This isn't a game for the people of Southeastern Ukraine. It's a matter of life and death. If they are labeled Russian separatists, terrorists, or Russian military, they and their families will die. No one will care. No one will blink. No one will know.
If you can't put
yourself in their shoes, let me do it for you. Here I am. I live here.
George Eliason, embedded with the army of Novorussia, Donbass, Ukraine
When I was first introduced to the Prezrak commander Sergei77 I got the distinct impression he was expecting someone with the credentials, experience, and expertise that Graham Phillips has shown covering this war. Phillips is by far the most under viewed embedded journalist I have ever known about. He continually running to the real hotspots in the war to document and cover news no other western journalist is covering.
The first question Sergei77 asked when he saw me was where were my news camera and microphone? "Andre" who introduced us, explained I was a writer which didn't seem to go over as well as I hoped. My thoughts on video at that point were more in line with taking notes with some documentation.
A good rule of thumb when you are meeting defense militia leaders involved at the Geo-political level is not to trip over their AK's, especially if the AK has a loaded grenade launcher attached and you're indoors. Wish I'd thought about it more beforehand. I made a great first impression.
Sergei77 gave me one of the most intense first meet and greets I've had in my life-time. The respect he got and gave to his people was extraordinary. At first glance, it seemed he saw me as a very frustrating, time consuming, and necessary annoyance.
Through him I learned the true gravity of the current situation and because of him I was able to spot check both passports and weapons at any and every checkpoint and contact I came across. I will always be thankful for that.
Sergei77 is one of those guys that first impression conjures an image of a strong military background. I could picture this guy scaring the living hell out of "bad guys" anywhere in the world.
I was wrong. Before the war, Sergei77 was a grape and potato farmer who was forced to jump into large boots and fill a void in leadership defending cities and peoples lives with very little notice or training.
He is a Prezrak (Ghost Battalion) commander that protects Kirovsk which is a large coal town and all the towns around it. All in all he is tasked with protecting over 100,000 people. If that is hard for you to fathom, imagine being cast into that mold out of the blue like he was.
When he started talking, the conversation was never about him, his concerns yes; but not him. He was scared for the people living in Donbass because of what he and others in charge see coming.
The sheer number of heavy pieces of armor (tanks, artillery, etc) massing at staging points is staggering. He said they have solid intelligence that Poland has given Ukraine attack and bombing aircraft. The inflow of missile systems both guided and unguided gives Kiev the range to hit the cities and towns far away from the defensive positions. Kiev is putting every dollar of funding it gets into destroying Donbass once and for all.