Vice Admiral Serhii Haiduk, ex-commander of the Ukrainian Navy
We will liberate Crimea, there is no question about it
21.08.2023 16:00

Clad in a white shirt, the former commander of the Ukrainian Navy met us at the entrance of the Kyiv Children and Youth Palace yacht club. The vice admiral was smiling, but at the same time anxious. He was preparing to meet yet another group of veterans who were gravely injured during the Russian-Ukrainian war, and their families. For Serhii Haiduk, such events are nothing new, but each of them is special. Haiduk personally checked the readiness of the yachts which would carry defenders of Ukraine during the day. Then he came closer to the riverbank, where he had already arranged a picnic area for future guests.

On the way to the designated locations, he talked about the event, aimed to support the adaptation and socialisation of war veterans, which was initiated by the management of the yacht club. Then the defenders of Ukraine arrived. Moving in groups, they boarded the yachts and set sail on a short trip. It was between the sail trips that Serhii Haiduk agreed to pause and talk for an hour.

In an interview with Ukrinform, Vice Admiral Haiduk compared the Ukrainian and Russian navies, estimated how much it would cost Ukraine to build its own ships, explained the main advantage of naval drones and revealed how to destroy Russian submarines.   


- Tell me, please, why did you decide to become the head of a children’s yacht club?

- My number one motivation is that I decided to become a sailor while still a young man. I spent about 40 years to the service, starting as a cadet of the Higher Naval School and ending as the commander of the Navy. When I received the offer to come and head the yacht club, I already had a deep understanding of two things: it is children and the elderly who suffer the most from war. The former are the future of the country, and the latter are those people thanks to whom Ukraine stayed afloat. Our club exists to serve both groups.

Secondly, my decision is related to a strategic vision of the situation. Unfortunately, Ukraine has tended to be more of an agrarian than a maritime, river country. I look at it from the perspective of implementing local projects that would serve as examples for other regions.

Thirdly, I understand how important the processes of socialisation and adaptation are for our defenders at the front. As the director of the yacht club, I can implement initiatives related to helping our servicepersons and war veterans. Moreover, we want to make our program all-Ukrainian, sharing our experience with other regions where, of course, war veterans live as well. We are ready to advise everyone who also wants to engage in this.  

- Who and how initiated the social project of combatant adaptation and socialisation?

- There are quite a few participants of this process. To sum up, without naming individual people, this is the Kyiv City State Administration Municipal Enterprise “Kyiv Children and Youth Palace” (KCYP), which houses a children’s sailing school. This is the Vyshhorod Raion Military Administration, which issued an official order and permit to use the water area subject to safety measures and to use the mooring infrastructure of the KCYP for conducting children’s training and sports events, as well as the combatant adaptation and socialisation programme. Obviously, this is our military personnel who perform tasks in the water area of the Kyiv Sea, therefore we coordinate all our actions with them. We understand very well the specifics of the club’s functioning under martial law: safety measures, an air raid action plan and shelter. During the implementation of the practical part of the programme, the All-Ukrainian Public Health Centre “Sports for All” joined our effort. For each event, they additionally open a playground with active games, thus implementing the presidential programme “Active Parks.” We are ready to work with partners to improve the programme and socialisation and adaptation processes. Now we are actively promoting the need to install bathrooms with ramps, special yacht ramps, and adapted moorings. Exercise machines for people with prostheses would be of use as well. It would help them adapt through a healthy lifestyle, and not through alcohol, for example. 

- In your opinion, how effective is this project?

- I would not talk about effectiveness, but rather about the necessity of such a project. Unfortunately, our people are slowly getting used to the war, and such projects would serve as a reminder that the war is still going on. In addition, it gives hope to our servicepersons that they will be remembered and helped after victory. Therefore, I insist on every occasion that it is important for us to function under the state “umbrella.” This programme must grow from a one-time event into a national effort, since every defender of Ukraine deserves it. 


- As a former commander of the Ukrainian Navy, tell us, please, how big is the qualitative and quantitative difference between the Russian and Ukrainian navies?

- I, in fact, stood at the origins of the national navy. It was mainly formed as a result of the partition of the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet. The situation seemed tragicomic even back in 1996. Initially, they agreed to partition the Black Sea Fleet equally, but it ended with the ratio being 80 to 20 not in our favour. It was a tragedy for Ukraine... What the Russians handed over to us under the agreement was obsolete and barbarically looted. As a result, we spent a lot of time on restoring the technical readiness and combat capability of the equipment, on the formation of crews. The ships were quite diverse, so it made creating naval formations even harder. Another mistake was committed when making decisions regarding the basing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. Russian aviation was based and a system of arsenals, bases, and warehouses functioned near Simferopol. This process was not stopped even by the war in Georgia and the Tuzla conflict. And then there was a political decision (made by Viktor Yanukovych’s government - Ed.) to extend the Black Sea Fleet basing rights in Crimea until 2045... This was a major tragedy for Ukraine, for the Ukrainian Navy. Summing up what I have already said, I note that as of 2014, the Russian Navy was significantly stronger than the Ukrainian Navy on all counts.

