first published on August 6, 2018 by Josh
The conflict in Ukraine has become a static battlefield with both sides holding trenches and fighting subsurface. Daily artillery, mortars, sniper and machine gun fire across 350 to 500 yards of No Man’s Land. It’s been 100 years since the end of the First World War, a war that was described as the war to end all wars. Weapons and tactics may have changed, but men are still locked into fierce fighting from trenches in 2018.
The war in Ukraine started in 2014 when Pro-Russian separatists rose up, wanting Eastern Ukraine to be part of Russia and the Ukrainian military on the other side wanting to keep their sovereignty. The conflict has been forgotten by the world’s media, as superpowers play a game of political chess for the future of Eastern Europe.
The average Ukrainian soldier gets paid around $500 a month and there’s a sense of nationalist pride among these soldiers, but I’m here on the ground to meet American and European volunteers who have come to Ukraine to fight, for the latest in my documentary series Robin Hood Complex. I want to find out what motives these international volunteers have to fight in someone else’s war. Shawn, an American from Texas who served in the US Navy has come to join Ukrainian Forces. When I ask him what motivated him to come to Ukraine and fight, he replied “Russia is an aggressor and I’m here to help Ukraine protect its borders.” playing devils advocate I replied “Many people in the east of Ukraine want to be part of Russia, you’re an American, is Russia more aggressive than the United States and Britain with their foreign policy, could you say invading Iraq and Afghanistan was more aggressive?” To which he replied “I don’t do politics!”
Russell, an American also from Texas known as the “Donbass Cowboy” is with the Pro-Russian Separatists, the other side to Shawn. His motives are different “I came to Donbass to fight fascism and defend the people of Donbass who were attacked by the Ukrainian Army and neo-nazi terrorists in 2014. The Ukrainian Army and Nazi “volunteer battalions” committed mass murders and war crimes such as bombing civilian homes, schools and hospitals. “We have a right to self-defense, and that is what we do, whether anyone likes it or not.”
The conflict here is complex. With some Ukrainians believing they have closer ties to Moscow than Europe. International volunteers have poured to both sides of this conflict which have split fellow countrymen.
As I spend time on the Ukrainian front-line, it’s alarming to see how shallow the trenches are in places, and how narrow they are. Knowing there is no way you could fit a stretcher through the trenches I asked the commander how do you evacuate your injured, to which he replied, “We drag them.” it took me 35 minutes to get from their Forward Operating Base to the furthest forward position. Dragging someone this far, who’s badly injured, they are not likely to make it.
The day before I arrived, three Ukrainian Marines had been injured in an artillery strike. The vehicle I was picked up in was covered in their dry blood showing just how dangerous this conflict still is.
Covering this conflict is a lot harder for me than my my last documentary. We all know Islamic State is clearly an evil enemy, but here in Ukraine, it’s a lot harder to see who are the good guys and who are the bad ones. It’s easy to side with the media narrative, but nothing in Ukraine is black or white.