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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Natural heroism

Nadia Savchenko’s friends and teachers on what shaped her courage and patriotism and what kind of a person she is in everyday peacetime life
5 August, 2014 - 11:27
Photo from the website TSN.UA

Ukraine is closely watching the destiny of the Ukrainian female pilot Nadia Savchenko, now held in a Voronezh (Russia) pretrial jail. Nadia behaves during court sessions in Russia as dignifiedly and boldly as she did, judging by video footage, when terrorists interrogated her handcuffed to a pipe. Nadia immediately won the status of a people’s heroine for her sincere courage and straightforwardness. Den wrote in the article “Our Nadia” on July 18, 2014, about the prospects of her release and coming back to Ukraine. Now we have spoken to Nadia’s acquaintances and her teacher at Ukraina University, where she was trained as journalist, in order to know more about what shaped her patriotism and where the roots of her natural heroism are. We also wanted to know what kind of a person Nadia is in everyday peacetime life.

Senior Lieutenant Nadia Savchenko, a Mi-24 gunship navigator and operator in the 3rd Detached Army Air Regiment of the Ukrainian Air Force, was born in Kyiv in 1981. Her friends say she always dreamed of being a pilot, but, at the same time, she was a literature and art aficionado. So, after leaving school, she mastered the specialty of fashion designer and then studied for a year at Ukraina University’s department of journalism. She soon volunteered to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and was sent to the 95th Airmobile Brigade in Zhytomyr, where the first non-conscript battalion was being formed. In 2004-05, she saw service for six months in the 3rd Company of the 72nd Detached Mechanized Battalion which performed a peacekeeping mission in Iraq.

On coming back from Iraq, she entered the Kharkiv-based Air Force University. Nadia was twice expelled for being “unable to fly as a pilot,” but she still managed to graduate from the university in 2009 as a navigator rather than a fighter pilot. After graduating from the university, she served as Mi-24 navigator and operator at the 3rd Detached Army Air Regiment of the Ukrainian Air Force in Brody. She has flown 170 hours and made 45 parachute jumps.

“We have known each other for 10 years now,” says Nadia Savchenko’s friend Romana, “We met in 2003 through my brother. As a historical reenactment enthusiast, I was going to a theme festival. Nadia and my brother were also traveling to that festival, albeit as potters. We saw her again the next year at the same festival and came into close contact.”

Romana says Nadia has an artistic soul, which looks very interesting in conjunction with her love of the army. “She is very educated and always keen on art, and the fact that she visited that festival as a potter only confirms this. In general, her family is art-minded – all the members are educated and speak the literary Ukrainian language. It is very cozy at their home – art is in the air,” Nadia’s friend says.

Vira, another friend of Nadia’s, also points out her love of creative work. “She spends her leisure time in the army making all kind of things – she did all the decor in her Brody dormitory room with her own hands. She seems to know how to do anything – make book shelves, photo frames, stained glass vases, and helicopter models, paint on glass, do wickerwork…,” she says.

“Nadia is interested in history and painting. It is normal to be a multiple personality when you represent your country somewhere. She was also keen of flying and enthused about army things. She wanted to fly a fighter plane,” Romana says.

Friends say they are not surprised that Nadia shows equanimity and composure in this difficult situation, for she has always been of this kind and dire circumstances have only sharpened these features of character.

“Nadia is courageous and will never let anybody hurt her. She once told me she had gone to Iraq as a soldier, not as a woman. She is very clear-minded and bold. I am proud of having a friend like this – she is fantastic! I can’t possibly imagine Nadia breaking down. It’s not like her. I believe in her and think she will hold all this out and will at last come back home,” Romana says. “Nadia is a very positive person. She knows very well what and what for she is doing. I can remember her putting on her shoulders and carrying a heavy potter’s wheel without any help from guys at the festival. Nadia is always doing so – she never waits for somebody to help her but takes the situation into her own hands. She’s very judicious. I remember that when she came back from Iraq, we had a party with our friends and began to talk about war. We had been speaking in detail for half an hour about who, where, how and why was fighting, when I suddenly realized that Nadia had said not a single word all this time. This means she doesn’t wish to boast about how classy and cool she is. She is very humane, and this attracts many. She is smart and adheres to principles. She once said she didn’t want to be a stupid martinet and obey stupid orders.”

“Every contact with Nadia gives me a major impetus to self-development and self-improvement. Sometimes I doubt deep in my heart that I’ve made a right decision, but when I talk to her, the scales fall from my eyes and everything becomes obvious. In other words, the answer is somewhere in the middle, and it is sometimes difficult to see it, but once you see Nadia, you get the idea,” Vira’s friend says. In her words, Nadia has a clear vision of what she needs from life and of how she can feel that she is needed. “She doesn’t like being compared to ‘soldier Jane,’” Vira adds.

“A charitable organization, Ukrainian Mothers’ Movement, was established in Kyiv in 2001 to promote education and culture. They put on a number of stage productions based on Taras Shevchenko’s works in schools, kindergartens, and vocational schools in order to popularize the Bard’s words among the young people. Naturally, the actors were amateurs. They were volunteers from among the creatively- and patriotically-minded youth. It is at one of these Shevchenko events that I met Nadia Savchenko,” says Myroslava Diachynska, head (in 2001-02) of and, later, an assistant professor at the Ukrainian Language and Literature Department of Ukraina University. “It was in the spring of 2002 – I cannot recall a more exact date now. Nor can I say who recommended Nadia to be taken as participant in our amateur productions which were, incidentally, on a proper esthetic level. Those shows consisted of not only the dramatized versions of Shevchenko’s works, but also songs with words from his poems and dances to the tune of his songs. Nadia sang and took part in stage productions. Besides, she was quite a good organizer. We were doing all this through sheer enthusiasm, for our organization could not offer its members any material incentives. So, it was extremely important to find young people to play in the productions and to encourage them to share our public outreach efforts. Costumes were also an acute problem, and Nadia took it  up. She contrived to find Ukrainian folk attires among her acquaintances and friends so that our amateur team looked good on stage.”

According to Diachynska, Nadia was not an overachiever, but she was always prepared well for seminars and practical classes. “She was one of the students with whom it was interesting to work – she was active and full of interest, questions, and remarks. Teachers always notice and remember this kind of students,” she says.

“Nadia was a very good-looking 20-year-old girl with big blue eyes and long hair. But her character was in sharp contrast to her looks. For Nadia always sought extreme and new impressions – in a good sense of the word. She was a ‘healthy adrenaline junkie.’ I think the army and the selected profession of pilot fully satisfied her inclination to something unusual and uncommon. She was always honest and principled. I don’t think these traits of the character have changed. I presume she has grown stronger, having to go through the ordeals that have befallen her in the last while,” Diachynska says.

And Romana sums it up: “I wish our army had more people like Nadia – conscientious, wise, and patriotic. Indeed, an individual who goes to defend the state ought to be wise. This would have staved off many of our problems.”