Some background. “Kraken” is a Ukrainian special forces unit that operates under the Azov Battalion. Since the Russian invasion in February, Kraken has played a large role in defending the Eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Recently, I sat down the second in command of the unit for a brief interview. The following is the translation of that interview.
The Ukrainians have surprised the world by beating back the Russians outside of Kyiv and standing their ground around Kharkiv. Why do you think Russia, who were seen as having the second best military in world, has failed so badly at invading Ukraine?
One of the greats said that generals are always preparing for the past war. And I think that the situation with the Russian military reflects the reality that exists in Russia. For Russia the most significant military achievement is the Soviet victory in the Second World War. It seems like the whole society, both military and civilian, lives completely focused on that war. It also seems like during all these years nothing has changed. After the Second World War, the Soviet military was ready for anything except waging war. It is the same with the Russian military now, following in the footsteps of the Soviet army. The Russian military focused on parades and showing off their power.
In a certain aspect, what helped Ukraine was the pitiful state of the military in 2014. During almost 30…25 years of independence, the Ukrainian military degraded significantly. It was a miracle it wasn’t defeated in 2014 when the war began. But once things started in 2014, we realized our weaknesses. That’s why after 2014, the Ukrainian military began to gain momentum and became stronger and stronger. While the Russian army, I think, appropriated those laurels of “second best military in the world” and now it is reaping what it has sown.
After all this footage of Russian soldiers executing civilians, do you feel hatred towards the average Russian soldier? Also, do you think relations between Ukraine and Russia will ever return to normal?
The relationship with Russia is damaged. It was damaged a long time ago, and unsurprisingly it has been further damaged by Russia itself. It became clear a long time ago that Russians are not brotherly people and it’s not a brotherly nation. Since 2004, when the Orange Revolution occurred in Ukraine, Russia began to show its true face.
The relationship was deteriorating regardless of who our president was. A pro-Russian Yanukovych, a pro-Ukrainian Yushchenko, Poroshenko or Zelenskiy. The statues of the relationship depended on the position of Russia. That’s why my attitude towards Russia, the Russian people, and the Russian military spoiled exactly on February 24th. When the first explosions were heard in Kharkiv, everything became clear for me. Because in no way was Kharkiv a military city. It was not preparing for war, it was not preparing for defense.
When they attacked my attitude truly changed.
Then on March 1st rockets hit the Regional administration building, which was awful and it decisively finalized not only my feelings and but the feelings of all the other people around me towards Russia and Russian soldiers. That’s why Bucha, Irpin, or villages around Kharkiv didn’t change my attitude. They confirmed that we were correct.
When Polish journalists came, they said “now you understand, now you’re going to hate Russia as much as we Poles do.” I don’t think that in the foreseeable future, or at least with this generation, the relationship with Russia is going to normalize at all.
Certain areas in Eastern Ukraine and also Kharkiv are called pro-Russian. Are you surprised by how well the city and these areas have held up against the Russian invasion?
I’m surprised not by the defense of Kharkiv, but by the situation in the whole country, how united the collective opinion of the whole country is, how everybody is making an effort to help and how everyone is trying to defend their country.