Now we are observing a trend of search for new technologies. War is a tragedy, but at the same time it stimulates progress, the search for new types of weapons, new ways of using forces, and the testing of certain tactics and strategies. Another disadvantage of the Ukrainian navy, compared to the Russian one, is its mosquito nature.

- What do you mean?

- A mosquito fleet is made of coastal navigation boats that can perform missions only within territorial waters. My team opposed such tendencies. We believed that the country should be protected starting at the enemy shores. I mean the long-hand strategy. The fate of the Moskva missile cruiser showed that the use of cruise missiles makes it possible to strike the enemy early and at long distances, reducing its combat potential.

- Explain, please, how decisive is the sea factor in the ongoing full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war?

- The sea is not just an operational zone where a set of fleets compete between themselves. The sea is primarily associated with economic activity. A war on land and at sea is not a war of sailor against sailor or soldier against soldier, but rather a war of the national economies. It will be won by a country with a stronger economy and mobilisation resources. Because of this, sea and river areas should be considered in two planes: military and economic. We are talking here about international trade, grain corridors, supply of lend-lease equipment by sea... The navy reflects the symbiosis of military and economic expediency. This has become especially noticeable since February 24, 2022. The mission of the fleet is to ensure safe conduct of economic activity at sea, to protect commercial and civilian objects from the enemy’s strike systems.

- What missions do Russian warships perform in the Black Sea?

- Their mission is to use strike weapons against cities, civilian and military facilities. It is also worth noting that a navy includes not only surface ships, but also submarines, aircraft, marines, and logistics units. This is effectively a miniaturised national military. They exert long-distance influence on facilities through missile strikes. We also need to take into account coastal radio technical units and reconnaissance systems. The activities of the Black Sea Fleet reflect a combined approach based on striking targets. At the same time, they perform the missions of blocking our economic activity, controlling the Sea of Azov, maintaining the regime of navigation in the Kerch Strait, etc. This is a complex effort to solve primarily political and political-military issues in the water area


- In your opinion, which ship class can be considered the main strike force of Ukraine at sea?

- I am a supporter of using diverse forces. Just as a lone soldier is not an army, a lone ship is not a fleet. We must focus on the combined use of forces and systems. I believe that the main emphasis should be placed on the coastal missile system Neptun and on the Harpoon system which is supplied to us by our partners. This is precisely the long-hand strategy. Based on the force availability, we should carry out air and sea reconnaissance, use electronic warfare systems. In combination, it will pose a threat to the enemy.

- At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Hetman Sahaidachnyi frigate was scuttled to prevent its capture by the enemy...

- The ship was being repaired in Mykolaiv. The treacherous attack of the enemy forced the Hetman Sahaidachnyi command to make a decision to partially disable the ship. It was simply impossible to evacuate her from the Dnipro-Buh Estuary to the open sea.

- How reasonable was this decision?

- There is no point in discussing it now. It is definitely better when the commander makes the decision, and not avoids it. The commander of the ship took responsibility for the ship and the crew, so he did well. In addition, the Sahaidachnyi’s service life is 25 years, and she was built in 1993. Just add the numbers...

- What about the Ukraina cruiser? Will she forever remain in Mykolaiv as a symbol of the Soviet past? Is it possible to complete her, and should it be done?

- This would be extremely inefficient. Non-professionals believe that Ukraine needs to do it. True naval professionals understand that this is an absurd idea. There is a hull in Mykolaiv, but there is no equipment for it. The Ukraina is a missile cruiser without any missiles or missile launchers... The so-called Soviet defence-industrial complex emphasised cooperation. It is impossible to assemble all the parts of this cruiser now. At the same time, she operates in a system: she must be protected, missiles must be produced for her and stored. And this is a big target that can be easily hit even near Odesa. Excuse me, what do we need this headache for?...

- What should be done with her?

- She can be used as a museum, as a training vessel. There we can train cadets, give them lectures, hold practical training exercises without going to sea.


- How much would creating a combined fleet cost Ukraine?

