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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

“We knew it in Belbek: this would not be over in Crimea”

Colonel Yulii Mamchur, who became a national hero in March, shares his insights with The Day on our army today and in the future, the anti-terrorist operation, possible scenarios in Crimea
5 August, 2014 - 11:12
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

Any people must have its heroes to form a modern nation and a strong state. In difficult times such men and women become a consolidating factor for a national community and give an appropriate response to the challenges of history. Commander of the 204th Tactical Aviation Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Colonel Yulii Mamchur became such a hero for Ukraine. His military unit was located at the Belbek airfield near Sevastopol. On March 4, the colonel and his soldiers marched unarmed, carrying the national flag and the unit colors, against the armed “green men,” who had captured the territory of the military unit. As a result of such a psychological attack, Mamchur and his brigade managed to reclaim a part of the airfield. Photos of brave Ukrainian soldiers appeared on front pages of the world’s leading newspapers. After leaving Crimea, Mamchur’s unit was relocated in Mykolaiv. That is where he met with the participants of Den’s Summer School of Journalism on July 25 at Den’s Photo exhibit. His wife Larysa accompanied him as usual, so they together answered questions about Crimea, traitors, anti-terrorist operation, and our army.

What are you and your subdivision doing now in Mykolaiv?

Yulii Mamchur: “Thirty-eight percent of my subdivision left Crimea, it is slightly more than 200 men. Now we are working to restore combat efficiency of the airplanes we took with us from Crimea. The RF allowed us to take about 150 aircraft, which they had discarded as useless. But thanks to the expertise of our engineers and technicians, and with the help of engineers from other units, we are restoring these airplanes now.

“We are also busy with staffing, this is one of the most important issues, because we had to leave a lot of people in Crimea. For an army to consider itself able to fight, there must be a certain number of persons in it. We cooperate with recruitment centers in Kherson, Mykolaiv, Odesa, and Kyiv oblasts, we cover a large territory.”

Is it known in what way the Ukrainian military who stayed in Crimea are treated there? What is your attitude towards them?

Yu.M.: “They are traitors. We call them polizei. Whatever they may say, the Russian military despise them as well.”

Larysa Mamchur: “Moreover, officers stayed there too. Just imagine, they are running from one country to another, looking for a better place in the sun.”


A lot of Ukrainians were shocked at the numbers of our troops who chose to stay in Crimea and join Russia. What do you think caused this disregard towards the oath and military honor?

Yu.M.: “I cannot speak for everyone. Had the government authorized the timely use of weapons, that is, hostilities in Crimea, or the withdrawal of forces, such losses could have possibly been avoided. But we held defense there from February 27 till March 28, and no decisions were made. The defense minister declared that there were no Ukrainian military there, that they had all been withdrawn. Thanks to the fact that we found a TV satellite and watched Ukrainian channels, these statements reached us, and we looked at each other and thought, ‘What are we doing here if we are not here?’

“Many felt they were neglected. Decisions that would give soldiers confidence in service were not made, there was a lot of misinformation from Russia’s side. Meanwhile, Russians took the trouble to send about 15 reps from the general staff, who constantly sought meetings with our troops. I did not let them come anywhere near my unit. They wanted to win over our technical staff, that is, those who have gone through long training. They were pressing for it, saying, ‘You will be put in jail there, they will open criminal cases against you.’ They promised housing, high salaries, and this effort bore fruit: on the one hand, people do not feel the state’s support, and on the other, they see that are given the goodies. Some turned out to be trusting enough to give in to those provocations and believe in those tales. But those are mere tales! Trust me, no one gave them a thing.

“As for contract service soldiers, the staffing was carried out on the circular principle, that is, 95 to 97 percent of contract soldiers in my unit were from Crimea. They graduated from schools and went to serve in the army. They have nowhere to go. Contract soldiers from mainland Ukraine withdrew with everyone else.

“Several military who were born in Sevastopol did not wish to stay in the occupied region. They quarreled with all their relatives, but they left. It was important that people who moved believed in me as a commander.”

L.M.: “I can even say more, it is not only our duty, but the duty of the state to take care that the military who remained faithful to this state should never regret it. They must understand they did a right thing that will serve as an example for future generations.”

