Maxim were wounded in the ensuing Russian offensive. “He fell dry and started bleeding from his eyes, nose and ears. I thought he was dead. Then I felt an intense heat in my right leg. I did not hear the detonation of the grenade nor did I feel great pain, but I tried to move and understood that I could not continue fighting or get close to my companions », he recounts.

A video he took himself shows how some of the meat on his thigh had disappeared. And that’s when another grenade hit him next to his right leg, exposing even the bone: “I played dead and waited for the Russians to withdraw to call for help.” Two tourniquets kept him from bleeding to death. Eight companions died that day. And others were narrowly saved. Maxim himself is one of them, although he remains in a coma to this day. Another was shot in the head, but the helmet kept him alive. “He was an American,” he adds with a smile and a thumbs up. At the other extreme, the soldier puts more than ten Russian casualties in that fight that lasted for a week and whose wounds can be seen in buildings blackened and reduced to rubble.

It is the second time that Hunchenko has faced Russian soldiers. He fought them in 2015 in Donbas and did not hesitate to return to the ranks when the invasion began on February 24. “At first I enlisted in the Territorial Defenses – staffed by ordinary citizens – where we discovered two traitors with grenades who were working for the Russians. But they called me five days later to enter the ranks.

victims of propaganda

Asked for his opinion of the enemy combatants, he is honest and admits that he has no grudge against them. In fact, he even seems to feel sorry for them “because they didn’t know where they were going.” In his opinion, “Putin has made the Russians believe that there was no war,” and he has been effective with propaganda. In addition, he claims that his troops are not prepared for combat. “Not because some are very young, but because they are poorly trained. The Russian looks like a formidable army, but it’s just a front. Many of the military do not have the necessary personal protection, which prevents them from fighting on the front lines. And the Chechens have carved out an image of fierceness that we Ukrainians have revealed to be unreal », he says.

Hunchenko points out that proof of this is the large number of tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters that have been destroyed. But he also acknowledges that some of the Ukrainian weaponry is obsolete. “The artillery, for example, is from the Soviet Union. It works with quadrants and is not very precise. That’s why we need more advanced systems from the West.” He reproaches the Western powers for not going “beyond rhetoric” and only when there are thousands of dead do they begin to send weapons that could have substantially shortened the war. “We have already seen that expressing pity is not enough. This has not helped. It has led to total war.”

Despite everything, Hunchenko is clear that, if the war is not over by the time he can walk again, he will once again wield his Kalashnikov. At the moment, he has hard months ahead of him. “This is the fourth hospital I’m in. In each one I have had different operations, and I still have a few more », he says, before proudly showing his latest tattoo: two days ago he engraved the country’s coat of arms on his heart forever. And, like the rest of the Ukrainian soldiers, he is confident that Russia will be defeated and will not be able to take over Donbas. Of course, about Crimea he has doubts. “That will be decided by the politicians, not the military.”


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