At an event of the volunteer non-profit "Razom for Ukraine" in New York, I bumped opon a young woman whom I hadn’t seen before among NY-based volunteers. Her name is Alexis Anttilla, she told me. "What do you do?" - "I’m a fighter." We both had a little laugh... Well, maybe she’s joking, I thought. And then, during the official part of the event, the host actually presented her as a soldier fighting in Ukraine against the Russian invaders. So I asked her for a short interview for Ukrinform.
I CAME TO UKRAINE AFTER ZELENSKY’S CALL TO FOREIGN FIGHTERS
Could you tell me a bit about your background?
Sure. Well, I was born in Dallas, Texas in 1994. I'm 28 years old. I'm currently an undergraduate student at Columbia University studying biology.
So what you're doing in Ukraine?
I went over to Ukraine as a foreign fighter. When President Zelensky said, if you're a friend of Ukraine, we need foreign fighters, come help us. I booked my ticket back in late February, and I showed up in Ukraine early March to fight.
Did you have any sort of, military training before leaving for Ukraine?
No military training from the U.S. Growing up in Texas, I did have some weapons training, where we have a lot of guns with my family, so we would go shooting on the weekends or go to the gun range.
So I was very comfortable with assault rifles and how to use them, but I didn't have any formal military training. I received that when I arrived in Kyiv.
And could you tell me exactly what unit you were in, in Ukraine?
Sure. So, at the beginning of March, I ended up joining Azov in Kyiv, and I fought with them outside of Brovary. Unfortunately my pronunciation of Ukrainian towns is a little bit subpar… I fought there and then I met Vitaliy Zyuhovych. He is one of the patients that Razom operated on recently, and the reason why they operated on him was because we were driving to engage the Russians, go on a reconnaissance mission, and our vehicle hit an anti-tank mine.
So, after that point we ended up coming back to the U.S. to recover.
I've actually been to Ukraine three times since the war started, and I'll be leaving in one week to go back and fight for my fourth time.
So I've been with Azov, I've been with Pravyi Sector, and I've been with Karpatska Sich.
I’LL BE IN BAKHMUT IN A FEW DAYS
So are you going to come back to Ukraine this year?
Sure. I leave for Poland on the 24th.
What part of Ukraine are going to?
Oh really? That's a very hot spot.
And what are you going to do there?
I'll be a foreign fighter with Azov.
What kind of arms have you mastered?
So, I'm familiar with the Kalasnikov, I can use it. I'm familiar with an M4, it's like a U.S. military type assault rifle. I can shoot a Javelin missile, NLAW, Carl Gustaf, Matador, all anti-tank weapons.
How many targets have you hit?
Actually the first couple of times that I went to Ukraine, I was there as the medic and also the A-gunner, or the assistant gunner. So I would help reload Carl Gustaf.
So, I have personally never hit targets. I assisted the people that shot the targets. This time around though I'll be going in more as a fighter and a gunner. So hopefully I'll be able to hit targets personally myself when I go.
Is this a sort of unit, you are in that consists only of foreigners?
There are some foreigners, but typically we are fighting with Ukrainian forces. Every single time that we've been there, we've always collaborated with Ukrainian forces. We've also collaborated with Azov. We collaborated with Ukrainian military, or when we were with Karpatska Sich... So we collaborated with Ukrainian military.
We always have a mixture of Ukrainian and foreign forces together.
What's your rank?
When in Ukraine, my rank is just a soldier. Or a medic.
Do you have a uniform?
Is it a Ukrainian uniform?
It's a US Army uniform. I got it from a US Army surplus store here. But I have a Ukrainian military winter jacket that was given to me by Azov.
IT’S A HUGE CALLING FOR ME SO I HAVE TO CONTINUE - TO GO BACK AND FIGHT
What does your family think about it?
They're in Texas, and I have to admit, they're quite scared every time I go to Ukraine. But they also know that I'm fighting for a great cause and I'm fighting for freedom. And that's the most important thing.
And as I'm a Finnish American, my dad is from Finland, I know the Finns were traumatized and scared of the Soviet Union and the Russians for so long.