Yu.M.: “We do not demand palaces and huge allowances, we only want decent attitude towards the people who made this decision; perhaps, it is the only decision in their lives that was important for every person. Others chose to stay, but they decided to be faithful to the oath and continue serving Ukraine.”

L.M.: “The situation back then looked as if those who left, were leaving for nothing, and those who stayed enjoyed all the benefits of their previous settled lives.”

Yu.M.: “They stayed in their quarters, apartments, that is, they changed nothing in their lives.”


What is your general evaluation of the anti-terrorist operation in the east?

Yu.M.: “I cannot evaluate, because I do not have precise information. Just as for everyone else, my sources are television and Internet. We see that each day or two new towns and villages are liberated. The process is not moving as fast as we would desire, perhaps, but there is progress.

“That is why I want to address the families of troops from the 79th, 95th, 25th, and 80th Brigades: do not think that your sons, husbands, and fathers perform an unnecessary function, for they protect the nation! And protecting the nation is the chief duty of the military, of Ukraine’s men. The only thing I can say is do not consider your men to be cannon fodder, they perform their duty, they are the defenders!

“There are not only those who received call-up papers, but a lot of men who volunteered to serve. They have a clear understanding of whom and what they defend. The real situation is not that bad, I think. As I have said, every day new towns are liberated. Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are changing, perhaps not completely in the way we would want them to, but the majority of population understands what the Ukrainian Army is and how it performs its function of protecting the state, and what the so-called DNR and LNR are. Everything will fall into place! A lot depends on us and how we present the facts in media.”

Do you feel personally how the image of the military and the army has changed in the society recently?

Yu.M.: “Yes, I do, I get a lot of visitors. 2003-04 were extremely hard for the army, huge personnel cuts were made, and now these people are coming back. The boys come after school to enlist as contract soldiers, and girls want to work in the military too. There are more and more people who want to be involved with the military. It is a positive tendency.

“We have ignored the army for 23 years. Even a year ago state-mongers used to say the army should be cut to 100,000 people. Now the situation has changed drastically.”

What should Ukraine’s army be like?

Yu.M.: “It should be professional. But one year of training is not enough. There were two years of service for regular army and three for the navy in the Soviet time. And this time gave an opportunity to train an expert, he was learning for one year and working for another one.


“But in relation to the complexity of staffing, my personal opinion is that a mixed staffing system is needed. There should be contract soldiers and a certain number of draftees. This is a transitional period. I think there should be a professional, that is, contract-based army in the future. Where an officer has a decent financial and residential support, because the state has obligations to him, just as he has obligations to the state.

“There are enough professionals in the air force, in the navy, and in the land forces. Give them decent treatment, and they will transform the army themselves, they will make it combat-ready. The state’s support is required for that as well. Modern weapons have not been purchased for many years. We used the supply we had left over from the Soviet Union. That is why the rearmament of the army is a crucial task today. When the effectiveness of the army increases, such large number of troops will not be necessary.”


More than four months have passed since the annexation of Crimea. Do you think events could have unfolded in any other way?

Yu.M.: “Perhaps, a scenario we are observing in the east right now, with bloodshed, could have been possible. Or maybe, it would have been possible to avoid the events of March. When the Verkhovna Rada of Crimea was captured, there were only 40 or 50 ‘green men,’ and resolute action should have been taken. Such action could have prevented the occupation of Crimea. I am talking as a layman now, not as an expert.”

Did the situation in Crimea caught you by surprise, or had you seen some signs this could happen?

Yu.M.: “It was a complete surprise. Of course, we knew the numbers of Russian troops in Sevastopol are growing. But according to the agreement of 1997, their contingent might reach 22,000. They did not exceed that number. What they did was increase the number of military by five or six thousand. And those are not some ordinary troops. These are the squads that ensured the safety of the Sochi Olympics: trained officers and soldiers. These are Russia’s best servicemen. And they were redeployed to perform these functions.

“We know that now Russian forces are drawing near Perekop now. They are also concentrated along the border with Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv oblasts.”

L.M.: “The scariest is that we knew it in Belbek: this would not end in Crimea. But people in Ukraine did not feel it.”

Yu.M.: “They just waved the thought away, because we had had ‘family’ ties with Russia for so long. There had always been information ties from Ukraine. That is why people refused to think such war was possible.”