- I hope to complete my doctoral thesis on maritime security. Everything should start at the national level. The presidency, the executive and legislative branches, the National Security and Defence Council must offer their support for the national maritime policy, the importance of the sea and the rivers. This is required not just by military considerations, but by economic ones as well. Water provides the cheapest transportation mode. Everything can be delivered by water: from watermelons to shells... We have rivers, seas, a lock system. Therefore, first of all, we should pass a law on the national maritime policy, which would clearly define the players and the rules of the game. Direction, expediency, timing and responsibility for the result should be fundamental in this matter. We should protect the programme from closing in the future, as it happened after President Yushchenko’s decree on “Ukraine as a maritime state.” The next administration just repealed it. Building a fleet is a complex process. The construction of one corvette requires the cooperation of 150 national enterprises and 30 foreign enterprises. Currently, we do not have a national shipbuilding programme, so it is impossible to provide specific figures.

- How much would be building a Hetman Sahaidachnyi-level frigate cost?

- I think it would take hundreds of millions of dollars. Everything depends on the internal equipment, because the hull itself is just 30 percent of the price. Also important is the fact that international partners are interested in a systemic supply system rather than building a single ship.

- You reacted positively to the appearance of the Ada-type corvette in Turkey. In your opinion, is not Ivan Mazepa too small for the role of the Ukrainian navy flagship?

- Of course, she is not. She is large enough to perform missions both in the Black Sea and in the world ocean. After all, we saw the Sahaidachnyi participating in the Active Endeavour operation and Ocean Shield operation in the Indian Ocean, when we were fighting piracy as part of that UN operation. Ships of this class are sufficient to protect Ukrainian shipping and perform missions within the framework of international coalitions in the seas and oceans.

- Is she missile-armed?

- There may be different configurations, but, according to the plan, she should be equipped with missile systems.

- How can we get her to Odesa when she will be ready for operations, given that the Russian Black Sea Fleet is blockading the sea?

- Actually, there should be four frigates of this class in the series. The question of their return to Ukraine lies in the political, not the military, plane. They will be based in Ukrainian Sevastopol, Odesa, or Donuzlav. Why not?

- What Ukrainian shore-based forces and systems stop Russia from making another attempt at amphibious landing in Mykolaiv and Odesa? Is this likely to happen in the future?

- This would be amphibious landing for the sake of amphibious landing. Such operations are carried out depending on the situation on land. Had they made a corridor, occupied Mykolaiv, Odesa, then it could be done. Now it doesn’t make any sense. Should the Russians try an amphibious landing, say, in Odesa, we will simply destroy them. Amphibious landing is among the most difficult types of naval operations. Landing a force in Bessarabia and trying to create a corridor to Transnistria makes some sense. This could be explained logically. But now even this is actually unlikely.


- One of the most successful operations of the Ukrainian Navy was the destruction of the Moskva missile cruiser by a Ukrainian Neptun missile. Does it have a chance to become the trademark of the Ukrainian Navy in the world after our victory?

- In the case of the Moskva, there was a combined use of forces and systems. As far as I know, the Neptun is a product of the cooperation of a dozen enterprises. In addition, it should be noted that the facilities where it is assembled are a potential target of Russian cruise missiles. Of course, it would be extremely efficient if our navy was equipped with just one type of missiles, a trademark system, if you will.

- Why?

- Because it greatly simplifies processes. Basing, preparing, storing, training operations and deliveries to ships and aircraft are all greatly simplified. In addition, should we come to operate just one class of missiles, we will need fewer specialists. And they, as you know, do not fall from the sky. It takes at least 5 years to train them. Then you need to create a training battery, classes, simulators at the Naval Institute. In 2014, it was suggested to me to make a break in training in Odesa and not train specialists for the navy for a year. Then I said that in 5 years, not a single officer would join the navy. Fortunately, we were able to launch the process then.

- Tell me, please, how was it possible to destroy the Moskva cruiser, taking into account the fact that we do not have radars that could detect this ship?

- The destruction of the Moskva will be included in secret textbooks. Others will learn from it. But speaking of about the very process of destroying enemy ships, one should start with the fact that it is a sequence of actions. First you should get intelligence reports, compare them and act according to the reaction of the enemy. If it is on the move, you need to calculate its manoeuvre, follow the trend, find out all the details of the movement. Only then can we talk about instructions to strike forces and strike itself. In addition, one can imitate some actions, distract the enemy. Destroying a ship, especially as important as the Moskva, requires a good deal of knowledge.

- Would it have been possible to liberate Snake Island if the Moskva had not been sunk?

- Yes, because this cruiser did not affect the Snake Island situation in the slightest.

