This is an interview that has been waiting in the wings for a long time. Because it's about how unbearable war is. About how it happens after battles. About how difficult it is to be a Hero. About how even Heroes can be scared. And about how sometimes only love saves. Dmytro Bublyk is a Hero of Ukraine who finds the strength to talk about the consequences of the war.

He is 30 years old. He grew up in Lviv. He went to war as a volunteer. Since 2014, he has been serving in the 24th Separate Mechanized Brigade named after King Danylo. Now he is a master sergeant, a platoon commander in a motorized infantry battalion.

The following is a direct speech.

How they prepared for the invasion

By February 24, people were already in combat positions in the trenches. They were prepared for the fact that at some command or during some kind of shelling, everyone had to know where they would be, that they needed to take up defense in those trenches. On February 24, we were in the trenches. Then the first attack aircraft arrived, and we didn't know whose one. We thought it was our aircraft that had arrived. But it wasn't ours, it was from the side of Stakhanov, it flew somewhere from there.

Probably, when you see aviation in the sky and then realize that it's for you, everything changes.

Yes. Later, assault operations were carried out in Popasna itself, on the outskirts of Popasna. Together with our people, we were on the defensive so that the enemy would not enter from Pervomaisk. According to the interception, the enemy militants said that we were already "in the republic."

Dmytro Bublyk / Screenshot

At that moment, did you get scared?

First of all, I was afraid for people. And I was scared about whether I could handle it. I was afraid that I would not be able to adequately solve a problem or give any clear order. And it was very scary, but I didn't show it.

How many people did you have under your command?

At that time, we were separate platoons, 20 people, maybe more. All the guys. After the death of the company commander and the deputy battalion commander, some personnel came under my command. Then there were many more people.

About the lack of connection

At that moment, did you understand what was happening in the rest of Ukraine? Did you have time, for example, to open the news to see?

There was no time. We learned about what was happening all over Ukraine from new people who came. There was a connection, but it was very weak. Then the connection was no longer Ukrainian.

Was it possible to get in touch with your family?

We tried, when the enemy's jammers stopped working, there were a couple of seconds, a couple of minutes to call or write home. But in most cases, I forbade the use of phones. Because there was a case when a new person came, it was explained to him that he could not use the phone. Use it, but somewhere in the basement. In the evening, he called home or someone called him. The moment he took the phone away from his ear, a sniper shot him in the cheek. He survived.

Hardest

This section of the front of yours, how did you have to hold it?

It is very difficult, very difficult because we did not understand that the enemy was coming. That it is going on a massive, large-scale scale. It was more difficult morally because people were dying. And your friends, brothers-in-arms, and people with whom you have been since 2014.

When did you have the first death toll of yours?

Somewhere in March, late February-March. It was Vasyl Ostrovsky, a native of Lviv, with whom we had served since 2014. During the full-scale war, he was mobilized.

About the Hero's Star

When was you given the star of the Hero of Ukraine?

December 12, 2022. It was Ground Forces Day.

Did you know you were going to be rewarded?

No. I found out two days before the award ceremony that there would be some kind of award ceremony in Kyiv. Yes, already in Kyiv, that there will be a Hero's star.

Volodymyr Zelensky and Dmytro Bublyk / Screenshot

And what at that moment?

I know and understand thanks to whom I received this award. Thanks to the people, the personnel who were next to me. Who fulfilled the tasks. They did everything to prevent the enemy from advancing.

Was there any joy from the star?

No. The star stands next to the rest of the awards.

Exit from Popasna

It was mentally easier to go out. Because people were already very exhausted and there was talk that we would not get out of here, that we had only one way out of here: either the 200th or the 300th. Those people who remained, they relaxed a little mentally.

When you came out, did you have the opportunity to exhale, to rest for at least a short period of time?

Yes.

You went out, and what did you think at that moment, to yourself?

