The 92nd Separate Assault Brigade named after Cossack Otaman Ivan Sirko took an active part in the liberation of Kharkiv region and is now defending Ukraine near Bakhmut in Donetsk region.

Slidstvo.Info journalists spoke with the commander of the artillery division of the 92nd separate assault brigade, call sign “Barakuda”. He used to be a civil servant, but has been in the army for ten years now. The Ukrainian defender spoke about how the army has changed in 10 years, corruption and mobilisation.

Commander of an artillery battalion of the 92nd separate assault brigade with the call sign “Barakuda”

What has changed for you in the army over the past ten years, particularly in bureaucratic processes?

There were many changes, they were cyclical and generally reflected the attitude to the war. I’m a person who worked in the State Property Fund of Ukraine until 2014, so I have a fairly calm attitude to the so-called “rational bureaucracy”. A rational bureaucrat is a person who monitors the implementation of laws and regulations. This is normal. The other thing is that our bureaucracy is often not rational and carries with it incomprehensible prohibitions, which, accordingly, gives rise to corruption.

And so 2014 was “just shoot, guys”. I was in a mortar battery at the time and made myself a working map, which I used to shoot at. There were no tablets back then. It was a working map with targets marked on it, with the firing position marked on it. Once a general came. He was extremely surprised that there was a working map, and he said to the battery commander: “If the map was signed, I would have given you a medal”. I was still a young soldier and I had a feeling that I had let my commander down, because the only thing that was needed was to sign the map, and I didn’t know that. The battery commander reassured me and said: “Not being punished is an encouragement.”

Then the bureaucratic machine began to wind up: “Guys, shoot, but do something” and “Yes, you shoot, but where are your papers?”. And at some point, everything turned, as they say, into a “logbook of logbooks”. And now we have returned to normal formalised documents.

You said that excessive bureaucracy breeds corruption. What do you think of these stories about the purchase of jackets and tourniquets?

I believe that, unfortunately, this has been and will be the case, and it kills our ability to fight. It undermines… At this time, when volunteers are collecting money for the same drones, the guys are buying spare parts at their own expense, repairing our junk cars, I’m talking about jeeps… There are such amounts of money! And this is just what has surfaced… I think this is just the tip of the iceberg, which is white, and we don’t see the black below.

And, unfortunately, if we don’t overcome this corruption component, then having such strong corruption traditions, we won’t be able to end it ourselves. This is a real problem. Again, this is about a generation, many generations, who cannot do otherwise. Even young boys and girls already have this “let’s solve it” attitude.

And who should fight corruption in Ukraine?

Perhaps it should be controlled by our Western allies, who give us money, weapons and ammunition. Perhaps they, knowing this situation, will help us. But this will take decades, generations to eradicate. Just as Moses led people through the desert to create a generation that did not know slavery, so we need to do the same. Because the Soviet Union and then the post-Soviet past left us with a very heavy legacy. And it is painful for me to see that the current generation of 20-year-olds is already suffering from this disease.

At first, when we realised that we would not all die, that we could win, I was euphoric. I think that now Ukraine will become a completely different country, but look at what they have started to say again: “We are Russian speakers, we will speak Russian”.

I’m not even talking about the fact that you open Facebook and there: “How can I avoid mobilisation on legal grounds?” This happens because there is demand. And if there is demand, it means that people are going around asking: “How? How?”

Commander of an artillery division of the 92nd separate assault brigade with the call sign “Barakuda”

What do you think about those who avoid mobilisation?

Here I would not be so categorical and would not say: “Bastards, traitors, back to the trenches, all of them.” Well, first of all, they are not fucking needed there. Those who don’t want to fight, they won’t fight, even if you put them in a trench. They are not reliable. They will gather in a bunch and go back, opening the guys’ flank or rear.

But no one wants to fight, right?

Well, yes, no one wants to. Let’s start with the fact that not everyone can fight. Psychologists say that only 10% can be warriors, and a certain percentage of them are maniacs and serial killers.

But it is important that for every guy in a trench, in armour, with a machine gun, there should be up to 100 people who dress him, arm him, repair equipment, provide him with food and logistics. If everyone gets up and goes to war, I think it will be powerful, but in two weeks it will be over, because there will be no backup.

