I got a phone call in Popasna (the Luhansk region) on Thursday:
- She military you showed in your reportage yesterday has perished.
You want to scream at such moments.
When you listen to those everyday Headquarter’s reports like "1 Ukrainian servicemen KIA, 4 WIA in the last 24 hours", it does not move you so much. Familiar faces do not stand behind those figures. You just compare the data: there are fewer or more perished soldiers this day than there were yesterday. The situation changes so much when it is about people you know.
I had met Dmytro Godzenko, call name "Godzilla" on March 30, the day before he perished. That day, the crew of the 5th channel arrived in Zaitseve which still is one of the hottest spots in the ATO zone. According to journalists’ rules, reporters must be accompanied by a press officer or a servicemen in such places. However, everyone refused to take us to the front line from Zaitseve.
And then "Godzilla" appeared. A man who was more than two metres tall and who had that broad sincere smile said: "Let’s go".
When we were rushing from Popasna to Zaitseve on March 31, as we wanted to record at least a couple of warm words to his comrades in arms and family members, a post appeared on his Facebook page. It was written by his son who was a 24th Channel operator.
І thought than that "Godzilla" did not gather us the day before and bring to the front line in Zaitseve without any hidden motive. Maybe, he hoped to meet his son’s shooting crew there. Or maybe he thought: I will help this operator today and another serviceman will help my son tomorrow.
Maybe, he just saw his son in operators of other channels and he told us about everyday military life in Zaitseve as he would tell his son about it. "Godzilla" did not say a lot about himself in his last interview. He spoke about military service and about Zaitseve.
On March 30, our communication with "Godzilla" started with his question: "What kind of a video do you want to shoot?" He immediately set one condition: not to show the aftermath of that day’s shelling so that the enemy would not be able to understand where their mines hit. After that, he asked one more question:
- Do all of you have helmets and bulletproof vests?
- Do you have them?, - I asked jokingly as I knew that a lot of servicemen ignore protection even at the front line as it hampers moving. "Godzilla" was not wearing a helmet and I could not see his vest either.
- I have kevlar, - he answered dryly pointing somewhere underneath his jacket and indicating that the vest was there.
In less than five seconds we heard an explosion and then a second one.
- Well, let’s go into the courtyard, - commanded "Godzilla" quickly.
- Can we make a video?
- Yes, you can, but I do not know what is happening. I need to take the walkie-talkie. Let’s go, - ushered us "Godzilla".
- I will take the walkie-talkie and come back to you. In case of danger, hide as quickly as possible.
"Godzilla" was absent for two minutes. During that time we noticed that the locals did not pay any attention to explosions. A man in a house not far from the place where we were standing, continued hammering his windows with some wood and electricians were repairing an electric power line.
"Godzilla" came back saying that an artillery shell had landed. He reminded us once again: we had to shoot without indicating the exact location. "The crater with the pillar must not be shown".
As he was saying that, we heard another explosion and the servicemen reported on walkie-talkie where the mine had landed.
That was when our "tour" of the village began and for more than an hour "Godzilla" was our guide in Zaitseve.
- This one’s fresh, its today’s landing, - he told us as we approached a crater.
A serviceman appeared in the street, he was carrying something heavy on his shoulder.
- Is this today’s, Vanya?, - asked "Godzilla" loudly as the serviceman came closer.
- It landed yesterday, - answered the serviceman. He added as he approached us. - It landed yesterday in the evening and did not explode. "Boroda" dug it out. Here it is, 120 mm.
The serviceman put a half a metre shell in front of us.
- It has a very interesting fuze, I have never seen one like this before, - started a military with a call name "Pencil". "I used to be an artillerist, but I do not know such fuzes. You can even adjust its height".
- Why do you collect these shells?, - asked I. - Do you send them anywhere?
- No, we don’t. Besides, we rarely have big shells that have not exploded. Usually we dig an unexploded shell into the ground and then, when some inspection arrives here...
The OSCE is not here today, for example. The OSCE knows when they are going to shoot, so they do not come here on that day. We collect shells to report about them later, because then they start saying that we "shell" and the sound comes from "here", we could hear the salvo, but we cannot say for sure where it came from. Then, we show the shells.
- Do such shellings happen regularly or has the number increased recently?
- They occur here all the time. Now, they have been shelling for four days running. Sometimes there are pauses for three or four days and then they shell for three or four days. There is no consistent patterns here. We mean something heavy under "a shelling", like the episodes you have just seen. 120 and 150 mm mortars, artillery — these are heavy weapons. Grenade launchers or machine-guns are not that serious. Four grenades have exploded while you have been here (we had been there for ten minutes by that moment).
Oleksiy Bratuschak for "Ukrayinska pravda"
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