I had a lot of subordinate personnel, a lot of them. When we entered Popasna, there were 88 people. These are the people mobilized, without additions. That is, these are the people with whom we went to Popasna. Out of those 88 people, 11 came out, including two female doctors. When we left Popasna, it was difficult morally because many people died and many were wounded. That I just won't see them anymore.

About contusions

You say you were dug up. Are these the consequences of a concussion?

There were a lot of contusions. I don't know how many. When we left Popasna, we were taken out, we were also accompanied by Grads, phosphorus, and barrel artillery. We went to the village of Bakhmutske. I got out of the car, saw that all the people were alive and I just fell, lost consciousness. The doctors came the next day and looked at me. Then the head of the first-aid post gave me a little digging, then they took me to the hospital. But I refused to continue treatment.

You must have felt bad before. Why didn't you leave?

Because the people I was with, I couldn't leave them.

We are watched mainly by civilians. It's hard to understand what a concussion is when you haven't experienced it. How's that?

I don't know how I felt. At that time, I didn't feel anything on adrenaline. These are headaches, these are very severe pains, these are extremely severe headaches, loss of consciousness.

Is this something that goes away over time?

Depending on the condition and complications of the concussion.

You dug out, went back to your own, and then?

Battles for Katerynivka. In one of those battles for Katerynivka, another concussion. And that's it.

How long has he been fighting

It was Metalist and it was the Luhansk region, the Verhunsky junction.

Was it clear that there was already a real war?

No, not at this time. There was shelling and there was no such thing that we knew full information about the enemy himself. Because then the territories were either lost or taken back.

Your first battle, when did you realize that this was a war?

This is when they began to leave the encirclement, from under Metalist, when the first losses of friends and comrades followed.

Dmytro Bublyk / Screenshot

That is, war for you, first of all, is not about explosions and arrivals?

No. It's about losses when you lose your loved ones.

Massive strikes, such as the Russian Federation is currently conducting, are already a war, they are beginning to destroy us as people, as a nation. Previous centuries, how they destroyed us as people, as a nation. These are people who see that someone else is doing better, and it is necessary to make it worse. Why are they doing so well.

They believe that they are an empire, a federation.

It's an incomprehensible country with incomprehensible people. These are people who don't understand what's really going on.

Why do they come here and die and kill us?

Money. For them, the most important thing is money. They go and think that there will be something better when they capture some city or take some of our territory. No, it won't get any better. This is an abomination that has set foot on our land.

Born in Russia

Ти завжди був україномовним? 

Так, хоч і народився в Російській Федерації.

І скільки часу там пробув?

У 1991 році я вже був в Україні. Я мав сім'ю і в Росії, і в Україні, у Львові. Після того, як там почалися якісь незрозумілі ситуації, мама приїхала в Україну, я залишився тут. Більше я в Росію не повертався і не буду.

Це принципова позиція? 

Це і принципова позиція і це неповага до тієї держави. Нема бажання абсолютно.

Що робити з окупованими територіями

Його нищиш, пробуєш утилізувати, а воно розлітається ще більше і більше. Це навіть якщо і будуть якісь домовленності — це тільки про те, щоб віддати нашу територію і все.

А ти був коли-небудь в Донецьку, Луганську, в Криму?

В Криму був. В Донецьку, можливо, один раз по роботі.

От зараз це майже повністю зруйновані території, де, ймовірно, дуже багато колаборантів. Це території, які розвалені, знищені. Де виховали дітей, які, можливо, вже ненавидять Україну. Навіщо нам ці території?

Це наша земля. Ми це все облаштовували. Навіть місто Попасна, красиве місто. Там є ще українці, які за Україну, які ненавидять тих, хто прийшов туди. Попасна знищена повністю. Нічого, відбудується. Люди, в яких знищені квартири, будинки — вони самі то відбудують. Міста будуть ще кращі, без колаборантів і без того непотребу.

А як перевиховати дітей?