If you cannot physically go to war, then volunteer, work, because the army needs everything. As an economist, I don’t understand why the economy is not being put on a military footing. We are at war, we are not in the JFO (Joint Forces Operation, held in Ukraine from 2018 to 2022 — ed.) As they say there: “The country will become unattractive for investment”. The country cannot be attractive for investment when we are at war. Those who are currently investing and building something in the West of the country understand all the risks and are doing it mostly for us. I’m talking about our Western partners, and I think they will continue to do so. The whole country must work to win. Yes, we are clothed, we have shoes, we have food, but, for example, we started producing ammunition only this year. That is, the country has been at war for ten years, and we have only started producing ammunition now. We need to put a big question mark and draw conclusions.

What is your current ammunition situation and that of the Russians? Perhaps you have information from intercepts or from your own observations, what is the situation with ammunition on the Russian side? 

Our situation with ammunition is normal. And the Russians… Judging by the intensity of the shelling and the intercepts, I would say that they also have a limit on the amount of ammunition. The mountains are not the same as they were before. When we were north of Kharkiv, towards Staryi Saltiv, a Leleka (Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle — ed.) filmed Russian positions on the very border. There were howitzers there, and behind them were stacks of spent shells higher than the guns. This is no longer the case. This is also due to the explosions of warehouses — God save our HIMARS and our intelligence. There is less shooting now.

Has anything changed in the Russians’ tactics compared to what you saw in the Kharkiv region and now near Bakhmut?

It has changed, of course. They are constantly learning, constantly changing their tactics. I cannot understand their motivation. Perhaps it’s the hypnotism of propaganda, they start to believe in it. But of course, when you talk to prisoners, everyone says: “No, no, I didn’t shoot at all”. Well, of course, I haven’t “seen” anyone who has fired yet. This is understandable, they teach each other what to say if you are captured. They are really motivated. It’s not because of the barrier unit behind them. It’s really the propaganda they were fed even before 2014.

Look at the attitude towards Ukrainians even in the Soviet Union. Ukrainians were “clowns”, “khokhly” — as if they were a little stupid and cunning. And then suddenly this stupid and cunning ‘khokhol’ starts to rub it in the face of these ‘Great Russians’.

What do you do mostly now? And what kind of weapons would you like to get?

The priority is to work with the 155 calibre. Of course, I am looking forward to being rearmed. I can’t say what will happen yet.

I would like an Archer (Swedish self-propelled artillery system — ed.), because today it is probably one of the most advanced, but also expensive, artillery systems. Although, for example, back in 2021, I also took part in the testing of the DANA-M2, an ultra-modern 152-calibre weapon, the 155-calibre is Zuzana (a further modification of the DANA artillery system — ed.), which is a great modern machine that allows you to perform tasks so quickly that it is almost impossible to reach it with artillery.

In other words, there are a lot of shells for the 155 calibre, so we want it! Dear command, I hope so.

What is your current work intensity?

We are currently working on general fire support and mainly on supporting assault operations. During the period of active operations, we fire about 40 shells a day from our 2C1 (self-propelled artillery system — ed.). With the current number, this is quite normal. It’s not the same as it was at the beginning, when we fired 700 shots a day in four directions from 12 guns, because we don’t have that many shells.

You have a photo of you being one of the first to enter Kupiansk. It always seemed that the artillery was a bit behind. How did this happen? (I’m talking about this photo of “Barracuda” taken in the already liberated Kupiansk during the Kharkiv counteroffensive).

My position as a division commander was right next to the commander of a general military unit. At that time, I was attached to the first mechanised battalion and, accordingly, all my movements took place together with the battalion commander who took Kupiansk.

The battalion commander, deputy battalion commander and deputy for logistics are pictured there — they are all my good friends and comrades. And in fact, this was the second time we came in that morning. Before that, we came in at night. At that time, the ‘orcs’ (Russians — ed.) had already fled from the right to the left bank towards Kupiansk-Vuzlove. We almost got into a firefight with the company commander of our battalion (smiles). I already had a round in the chamber, but, thankfully, he recognised us, so we avoided friendly fire. In the morning, we went to remove the Russian flags and took that famous photo.

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