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-¦ December 2023 ¦-
e n v o y █ Today’s astronomers worry about micro-meterorites and cosmic rays bombarding the International Space Station, close calls among satellites and spacecrafts, and especially wardrobe malfunctions in outer space. █
e y e w i t n e s s █ The ancients were intrigued by natural glass found in nature, able to let light through, to enhance eyesight by magnification. These qualities were refined, when glass-making was invented, to help address loss of eyesight in the aged, among many other benefits. Polished with a concave or sometimes convex surface, fitted into a holder, this became a magnifying glass. Then someone fitted several lenses into a tube and invented the telescope.
e x a m i n e r █ Mary Palmer (b.1839) married a doctor, and amateur astronomer, Henry Draper (b.1837), and became an astute student of the sky. His sudden death age 45 left her with money, paperwork and photographic evidence of their galaxy quest. █ Mary Draper then bequeathed an annual sum, beginning in 1886, to Harvard College Observatory, to procure sufficient staff to finish her husband’s catalog of stars.
e t y m o l o g i s t █ NASA’s predecessor had hired female mathematicians, as early as in 1935, as human computers in a segregated system. Assigned to different departments, they would be tasked to take down notes, parse flight test scores, run calculations, perform analytics. █ Jeanette Scissum (b.1938) on her first day, in 1964, at NASA: “Mathematician, entry level. They didn’t have computers or a computer science program at A&M when I graduated, so I didn’t know how to do that. Once I did, everybody had me doing computer stuff for them.” █ Mathematician Katherine Johnson (b.1918), working in NASA’s flight mechanic division, was told that a spacecraft would want to make a landing during prime-time television on a specific date. She then had to figure out when takeoff time must take place. Using analytic geometry, Johnson figured it out. █ High-school whizkid Mary Winston (b.1921), with degrees in mathematics and physical science, worked in the computer pool, and was assigned to assist in wind tunnel tests at twice the speed of sound. Showing promise, she went back to school and got an engineer’s degree and became an aerospace engineer. Married to a sailor in the U.S. Navy, she became Mary W. Jackson. The National Aeronautics Space Administration’s D.C. headquarters is now named after her. █
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a n a l y s t █ On April 15, 1726, while taking tea in the garden with his friend, Issac Newton (b.1642) pondered on an apple which had just fallen to the ground. William Stuckeley records how Newton mused:
a n g e l █ The ancients, unconcerned of this “drawing power” that Newton was to articulate, mocked the gravity throne and continued sending prayers to heaven. Entreaties written in temple script on paper were then folded into a pouch. A lit candle attached to the pouch sends smoke inside, causing its ascent. █ Humankind then followed the lanterns, yet the earliest ones didn’t know to carry oxygen, and returned spouting the wildest tales of beings living in the upper air. The four winds, curious, would approach with whistles and roars and yells, asking questions, including that confounded new contrivance, a wind tunnel. █ Sensing fear in their visitors’ eyes, the thunderous voices abated. Zephros drew closer and whispered: “We are wind gods of the four cardinal points, heralds of seasons, sons to Typhöeus, fifth and final monster born to mother Earth. We too seek a reason for existence, and whether or not it becomes us to be suited up in turbines, pumps, and such fetters.” █ Notos spread icicles while parting his lips: “Can these regulation systems really help with my restlessness? and what’s up with welded insulation?” Euros brought up the sorest point: “Can gravity weigh me down and curb my mood.” Boreas’ grumble rumbled: “Magnetosphere constrains our empire but why? And who are these rocketmen and their reckless aerial turns in guidance and control?”
a i r m a n █ The four winds invariably took their gasping guests on the grand tour. Earth’s atmosphere is spherical and contains a precise mixture of gases such that oxygen becomes its miraculous chemical product. It has the same shape as mother Earth due to her gravitational grit, which she bestows also to water and all living things. The sea and mountains are deemed to be sentient by the ancients, and so too is Aether considered a being, having undergone “biochemical modifications by living organisms” ever since its aboriginal form coalesced into a paleo-atmosphere. Material enough for Earth to lassoo the grandson to Chaos with a girdle tight enough to separate the deity into distinct layers, and is the main cause of clouds. █ This primeval sky god can only be discerned when he digs into his bag of optical tricks and throws mirages, or scatters light. Aether is patron to Earth, whose existence depends on a narrow band of the bottom layer, beginning at sea level.