L.M.: “Thanks to the fact we held out in Crimea for a month, people understood the essence of the situation, started coming to their senses and pulling down Russian flags. Perhaps, if Crimea was occupied in 5 days, as Russians hoped, everything would       not be limited to Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts today.”

Yu.M.: “As a matter of fact, the Crimean units virtually gave this time for Ukraine to think the situation through.”


I was in Crimea in March with my colleagues. There were a lot of pro-Russian people who gathered at rallies. It looked spectacular and was broadcast everywhere. An impression was created that Crimea was very pro-Russian indeed. But at the same time, we met a lot of people who supported the idea of united Ukraine. And what sentiments did you observe at that time?

L.M.: “We receive plenty of calls from Crimea. People are grateful, they say that thanks to us Ukraine at least knows about them.


“But at the same time, it was hard for us. We did not see the whole Crimea, we saw Sevastopol. And what is Sevastopol? It is Russian troops who stay to live there after retirement. In general, it is a Russian city. It is full of Russian retirees, military, and Russian Soviet-time migrants. We had a lot of workers who were relocated there along with their parents after the end of the World War II. And that is why almost all of Sevastopol was shouting ‘Hurrah, Russia!’ That is why it seemed the majority supported Russia. But when we started communicating with other Crimean regions, it turned out that reality was different from the image created by the Russian propaganda.”

Yu.M.: “But everyone came mainly to Sevastopol. Zhirinovsky gathered his rallies on Nakhimov Square. Even the majority of Russian news reports were made in Sevastopol.”

L.M.: “During the two and a half years we lived in Sevastopol, I heard phrases like ‘Oh, why bother with that Ukraine? Russia is the real deal, Ukraine is nothing’ quite often from locals. There was prepared ground already.”

Yu.M.: “Besides, Sevastopol channels were actively carrying out this propaganda. No one stopped them from doing it... But now there are a lot of settlers from Donetsk and Luhansk, which is why Ukrainian can be heard in Sevastopol now.”

L.M.: “Today people in Sevastopol are outraged because they have never confronted anything of a kind before. They are afraid of those settlers. I want to say that Russians are quite aggressive in that city. When Crimean Tatars speak their native language in public transport, it does not mean no one will attack them. Here, in continental Ukraine, no matter which language you speak, people will treat you adequately. And back there it may be a cause for insults. So, Ukrainian was rarely heard there. But now our acquaintances from Sevastopol say the city speaks Ukrainian.”

Yu.M.: “At first, several Ukrainian channels were broadcast. But closer to the middle of March, only Russian channels were left. Where should people get information from? Newspapers are not popular there. And the idiot box is doing its thing. If the same thing is dinned into someone’s head from dawn till dusk, they will believe it. No one wanted to assess the situation there. But now their euphoria wore out.”


What is the first step to be taken in the restoration of Donbas? What is the best way to do it in order to make the pro-Russian population turn to Ukraine?

Yu.M.: “Economy is an important parameter. For example, the restoration of the infrastructure should be considered, because Donetsk and Luhansk suffered significant damage. People need help in coming back to peaceful life. And this should surely be mentioned. Achievements must be discussed. People have to know what is going on in those regions. Donbas residents also must realize they are not abandoned. No one should forget about the displaced persons as well. The country is united. These are our lands too. And they may not be frittered away. But the male population of Donbas must have dignity to protect their land.”

L.M.: “The issue between the east and the west of Ukraine should be resolved, but it must be done in peaceful time. The west can be understood too, they made a huge contribution to the struggle. Also the east can be understood.”

Yu.M.: “But the main task now is to cleanse the east from terrorists, to stop the shooting there. This conflict must not be frozen, it must be dealt with to the end. The conflict must end this year. The sooner, the better. We do not need Transnistria, Abkhazia, or South Ossetia. We need to execute the tasks on the agenda. And start renewing and growing in 2015. More attention must be paid to the economy. But state authorities and law-enforcement agencies must actually function for this, instead of just changing party colors with every new administration. Even if there are people who have simply been fooled.”

L.M.: “But the majority of Ukrainians have proven to be worthy.”

Yu.M.: “Glory to Ukraine!”


By Maria SEMENCHENKO, The Day; Mariana BOLOBAN, Viktoria BOBROVA, Mykhailo DRAPAK, Roman LEKSIKOV, Den’s Summer School of Journalism