- What is the significance of Snake Island for Ukraine in the war with Russia?

- The fact is that this is our territory, so it would be wrong to just abandon it. Secondly, by keeping a military force there, one maintains a border post and controls the shipping. This is kind of an outpost of Ukraine. The Navy has the concept of a radar picket ship that gets sent forward like a vanguard. She conducts reconnaissance missions and is engaged in radio surveillance. In this case, Snake Island is an immobile picket ship positioned far into the sea.

- Explain, please, for people who are not well-versed in naval matters, why we do not hit enemy ships despite having long-range missiles Neptun (250 km range - ed.) and Harpoon (150 km - ed.) in our arsenal?

- To use guided missile weapons against ships, you need to identify the target. You need to go through the entire chain, starting with reconnaissance. A missile is an extremely expensive thing, so it is easy to just send it God knows where, but it will not produce the desired result. It is a rhetorical question whether we have the right to spend money in vain. Each missile must have its own target, and for this it is necessary to carry out a number of measures to prepare the strike.

- As soon as this chain is fully assembled, will we use missile systems?

- Yes! Now they believe that using surface drones is more effective. At a minimum, it is less costly from the energy and economic perspective. If it makes sense to use drones from a military and economic perspective, then they should be used, obtaining the results which we have seen – a tanker, an amphibious warfare ship. So, keep it up!


- What is the main advantage of a drone over a regular ship?

- Minimal radar cross-section.

- What does this mean?

- It is difficult to detect and follow, especially at night, under bad weather conditions. They can be deployed at a considerable distance and protected from the enemy’s strike forces. Drones can also operate submerged, where only the antenna is visible above the water. It is very hard to detect. Much depends on the human factor, on the efforts of the operators behind the radar stations. 

- How serious is the damage that a maritime drone can cause to a ship?

- According to preliminary estimates, we are talking about 450 kilograms of TNT equivalent. This quantity of explosives was on the drone that “moored” to the Olenegorsky Gornyak large amphibious warfare ship. We must understand that a ship is a complex engineering structure. She will sink when three adjacent compartments are completely flooded. But had this drone hit the ammunition storage compartments, the situation would have radically changed in our favour. It all depends on where the hit will land.

- How to counter Russian submarines?

- There are several ways of dealing with submarines. The first concerns the detection and destruction of a submarine under water, but it is extremely difficult. There is no point in even discussing it. It would be more effective to strike at submarine bases when they are in a surface position at the basing facility. Hitting a target when it is limited in manoeuvrability is the most effective way to deal with it.


- How to remove naval mines from the Black Sea?

- Through minesweeping operations.

- How much time and resources will be needed to sweep the sea completely clean?

- I was once in charge of a brigade that was engaged in minesweeping in the Black and Azov seas and rivers. Back then, we were dealing with World War I explosives. I say nothing of World War II remnants. This is a very long and difficult process.

- For decades?

- Everything depends on the safety of navigation. During the Israeli-Arab wars, many mines were found on the route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. Special operations were carried out there using minesweepers, minesweeper helicopters, divers, and drones. We can use this experience. After our victory, there will be an appropriate UN-initiated programme to ensure safe civilian shipping. It will be allowed only after minesweeping is carried out by an international coalition of forces using the necessary means. Civil shipping operations will be reopened only after a professional area safety assessment.

And still, believe me, the mines will float to the surface and appear along the shores even 10-20 years later. In Sevastopol in 2007, we found a World War II-era German mine. Then we had to lift it remotely, tow and detonate by an electrical means. In our case, we need also to think about rivers in which mines can float as well.


- Is it possible to liberate Crimea without neutralising the Russian fleet in the Black Sea first?

- I believe that the Russian fleet in Crimea is a temporary phenomenon. We observe them steadily moving to the ports of the Caucasus. Previously, the Russians talked about the existence of programmes for upgrading the Novorossiysk port, joint basing of warships and civilian vessels there. They should think about basing their aviation in another place as well. 

I don’t know what they will do with the weapons, bases and warehouses that literally litter all of Crimea. I believe they will leave it to us when fleeing. Thousands of wagonloads of small arms and artillery systems, ammunition, missiles of various calibres will have to be left in Crimea. It will be very interesting.

- Will we liberate Crimea?

- Of course, there is no question about it. It will be a combined operation involving special operations forces, ground units, aviation, air assault troops, marines, navy and heavy equipment. In this way, it will be possible to not only liberate Crimea, but also to restore the borders of 1991.

Vitalii Tkachuk, Kyiv

Photo by Hennadii Minchenko

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