“You can go to war, but you cannot return from war”: an intimate interview with a Ukrainian sniper in Bakhmut

I want to reach 60.

—At 60 what? Years?

—Ha. No.


—To the 60 dead.

Volodomir Kurt has 57. He started the account six years ago, when he had his first mission as sniper. It counts only those deaths for which it has video confirmation. “There must be many more, but the ones I have proof of are only 57″, she says.

Kurt smokes several cigarettes during the interview. (Franco Fafasuli/)

He’s at a base somewhere in the Donbas, near Bakhmut. She has a cell phone in her hand and shows videos in which a man can be seen in the distance, a scope pointing to the side of the target, and the short noise of a trigger. Four, five or six seconds later the man is seen falling. “The seconds it takes for the bullet to arrive depend on the distance”Explain.

For years Kurt held the record in the Ukrainian Army: he was the sniper with the target hit at greater distance from the history of the force: 2,162 meters, two kilometers and little more. This year someone narrowly beat him. Kurt says he doesn’t think he’s going to get his job back, today he’s a commander of a special group and he’s not so much involved as a sniper anymore, but in charge of a scouting patrol in which they manage a team of drones, armored attack vehicles, distribution of mines, and planning and execution of extractions behind enemy lines when a Ukrainian soldier is relegated after the Russian advance.

Kurt finds another video on the phone and is suddenly happy. It shows: it’s your six-month-old son watching a UFC fight on your home television. “Hector is called,” he says, “like the warrior from the Iliad.” He then runs his finger across the screen and advances to the next video. She is no longer his son but another shot from a distance. On the screen he points to a tiny black circle that looks pixelated. A few seconds later, the circle falls. He doesn’t know who he is or what life he had. He knows the meters at which he was killed.

interview with the soldier
For years Kurt held the record in the Ukrainian Army as the sniper with the longest target hit in the history of the force: 2,162 meters. (Franco Fafasuli/)

“I let the air out and wait for the moment between beat and beat. Only then do I trigger, so that my heart does not make my body tremble, ”she says. Behind him, huge maps decorate the room: they are the enemy positions he is studying to attack. His brother is sitting at a table next to him, eating an orange salad with two pieces of bread.

“You started fighting this war nine years ago. What were you like back then?

—I was 26 years old. He was a romantic, he was very naive… I thought that war was an adventure, but everything changed in 2014, when I met the first dead of the war. That year I went as a volunteer, and later I came back as an officer in the armed forces. There I saw that war is not romantic, it is horror. And I became someone stronger, more mature. I became an adult, because at 26 I was still a child, I thought I was mature, here I understood that I had not seen anything yet.

“And what did you see?”

—What I see in war cannot be explained… We became robots programmed for only one thing. I only think about how to destroy the occupiers who came to my land. And although I rarely go home, when I do I still think about it. Today I understood that money is nothing in this world, it is a resource to exist but in war that does not matter. In war, the most important thing is the human, your human level, if you are people, then all the rest is discovered by itself, if you are a true warrior, if it is your mission or not, all of this is in one’s soul, it is here.

When it says here, it points to the heart. “Here”, and he gets hit a little.


interview with the soldier
Volodomir Kurt has 57 dead invading soldiers. He started the account six years ago, when he had his first mission as a sniper. He counts only those deaths for which he has video confirmation. (Franco Fafasuli/)

It’s another day. Kurt had a hectic week: went twice to attack a Russian position and succeeded destroy an artillery post. Both times he approached the enemy line in a tank that he keeps hidden in a remote corner of a remote town in the Bakhmut area. The reference is rather vague because it is forbidden to give precise clues about what is seen: According to what they say, the Russians are on the hunt for all kinds of information that can help them, and although it seems implausible they say that they sweep all the news in the world in search of data.

Now it’s night and Kurt smokes. During an hour of interview he will smoke about 17 cigarettes. At the end, he will take off his shirt to show his tattoos: the shield of his unit, his favorite number, and a huge image of the grim reaper on his left arm. She did it to him when she arrived at 50 deaths.

The first question is what is your mission in this war, but as soon as you start to answer, the sound of something flying over the base will be heard very clearly, like a giant mosquito. “Is he a shahid?” he will say. A shahid is a type of Iranian-made drone known as a kamikaze drone: it identifies a target and drops on it to explode it. So far in the war, it is one of the weapons that has given the Russian army the most results.

interview with the soldier
Tattooed under his shirt is the shield of his unit, his favorite number, and a huge image of the grim reaper on his left arm. (Franco Fafasuli/)

“He’s a shahid,” he says, convinced. It seems to me that it is about to attack… It is preparing to attack.

He stands up, dashes out of his desk, grabs a rifle, and heads out of the base. Everything is completely dark, it is close to 11 pm, and the only noise of a shahid approaching is heard.

One of his soldiers follows close behind, puts on a night vision and points to the sky looking for the drone. A few seconds later a shot is heard and the shahid’s noise fades, and he is heard falling. The shot did not come from his base but from another one nearby, we don’t know where or from whom, but there are many men on alert for this area of ​​the Donbas, the most intensified of the war.

We return to the desk. Kurt lights another cigarette, looks at the camera with a smile, waves his hands, shows his teeth, like he’s a boxer toying with his opponent before the weigh-in. He lights the lighter, then the tobacco, lowers his hands, asks me to repeat the question.

Operative drones Donbas - War Ukraine Russia - Infobae in Ukraine
“Kurt” the battalion chief smokes before heading to the front. (Franco Fafasuli/)

“What is your mission in this war?”