So, when I made the decision to go to Ukraine, my dad said, that's great. Go kill some Russkies. He was all for it.
My mom is terrified. She continues to try to convince me to stay back, but this is something that's a huge calling for me and I feel like this is the right thing to do for me to continue to go back and fight.
When you are talking about your family, you mean your parents, or do you have brothers, sisters, a significant other?
I have two younger brothers and my mom and my dad, and then just me.
I'm not married, so I just go over there as a solo fighter. I just do what I can.
How many occupants are you going to hit?
As many as possible, as many as it takes to win the war.
Are you afraid of being wounded?
No. So I was actually wounded, when I was there in Brovary. When I was fighting with my friend Vitaliy Zyuhovych, we hit an anti-tank mine. We took shrapnel and glass to the face.
This was on March 20, 2022. And I also had a foot injury. I was treated in Ukraine and then went back to the U.S. to recover.
So I've already been wounded once. I've been shelled numerous times been at the front lines for four months from March until July. So fear of being wounded… I've lost that fear.
I don't have that fear anymore.
Have you recovered completely?
Recovered completely. Although I admit, I did have a pretty severe concussion from that mind blast, so sometimes I still get some headaches and things like that, but nothing that's going to prevent me from going to fight again.
You've never been before to Bakhmut or Donetsk region, have you?
Correct. The closest I was at was in a town called Virnopillya. It's near Izium and Barvinkove, right outside there. So, that's where I was fighting before the counteroffensive. We were fighting in the summer just outside of Izium.
I’M THE ONLY FEMALE SOLDIER IN MY UNIT
Are there any other female troops in your unit?
No, I'm, the only one.
You're the only one?
I'm the only one.
Yeah, actually I had one Ukrainian commander say to me and my platoon leader – no women, you know, we don't put women in the trenches.
And my platoon leader said, “She comes with us. She's just as good of a fighter as any man.” He said she's coming, referring to me. She's coming with us, and so they let me go into the trenches and fight.
Are you ready to spend your time in the trenches? No water supply, no shower…
I'm used to that. I spent some time in the trenches in Virnopillya. And I'd been weeks without showering, no fresh water. What I have is a water filter bottle… I can drink, you know, it allows me to drink any water source, whether it be just from the ground or from the tap. I have that with me. And we use baby wipes to shower ourselves. So we just take wet baby wipes like you would use to clean a baby. And we wipe ourselves.
How do the local people perceive you? Surely you had to communicate with them?
Very warmly... They always say thank you. One old woman in a shop in Brovary burst into tears. She started giving me food, meat, salo... But I'm a vegetarian. So she brought me everything vegetarian.
And how do you eat in the army, without meat?
I don't eat meat or fish, but I eat dairy products. It is taken into account when they give out food.
What is your Horoscope sign?
I'm a Leo. Born on July 25th.
I KNOW A COUPLE OF UKRAINIAN WORDS BUT ENGLISH-SPEAKING SOLDIERS ARE ALWAYS AROUND
What language do you speak with your comrades in your platoon?
We speak English because we otherwise wouldn't be able to communicate. But typically we do have an interpreter with us, someone who can speak English and Ukrainian, who can then confer with us as well as the Ukrainian Armed Forces because it's really important to be able to coordinate.
For example, do we have a drone flying over us? Yes. Is it our drone? Is it the Russian drone? Do we have a helicopter? Is it our helicopter? Is it a Ukrainian helicopter? That's really important to know. So we have a communicator who can interprete between both our group and the Ukrainian forces.
However, some commands should be given quickly. I think you understand some words like vohon, postril…
Yes. Actually some guys taught me some words, and some of them are in Russian, some of them are in Ukrainian because the guy who taught them spoke both.
So I know words like pishov, bizhy, vpravo, vlivo… I know basic words that will allow me to communicate with the people around me who don't speak English. Also I know names of some body parts because I was a medic at one point. But typically I fight with mostly English-speaking Ukrainians just because it is really important for us to be able to get that communication and to understand it very quickly and be able to act on it.
Thank you so much. Good luck!
Volodymyr Ilchenko, New York