I don't know. This is purely my opinion. The war has been going on for the tenth year. Children who have already been taught that Ukraine is not like that. This is a very, very bad attitude. When we liberate the territories, even if we take the children who were born during the war and combine them with children from the West, they will still behave as their parents and everyone else taught them. And there will be a negative attitude towards us.

Which city of the destroyed, of the occupied, which one do you regret the most?

All cities, absolutely all cities, because a lot of children died there. I feel sorry for every city.

Tell me, are the deaths of an adult soldier and a civilian child different deaths?

No, these are not different deaths. The soldier fulfills his duty, does everything to ensure that this child sleeps peacefully, safely, and warmly. It is true that children are the flower of the nation. The new generation is ours. When children die, it's even harder.

About friends

To be friends together, to gather somewhere at the point of permanent deployment. Or when you're on vacation, you don't go to people who have been with you since childhood, civilians. You go to the people with whom you served. Because it's easier for you with them at the level that there are no questions "how is it?" Why are you sitting here, protect your family.

Are you dreaming?

Very rarely.

And if they dream, then about the war?

War... I am just called by relatives of those who died in Popasna. Why did he die and not you? Why are you alive and my son is dead there? When such calls are made, it is even more difficult for me.

Dmytro Bublyk / Screenshot

No one chose to die or not to die, right?

Yes. But I blame myself a little for this, that I didn't do something, didn't finish something, didn't learn something enough to save his life.

You didn't kill him.

On the one hand, I understand this. But on the other hand, I can't understand. Because I did something wrong to save his life. Something I didn't do for that. I didn't do enough for that.

You can't be a shield against shells and mines either.

I can't. But I can help them understand what that shield should be. Or do something to protect yourself from that. I didn't do something to save their lives and health.

How to Speak

People are now returning from the war. As a rule, those who have a severe wound or amputation of a limb return. And the family doesn't know what to do with it, how to behave, what to do? What can I say?

Treat that person the way you treated how they lost a limb. Careful talk about the war, very careful. You don't even have to talk about the war, you just have to talk about the things you said or talked about before the war and that's it.

But the war has not gone away.

Yes, the war has not gone away. But when you talk about the things you talked about before you lost a limb or before you were wounded, you get a little distracted from it, you forget about it. If relatives have noticed over time that a person's behavior has changed, you can talk a little about the war. You donʼt just need to impose this idea and talk about the war. There is no need for war, war.

How to help the military

Like soldiers who don't feel good asking for help? What needs to be said? I've been to war, I've been so strong, I'm so brave, I've been through so much. And here a person needs help, and a person often cannot say about it. What words should be used to say this, and to whom?

You don't need to say anything. You can just see from the person that help is needed. I can't ask for help, talk about something, do something. There is a person, my soul mate, he sees that it is difficult for me, that something is wrong with me. She tries to just talk to me, and she provides this help herself. That is...

Dmytro Bublyk / Screenshot

Just loving a person?

Yes. Just maintain it. There is nothing stronger than the support of a loved one, there is simply none. Yes, a soldier sits in a trench at the forefront. Yes, he is fighting. Yes, it's hard for him. He is no longer strong, but he is trying to do something. He received a call from his mother, sister, daughter, brother, and someone close to him. After talking to them, he felt better. He calms down and that's it.

What helps to hold on

What helps you to hold on?

Soul mate.

Did you have a soul mate before or during the war?

During. This year.

And did it get easier?

Yes. I had support. There is a person who can say: I support you, let's sit down and discuss it. And as she says: if something happens, something is wrong, everything needs to be discussed. When you've spoken out, you feel much better.

Dmitriy Bublik and Natalya Nagornaya / Screenshot

What will you say to yourself on the day the war is over?

I don't know what I'm going to say... Glory to Ukraine? (laughs).

Glory to the heroes.

TSN correspondent Natalya Nagorna.

On the TSN YouTube channel, you can watch the video The Most Candid Interview with Dmytro Bublyk: About Real Losses, Why Russians Go to Kill!