“Win the war against Russia, remove the occupiers from our land. I work so that there will never be a war in Ukraine again. That is my goal, that my children do not know what war is. Because I’ve been in it for a long time and I know what death and destruction is. I know what the death of soldiers and civilians is. This should never happen. War is a very terrible thing

“Are you scared sometimes?”

—In war there is fear, yes. If in war someone tells you that he is not afraid, he is a sick person. But we are afraid until we meet death face to face. There, as you fire back, the fear disappears. War changes us, we become tougher, emotionless. And we understand who are friends and who are not… In the war I learned a lot about people.

Are there moments of happiness?

-Every day. Without them we would already be dead… The humor of the military is very black and very fine at the same time. And we use it every day so we don’t go crazy.

“You told me you’ve already killed 57 Russians.” Do you have any nightmares about them, any feelings about the fact that they killed 57 people?

-I don’t have anything. No. I’m going to explain: when you grab the weapon for the first time, you’re worried because you don’t know how to use it. When you start using it, you consider yourself a good shot… When you go to war you don’t think you are going to kill people, you think you are going to destroy the enemy, to remove the occupants from your land. You also have to understand that in order not to go crazy, you have to know what you are doing… Every day we meet Russian soldiers, it is not just Putin who is responsible for the deaths of my people, it is Russian soldiers. My people did not come to kill anyone. My people are not raping anyone. My people don’t shoot buildings like they say. My people did not enter any foreign territory with weapons to kill… After you see all this, you start to think: what can I do to make them suffer even more?

“To whom?”

“To the Russians. to the occupants.


interview with the soldier
During an hour of interview you will smoke about 17 cigarettes. (Franco Fafasuli/)

Kurt is laughing at me now. “If Argentina goes to war with soldiers like you, they will lose it for sure,” he says. He looks at one of his soldiers, he points to me, makes a comment, they both laugh. Then he gets serious: “You have to be prepared to defend your country.”

Just ten minutes ago I just finished a mission four kilometers from the Russian formation and Kurt is disappointed that I didn’t want to go with him. “We are journalists, not soldiers”, he explained to him, and he laughs and discredits him: “They lose for sure”, he says again, “if they are like you they lose for sure”. Everyone laughs, including us. It is the immediate euphoria after a mission, when the extreme danger has passed and no losses or injuries have been sustained.

When we’re back at the base, he’ll treat us to lunch, and he’ll stop making jokes about courage. Except for one last time, when he will point at me and say: “Higuaín… Not Messi, Higuaín”. The mockery is fascinating and unheard of. He offers us to stay and eat with the battalion: soup, meat, stew, pasta, cake, soda, coffee, energy drink, chocolate. There’s no shortage of food at Kurt’s base of operations.

—Doesn’t this close relationship you have with death worry you?

—Between the enemy explosions, my drone work, the missions… I don’t have time to worry about the ones I’ve eliminated. I have not killed them, I am not a murderer. I have removed them from my land. I have eliminated the occupants.

“It’s hard to understand for someone who isn’t in the war.”

—If you hold the weapon in your hands, you have to understand what you hold it for. That way nothing tortures you. You have to understand what it is for. The most difficult thing is to make the first shot from the optical sight, it is the most difficult thing in the sniper experience. In the training field, where we shoot at a cardboard, it is not the same. The cardboard does not breathe and does not return the shot. Shooting this beast that came to my land is something else, and the beast moves. You have to be a hunter at that moment, and all your rage must be put into that little bullet that is going to blow up the enemy.

-Do not think.

“You have to stay calm and balanced. When you got that first shot right, everything starts to shake, like when you have your first relationship with a woman. It is impossible to explain, they are emotions that cannot be compared to anything. And at that moment you blame yourself, but if in your head you understand that everything you do is not in vain, that you are not a murderer, that you are a destroyer, then you are calm. I am not killing anyone, I am destroying the enemy. And if you understand it, you will continue to do it. If in your head you understand that your shot is defending someone, then you will no longer be able to resign. You can go to war, but you cannot return from war.

—In each mission they carry out they run a concrete risk. What do you tell your soldiers before each sortie?

—I don’t have people who don’t know what they’re doing. So I don’t need to advise them. When a person arrives at the unit, I look at them and see what they can do and what they can’t. In the Army everyone is very different, and in the unit as well. We are all different but we think alike. And everyone has their homework… I tell them what our goal is and what we want. If you understand me from the first word, the task is 90 percent done. And if I see that someone has doubts, I simply remove them from the task and put someone else who is going to do it well.

—You have been in the war for nine years, I imagine that you have lost many comrades. Is there a loss that has hurt particularly?

—I have five fingers on one hand, and five on the other, if I cut any finger, it will hurt equally. I don’t have any loss that hurts more than another. We are all like a family. Even if a soldier from another unit dies, it hurts just the same. A death of anyone on my team is like losing a brother, it’s very painful, it’s like removing a screw from a mechanism: that’s where the machine loses its balance for a while. All the lives we lose are so valuable that they are priceless, the person leaves the most precious thing they have for their country. But the goal justifies all this. It’s about our freedom, that’s why we have to keep working.

“What’s the first thing you’re going to do when the war is over?”

“I’m going to cry a lot. If I live until the day of victory, I will cry a lot, and I will remember those who fell. It’s not going to be a celebration, it’s going to be a pain, pain for all those I lost. Pain for everything they did to my country. And I’ll be on my knees in front of god, if I survive. And I will remember when I was 26 years old, and I will think that I am that again.

Photos and video: Franco Fafasuli.

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