Ukraine can withstand Russians for years, says former Ukrainian soldier

While Victor Kovalenko, a former Ukrainian soldier and journalist, has watched the war unfold in his home country, he says the daily reports he receives from his former comrades give him hope that Ukraine can push back Russian aggression for years.

From his home in Michigan, Kovalenko recounted Newsweek that he is in regular contact with friends, family and former fellow soldiers who provide him with videos and other first-hand information about the conflict. As he receives images of the Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities and the accompanying rubble, Kovalenko said other messages from his country comfort him about his country’s resolve.

“We can beat Russia. We stopped them in 2014 and 2015 was a success,” he said. “Everyone is looking at Ukraine and everyone realizes that Ukraine is stopping Russia, and for the last two or three days the Russian army has not made a major advance . She just stopped.”

Kovalenko said he used to stay up all night checking and translating Russian or Ukrainian videos and other information and posting it to his Twitter feed. He said he is in daily contact with people he served with in the military.

Kovalenko’s Twitter includes videos of a Russian military truck tailing a narrowly-escaping car; an oil storage that caught fire after being attacked by a Russian plane; and Russian soldiers rummaging through someone’s garden and killing chickens, perhaps in search of a meal. Another video shows Russian soldiers leaving a house after being angrily confronted by an elderly couple.

A handful of videos of Kovalenko have been widely shared and picked up by the media. Another video, shown on the Daily Mail, shows a Ukrainian motorist mockingly offering to tow Russian troops back to their country after their tank broke down.

Soldiers of the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine, the military reserve of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, take part in military training in an underground garage converted into a training and logistics base in Kiev, March 11, 2022.

Earlier this week, Kovalenko shared a video of the Ukrainian Navy showing a sinking Russian patrol boat in the Black Sea.

“No one is more resourceful or adaptive than the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” Ben Hodges, former Commanding General of the US Army, said in a tweet sharing the video. “I’ve watched them for the past eight years. Impressive. I imagine the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet feels very uncomfortable in his illegal base in Sevastopol.”

Kovalenko, 50, said he was born in the central Ukrainian town of Kryvyi Rih. After attending school, he pursued a career in television journalism in Kyiv. In 2014, he enlisted in the armed forces after the Ukrainian government began recruiting officers in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea and support for separatists along Ukraine’s eastern border.

During training, Kovalenko said that in the first weeks of his enlistment, he and other recruits were given tiny Soviet-era helmets that offered little protection and no armor as they prepared to fight. the largest army in Europe.

“And I was scared,” Kovalenko said. “Everyone is scared when they go into battle. But I was raised as a patriot and a person who will go into battle if your country needs it.”

He said he was sent to Debaltseve, a town in the Donetsk region along the Russian border, where he said the Russian military – Russia has denied sending troops to the area – had no lived up to his bravado. Kovalenko, a lieutenant, recalled observing a 10 kilometer line of defense with an empty space between them, making it easy to spot any movement.

“And we saw how crazy and stupid they tried to attack us,” Kovalenko said. “They were walking on the frozen field, and they were approaching us and it was not a modern way of waging war. It was as if they were sent to their deaths because they were easy targets. “

The Ukrainian military has been able to maintain Russian-backed forces in the regions, which were recently recognized as independent by President Vladimir Putin. Kovalenko said the Russian military was “unprofessional” despite projecting itself as a powerful army, describing it as “just ordinary guys without proper training”.

Similar scenarios are currently playing out in Ukraine with young Russian conscripts being sent as cannon fodder by their commanders, he said. Meanwhile, he said Ukrainian soldiers had better morale defending their homeland.

The Pentagon said this week that a Russian supply convoy heading for the capital Kiev remains stranded after being attacked by Ukrainian forces. As the conflict entered its second week, Russia has yet to take the Ukrainian capital.

“Most of my friends are optimistic, staying strong and keeping their spirits up,” said Kovalenko, who was married to an American who emigrated to the United States in 2016.

Since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, he said most Ukrainians expected the invasion and handled it calmly. In parts of the country that are not under attack, people normally live their lives by going to work and banking, he said.

Even in war-torn regions, he said Ukrainians can go without heating, food or proper clothing for long periods of time after enduring the lean Soviet years and those that followed. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said historical documents were made public showing Russian crimes against Ukraine.

“Many generations, especially the younger generations, have realized that Russia has committed so many crimes against other nations, Ukrainians in particular,” he said.

Kovalenko said Ukraine could hold Russia back for maybe years. But he said a big problem is Russia’s superior air power that has allowed it to bomb Ukraine with cruise missiles. However, he acknowledges that the United States and its NATO allies are reluctant to provide fighter jets or other support to Ukraine that could provoke a direct confrontation with Russia.

“They just need tools, don’t they?” says Kovalenko.


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