It includes foreign volunteer fighters who came to stop the Russian terror in Ukraine and not let it spread further. Then, there are many ethnic Ukrainians on the team, who were living abroad and at the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion have already become citizens of foreign countries. Last but not least, the Legion’s staff includes some of the best Ukrainian officers, commanders and instructors with good military skills, knowledge of foreign languages and solid combat experience. They are the backbone of the unit’s command staff. Oleksandr, a platoon commander in the 2nd International Legion, known in his unit under callsign “Mechanic”, is one of them.
He has a long acquaintance with being shelled by artillery, mortars and MLRS. He knows the effect of several tanks firing simultaneously at you from 1 km distance, and he can quickly react and make a hard decision when an enemy soldier appears at less than a meter’s range. He got to know first-hand about assaulting enemy’s positions, and how important is to get your back covered by your teammates. Mechanic is confident with his team (he invested a lot of his personal effort in its formation and training), but gives a warning to everybody that the enemy should not be underestimated. He went to the war straight after the Maidan Revolution and keeps fighting even nine long years after. He finds a way to persuade himself to keep going back to the battlefield again and again, because “If not me, then who?”
Without fear and doubt
“Mechanic appeared in our Legion when we were in training during March and April last year”, – the commander of the 2nd International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine, an officer known under a callsign Santa, recalls. – “His eyes were burning, and he was all that fierce and eager. When I announced that we were creating an international unit to fight on the frontline in Luhansk region, he was one of the first to step forward and say: “Guys, do you really think you can go there without us? Without me?”. Being very intelligent, he somehow resembles Aramis from “The Three Musketeers” – an artist, a poet. He is very calm, but you can feel the strength inside him. People also feel and highly appreciate his kindness. He was one of the best graduates of the training program run by the British instructors for the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces in Kyiv. Now he is one of the best soldiers, and one of the best junior commanders”.
Public image of a person is often different from his or her inner self. Mechanic’s teammates see him as some kind of unbeatable, immortal Superman, who always hits harder, reacts quicker and shoots sharper. That is the truth as witnessed by many people in numerous firefights of the commander’s combat history. But as regards us, since the first minutes of our conversation we have been surprised by Oleksandr’s intelligence, restraint, richness of his inner world, by how deeply he feels the responsibility for life of his teammates and by how much he cares about the death and suffering that was brought to the Ukrainian civilian population by the Russian terrorist military.
For a sane individual, a war is not a normal place to be. War has its way of making people harsh and ruthless. That makes it even harder for a military person to remain humane, in the best sense of this word, while at the same time trying to do his or her job best – to be swift, sharp and deadly.
“The shorter version of my callsign is Mech, and the full version is Mechanic. It originated in 2014 during the Maidan Revolution. On Maidan, we built a mini-ballista capable of throwing large stones, and that is why I’ve been called Mechanic”.
“Basically, it all started from Maidan. I had to quit my civilian job. After Maidan I joined the Zoloti Vorota (“Golden Gate”) battalion, and with this battalion I went to defend the Luhansk airport in 2014”.
Then there were Shchastia, Sabivka, Rodakove, Lenine. In 2015 he defended the town of Pisky together with the OUN Volunteer Battalion. In years 2015 – 2016 Oleksandr served in the 81st Air Assault Brigade, including seven months in the town of Opytne near the Donetsk airport.
“So I basically had no other options”, – Mechanic recalls. – “When Russia started its full-scale military invasion, under the pretext of “saving” us, I joined the resistance. Sitting back and watching was impossible for me”.
Transformation on the battlefield
“His callsign is Mech, or Mechanic”, – the deputy commander of the 2nd International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine, known under a callsign India, tells. – “When he hears gunshots, it drives him crazy, and he can, for example, jump onto the breastwork of an enemy’s trench and shoot the Russians from the top. Just like that, for him it's normal. His eyes are burning! Especially, when you are talking about mines and explosive devices – the man is completely changed. I guess, I don’t know anyone who would outmatch him in bravery during assault operations. And despite being a true warrior, he does not drag this militarism into civilian life”.
Knowledge needs to be shared
In years 2005 – 2006, Mechanic went through mandatory military service. Therefore, in 2014 he reasoned that since he already had some training, he cannot stand aside. The man always shares his knowledge and experience with his teammates. “Now I teach them general tactics, and how to work with machine guns. We train our men to the highest extent possible. I realize that if I just stay at home, it will not bring much use under current circumstances. Knowing that a lot of my friends died, I have to go to war again”.
War is a challenge for the family
Neither Oleksandr, nor his close people have any illusions regarding the war. Certainly, military service during a full-scale invasion poses a difficult challenge for the family.
“My relatives are not happy about this”, – Mech confesses. – “They understand that however you put it, the war implies risk, and who knows what can happen at any moment. My loved one understands that too. But she understands me as well. She knows that I cannot skip a mission, I cannot step aside, I cannot run away. I just will not forgive myself for doing this. Besides, my close people realize that my work brings results, so they try to support me the most”.
Russian war crimes
Some of the hardest fights for the Mechanic’s unit of the Legion were in Novohryhorivka and Bakhmut, late 2022 – early 2023. The legionnaires were under extremely intensive Russian artillery fire, but in spite of this, they showed incredible resilience, initiative and resourcefulness in holding the defense line and actively countering the enemy. When describing these events, Oleksandr carefully picks up words:
“It was the same as everywhere on the frontline. It’s all very difficult. Nothing is easy in the war. The Russians use a lot of things forbidden by international conventions. For example, white phosphorus bombs, cluster munitions. And they use them massively against the civilians”.
