This article first appeared on n-tv.de.
Vitali B. comes from the Cherson region, before the war he worked as a merchant. When Russia invaded Ukraine, his wife and daughter fled to Norway - he joined the army. The 31-year-old's unit is involved in the Ukrainian offensive on Cherson. "We fight for our country, they fight for money," says the 31-year-old in an interview with ntv.de. "If need be, we will fight with stones and sticks."
ntv.de: How did you experience the beginning of the war back in February?
Vitali B.: Of course it was a shock. No one expected a full-scale invasion to begin. Everyone understood that the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions could deteriorate, but nobody expected that Russia would send troops to the territory of the Kherson region. In the first days there was panic, people didn't know what to do. Some walked away, others took their relatives to safety, some went to the military recruitment office. The registration and recruitment offices were very busy, so many people wanted and still want to defend their country.
You are now part of the regular Ukrainian armed forces?
What is your rank?
I'm an infantry corporal. We are at the forefront.
Does that mean you're being shot at directly?
It's always a gamble when artillery fire comes because you never know where it's going to hit. We are scared. Of course everyone says they're not afraid, [but] we're always afraid. At first we panicked, now we're used to it. You hear the noise and you know where the grenade could hit. When there's heavy artillery fire, I pray to God. He always helps me.
Did your unit have a lot of casualties?
Yes, there are and have been losses. It's like everywhere else in a war: we have casualties, but so do the Russians. I think they have a lot more casualties than we do.
How hard is life as a soldier?
How hard? Well, we are here by conviction. I mean, of course there are nuances. The cold and the weather... It's not easy, but [he points to a Ukrainian flag hanging behind him] it gives us warmth and it helps. It makes us feel better. And we know where the journey is going and what we are fighting for.
The people are waiting for us to liberate their villages. People are waiting for us, they greet us. These feelings cannot be put into words - people cry when they see the Ukrainian armed forces coming to their village. They cry, hug you and want to help. They bring water and food. We have the same feelings, we want to help them with food and everything they need. It's always emotionally exciting. In those moments we understand that all this is not in vain. And we understand that the truth is on our side, that people want Ukraine to exist. People don't want to be part of Russia, they want us to have our own country.
You are currently in the Kherson region. Why is the city of Kherson so strategically important?
I would say that it is not about Kherson. It's about every village, every town. This is our country, these are our cities, whether it's Kherson, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, Odessa - these are all Ukrainian cities, this is our country and we will fight to the last town and to the last village. Until Russia withdraws its troops. Until Russia surrenders.
Can you say when you expect to liberate Kherson?
I think in a few months Kherson will be ours.
Because the Russians are retreating?
Because they are now in a much worse position than we are. They flee, they are not as strong as they were at the beginning of the war. I wouldn't even say they were that strong [back then], they just did something we didn't expect. Now the situation has changed. We fight for our country, they fight for money, and money is not a motivation. We, on the other hand, are fighting for an idea. If need be, we will fight with stones and sticks. But we will not surrender.
What happens when Kherson is liberated? Will the Ukrainian army then move on to Crimea?
Of course I believe that, yes, I expect it. We should take back our Crimea, because Crimea belongs to Ukraine. We will stop at the Kerch Bridge [leading to Russia]. And then we will fight in Donbass, in Luhansk and in Donetsk. We don't need Russia, we're just fighting for our own country. We will go to the border and do not need their land.
You said you have a wife and a daughter. When was the last time you talked to them?
If I can, I call every day. It depends on whether I have access to the internet, for example via Starlink. Just this morning I spoke to my wife and child. Of course, my child doesn't speak that much yet.
How old is your daughter?
A year and eight months. I haven't seen her in eight months.
Are you afraid of dying in this war?
Yes, I think anything is possible. Many of us may not come out of this war. If God decides to take me away today, He will. But nobody here will give up, nobody will hide. If I have to give my life for this country, then I'm ready.