In mid-June 2014 I already made the final decision to go to Donetsk. It was already visible that a major war is starting there and it was getting harder to watch at this from the sidelines. My friends from Ossetia already actively participated in combat in “Vostok” battalion, the ill-fated storm of the airport already happened. The attention of the public was already drawn to Slavyansk. The “Russian Spring” was expanding and it seemed that we only need to wait a little longer and another part of Ukraine will repeat the fate of Crimea. The society was in lifted spirits. The understanding that history is being made in Donetsk right now was growing.
In this situation Sergei Ervandovich Kurginyan (leader of the international “Essence of Time” movement – Editor) made the decision to launch the “Essence of Time” humanitarian mission in Donetsk. At that point Donbass started to experience a large need in qualified military medical aid. We planned to open a medical center with a mobile medical center, similar to those Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations has, based on Kamaz truck. Such was the initial goal of the “Essence of Time” mission in Donbass. The establishment of the Information Center to gather information on the spot was also planned. War is also full of rumors and various false information, while we needed to have a more complete picture of the events. I wasn’t aware of these plans at that moment. My goal was to protect the civilian population with a weapon in my hands. In addition, Ossetians have personal scores to settle with Ukrainian Nazis — a large number of Nazis fought on the side of Georgia when Georgia attacked South Ossetia back in 2008.
A big group of Ossetians with their commander Zaur, my neighbor from Vladikavkaz, was in “Vostok” battalion. I planned to join them in Donetsk. The stars or the circumstances aligned in such a way that Sergei Kurginyan, after negotiations with all known field commanders, decided to base the humanitarian mission in the “Vostok” battalion.
I would now want to recall the several days when Kurginyan arrived to Donetsk. Who would have thought that these days will be key to the whole of this story. Nothing foreboded the tragedy. “300 Strelkovans” heroically pumped public energy into the “Russian Spring” project, daily “shot down planes” and burned tanks, Strelkov proclaimed victories in his famous hunting camouflage clothing. Donetsk was fighting (“Vostok” was already defending Saur-Mogila), Aleksandr Boroday (friend of Strelkov and PR-consultant of the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. Strelkov also worked for Malofeev – Editor) was ruling, the militia was actively forming, a lot of blood was already shed, but there was a feeling that — just a little longer, and the enemy will fall!
At that time Donetsk was cut off from the border with Russia. To get to Donetsk from Russia one had to go through Lugansk region of Ukraine. The road itself was constantly shelled. DPR had not a trace of common armed forces at that point. There were many isolated divisions obeying only their respective commanders and God Almighty himself, and nobody else. Which is why even such a short travel as a trip from Rostov-on-Don to Donetsk became a very adrenaline-rich adventure. We were moving as a cortege, two cars and two large trucks with approximately 20 well-armed guys inside.
On July 3, 2014, an interesting incident occurred at the border. There was no border checkpoint as such at the moment, there was some sort of a cabin on the side of Russia and nothing on the side of Lugansk People’s Republic. A young border guard didn’t want to let Kurginyan cross the border. I said that he is going to “Vostok” battalion, to which the young guy replied that Kurginyan’s hands look nothing like the hands of a soldier, and that he is too old to go to fight in a war. Then a higher ranking officer came and reasonably noted to the young man: “Do you think the only thing people do during the war is shoot? War also demands thinking.”
Shooting is really not the most important thing during the war, war is a science, and sometimes an art! The young man didn’t fully understand what his superior officer told him, but he let us through.
While we were on the road I asked Kurginyan why does he risk so much. He said that something really bad is brewing here. And he doesn’t fully understand yet what exactly. It’s just, he said, there are times, when you don’t fully understand, but feel something. He told that Fidel Castro had a bodyguard, with whom he got acquainted at some point. That bodyguard saw danger in color — as if the air was painted in certain colors during danger. This is a kind of intuition that manifests itself as certain images, visual ones, in this case. He arrived to Donetsk with such alarming feelings. It seemed that everything was going fine, but something was wrong.