Oleksandr’s emotions change, and we can understand that the topic of Russian war crimes is particularly hard for him. We cannot but ask if he witnessed the aftermath of Russians occupation of Ukrainian towns and villages.
“War crimes committed by the enemy? Unfortunately, yes. There have been different cases. I had a chance to talk with people in Chernihiv and Kharkiv regions, in Shchastia, and in other places, where the Russians showed themselves. And I am not even talking about looting, which is the smallest of their crimes. What is much more terrifying is that the Russians simply killed the civilians, just like that. Including women and children. Something which simply cannot be understood is rape, they even raped children… The traces of all this, which I observed, are simply destroying me from within. Yes, I witnessed their war crimes, and it’s not something nice to see. I would prefer not to see it at all”.
“I just do the job as it goes”
Mechanic does not scatter words around when speaking about combat, especially when speaking about his own actions. When he talks about his emotions on the battlefield, he also remains restrained.
“In 2014, we felt a full range of emotions, all of them. Back then, I had my first acquaintance with being shelled by mortars, artillery, Grads. I got to know what it is like to be at the receiving end of cluster munitions – that happened in Shchastia. After this experience, 2022 was easier for me. When I was in Opytne in 2015, three tanks were shooting at us from the distance of 800 meters to 1200 meters. Realizing the fact that a tank can put a round in a window of a house from 3000 meters, made the situation quite "interesting. Now the experience pays back. I understand what I can do, what I know. Somehow, I got used to all of this and just keep working. Just do my job as it goes.”
Half a meter to the enemy
International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine is a proper military unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Legion’s servicemen respect international conventions and laws of warfare not only because they are mandatary, but because this is natural and normal for them. Even in situations when the speed of your reaction determines whether you are going to live or die, and only your skills, combined with some luck, can save you. Mechanic is a vivid example of such attitude. He does not boast about his victories, and even after all the Russian atrocities that he witnessed, he always tries to respect human life. Even the life of criminals. Simply because he cannot do otherwise.
Mechanic recalls: “In 2022 my shortest distance to the enemy was half a meter, or maybe a meter, something like that. I faced the enemy soldier. I wanted to deal with it in a civilized manner, to give him a chance to surrender. Unfortunately, he began turning his weapon in my direction. So, I had to make my move, and to do it faster than him. I try not to keep these things in my memory, and not to talk about them”.
A bold move in close-quarters combat
We cannot but ask about the firefight mentioned by the officer with a callsign India, when Mechanic jumped on top of the breastwork of the enemy’s trench.
Oleksandr reluctantly agrees: “Yes, it was a somehow similar situation. We were assaulting an enemy’s position. We entered their trench, and there was a group of Russians gathered at the end of it and shooting at us from around the corner, which prevented us from moving forward. It was time to make a decision. The longer you stay in one place, the more of a target you become. So, I climbed up, approached the enemy from above the trench, and took some action from there. I had to deal with it.”
Types of the Russian invaders
During the war, Mechanic has encountered various types, groups and units of Russian military and terrorist formations and can tell a lot about their behavior and modus operandi:
“Kadyrov’s guys – it’s some kind of a joke. Tik-Tok warriors, as people call them. They get advertised a lot, but they are of little use in real life. Some of their teams are good, but on the whole, they are just actors, who aren’t worth much on the battlefield.
Regular Russian infantry is not adequately trained, so they work inefficiently. And generally speaking, Russian troops do not have proper motivation, because they invaded a foreign country. If you are being sent to attack without knowing the reasons to fight for, you cannot have proper motivation.
As regards the Wagner Group, they have only one motivation: to be released from serving a sentence. They are being told to go ahead, and they are going ahead. They are just cannon fodder thrown to the frontline”.
Still, Mechanic warns of underestimating the enemy:
“In 2015, we met some Russian special operations teams. They were equipped with Vykhlop and Vintorez rifles, Kord heavy machine gun. They were good at their job. You cannot say that all enemy units are weak. Usually, they have nothing to surprise us with, but you should never dismiss the possibility of professional teams operating from behind the back of regular low-qualified units. And you should always beware of the enemy’s deception. Russians might booby-trap the wounded, the dead, booby-trap absolutely everything. It is very cowardly from their side”.
Multiple origins, one goal
Despite having people from more than fifty countries serving in the International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine, the unit demonstrates great potential. Language and cultural diversity does not become an obstacle for working as a team during combat.
Mechanic tells about the team’s motivation: “If we talk about people like Georgians, Belarussians, and we even have some people from Russia fighting for Ukraine, – they are mostly motivated by the fact that after we win the war in Ukraine, they can also win their struggle at home and liberate their nations. That makes them highly motivated, and very easy to work with. People coming from other countries may have different motivation, but we always find common ground. First and foremost, all our men understand: if we fail to stop the enemy here and now, they will continue pushing forward. It’s going to be much more dangerous for the world than the Third Reich. Together we try to deter the enemy here, on these lines, and our brothers who arrived from different countries help us by all means possible, risking their lives shoulder to shoulder with us.”
Confidence in his teammates and in the eventual victory of Ukraine – that is what motivates and inspires him the most. After the victory, Oleksandr plans to start his own business, to spend more time with his family, and especially with his loved one.
“And we have to rebuilt our country. We have a lot of work to do”, - Oleksandr adds. The man’s emotions clearly say about his desire to make sure that on the next stage of his life there will be no need to hold weapon again.
But that is a plan for the future. And for now, he keeps being an iron “Mechanic” – an experienced veteran, a competent and decisive commander, always reliable to his friends and deadly to his enemies.
Photos provided by the author