On July 4 Sergei Kurginyan was very cordially met by Aleksandr Khodakovsky, “Scyth”, as he was called back then (it was already customary to address each other by the person’s call sign, not by their name — it was war). There was a lot of conversations, “Scyth” surprised me back then, he turned out to be a very intelligent and well-read person, loved Weber, Schopenhauer, was well versed in philosophy and religion. It was interesting to listen to their conversations with Kurginyan, of which “Volga”, “Nikolaich” and I happened to be witnesses many times during those days. I remember Sergei Kurginyan expressed his concerns regarding Strelkov to “Scyth” back then, that Strelkov might leave Slavyansk. “Scyth”, of course, didn’t believe in that, just like all of us. There were no major reasons for that at the moment.
During the very first day we examined the building for the hospital — it was some sort of a private clinic, the owners of which fled to Kiev and closed it. “Volga” preliminarily examined many buildings to see if they fit to become a hospital, but in his opinion this hospital was most optimal according to all necessary parameters. That’s where we arrived and decided to gather the press-conference. There weren’t much journalists. First, there was little time to organize it, secondly, few journalists stayed in the city amidst the war. It was the first press-conference. The famous second conference with Pavel Gubarev, the person Strelkov sent to bring Kurginyan to him, happened later. The first one went nice and smoothly.
In the morning of July 5, excited “Scyth” arrived and said that Strelkov left Slavyansk and is heading to Donetsk. Nobody expected this turn of events, even though Sergei Kurginyan warned about it. The situation in the city changed instantly. Many have panicked, since every
body perfectly understood that Strelkov not only surrendered several cities to Ukrainian Nazis, but also opened up the path to Donetsk for them. The situation in the city could have become critical at any moment. The militia started to prepare for urban combat and the assault on Donetsk.
Exactly at that moment Kurginyan started giving his telephone interviews, which were instantly published online. It was necessary to break through the informational blockade and ask one simple question: why did Strelkov surrender Slavyansk and other cities? Also back then, while being on one of the “Vostok” bases, Sergei Kurginyan decided that it is necessary to make and publish video addresses every two hours, start an informational war.
I remember the very first interview as if it happened today. I had to record it — because there was nobody else who could do that. By a pure accident I had a camera, I didn’t even know how to hold it — comrades from Moscow explained to me by phone which buttons to push. Zaur was sleeping on the only couch on which it was possible to sit and talk, since there was no other decent furniture there. We had to get him up, everybody were made to leave the room and Sergei Kurginyan started speaking.
You know, it is hard to comprehend the scale of the events when you are inside the process, you are always absorbed by something not significant. I now realize how improvised everything was, how stressed everyone was. It took Sergei Kurginyan a lot of effort to keep the situation in the frame of healthy common sense and sobriety. I didn’t know how to use the camera and those first interviews, technically speaking, look really bad. But what mattered was not the form, but the content. As Sergei Kurginyan said, “We need to hit them, hit them, until they freak out. You asked what informational war is? This is it! Now information is more powerful than any weapon, only by using it we can change the situation to our favor.” And those interviews, now famous, started being published. Poorly filmed, but turned out to be timely as never!
Our comrades from Moscow constantly monitored the reaction to Kurginyan’s claims. To say that it was a nightmare is to say nothing. Among the people who were constantly calling me were even certain “Essence of Time” members. They said that we are scoundrels, that we libel the sun of the “Russian Spring”, the great military commander Strelkov, etc. And those weren’t people from the outside. Internet and the whole media scene was controlled by the forces hired to promote the “Strelkov project”. Everyone joined the madness — bloggers, journalists, ordinary experts of all kinds. It is hard to imagine the whole flow of criticism and curses that hit us on that day.
In this situation of total insanity — both outside, in the media scene, and on our “Vostok” base where we lived — Sergei Kurginyan remained calm and rock-solid. I even had a feeling that all this negative energy, all of this energy of curses sent at him, it didn’t suppress him, but, on the contrary, made him stronger. Hatred was coming from all sides. Volga quite reasonably thought that somebody will want to murder Kurginyan. He and “Nikolaich” always stayed with him, even on the base.
At the same time approximately 200 guys who were in Slavyansk under Strelkov’s command were housed on the base. They said that he betrayed them and decided to join “Vostok” battalion.
Interestingly, strange bugs or tracking devices were found in the sleeve patches of some of them.
They were the source of a lot of interesting and detailed information Sergei Kurginyan received about what happened there in the last few days: how they left Slavyansk, what losses they had, and all other details, which Kurginyan later often told about in various interviews.
The famous press-conference of Kurginyan happened on the following day…