a v a t a r █ Innovative proto-aviators watched how birds populate the air and go where they will. Wings got built and tied to men. Jumps happened. Leonardo da Vinci (b.1452) had his own solution; yet his own design, wings that can flap, never left the sketchbook. █
a e r i a l i s t █ Divinities of the air were entranced to receive paper prayers heaven-bound using paper, glue and heated air. They also found out that hydrogen, when it is unadulterated, possesses levitational abilities also. But being a gas, it would simply dissipate when in contact with one or more gasses. █ Rare and difficult to distill, hydrogen requires a chamber, white-hot iron, running water; and had to wait until a non-porous material to contain the new gas, was was discovered around 1780, had not yet been developed. █ A ginormous pillow, with a small opening, tied to a large basket and fed a healthy gulp of heated air, took to rising into the atmosphere. Then, as the trapped air cools, this “hot-air balloon” will descend. The first companions chosen to carry out this maiden flight were a french sheep, duck and rooster.
a c r o b a t █ Smoke from large fires first showed the way during wartime: to send a signal, or initiate a maneuver. Kites were another way to harness wind behavior to send sturdier signals. It can also be used as a measurement of distance, or just to “test the wind.” Kites can also fight each other. █ Dog-earred generals carried mint editions of “The Myth of Icarus” into battle and tasked military engineers to accessorize kites so as to become fit for carrying a passenger. Eventually squadrons of passengers paid visits to the sky, and giving notice that the empire of the four winds was coming to an end. █ Kites were invented for children when they first became aware how they might have, as playpals: the four winds. █ Not for war’s sake, Benjamin Franklin (b.1706) is probably the first to use wind power to send a laboratory into space: kite + key + lightning storm.
a l c h e m i s t █ Through trial and error someone came up with gunpowder. That a right mixture of carbon, sulfur and saltpeter (an efflorescence mineral found on the surface of stones) will produce a flash accompanied by fire that burns off – an explosion. A wrong mixture produces instead just “smoke and flames.”
a r c h e t y p e █ When World War 2 was over, pilots and other aeronauticals returned to civilian roles. █ Back to working for a paycheck, these airmen flexed their know-how and birthed an aerospace industry that nowadays has gone global. By 1960 the skies were already beginning to get mighty crowded.
▶ The seat of national power, Kyiv was the main prize. Thus the thrust by elite airborne forces in the war’s opening hours. ...When President Vladimir Putin launched his war on Feb. 24 after months of buildup on Ukraine’s borders, he sent hundreds of helicopter-borne commandos – the best of the best of Russia’s “spetsnaz” (special forces soldiers) – to assault and seize a lightly defended airfield on Kyiv’s doorstep.
On the first morning of the war, Russian Mi-8 assault helicopters soared south toward Kyiv on a mission to attack Hostomel airfield on the northwest outskirts of the capital. By capturing the airfield, also known as Antonov airport, the Russians planned to establish a base from which to fly in more troops and light armored vehicles within striking distance of the heart of the nation’s largest city. It didn’t work that way. Several Russian helicopters were reported to be hit by missiles even before they got to Hostomel, and once settled in at the airfield they suffered heavy losses from artillery fire.
The fact that the Hostomel assault by the Russian 45th Guards Special Purpose Airborne Brigade faltered might not stand out in retrospect if the broader Russian effort had improved from that point. But it did not. ... Last week the Russians abandoned Hostomel airfield as part of a wholesale retreat into Belarus and Russia.
An effort to take control of a military airbase in Vasylkiv south of Kyiv also met stiff resistance and reportedly saw several Russian Il-76 heavy-lift transport planes carrying paratroopers downed by Ukrainian defenses.
A sidelight of the battle for Kyiv was the widely reported saga of a Russian resupply convoy that stretched dozens of miles along a main roadway toward the capital. It initially seemed to be a worrisome sign for the Ukrainians, but they managed to attack elements of the convoy, which had limited off-road capability and thus eventually dispersed or otherwise became a non-factor in the fight. “They never really provided a resupply of any value to Russian forces that were assembling around Kyiv, never really came to their aid,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. “The Ukrainians put a stop to that convoy pretty quickly by being very nimble, knocking out bridges, hitting lead vehicles and stopping their movement.” Using a wide array of Western arms, including Javelin portable anti-tank weapons, shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and much more.
“That’s a really bad combination if you want to conquer a country,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and professor of military history at Ohio State University. “[The Russian Army]’s proven itself to be wholly incapable of conducting modern armored warfare”. ... Some analysts did question whether Putin appreciated how much Ukraine’s forces had gained from Western training that intensified after Putin’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and incursion into the Donbas.
“It’s stunning,” said military historian Frederick Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War, who says he knows of no parallel to a major military power like Russia invading a country at the time of its choosing and failing so utterly. The Russians underestimated the number of troops they would need and showed “an astonishing inability” to perform basic military functions.
Putin failed to achieve his goal of quickly crushing Ukraine’s outgunned and outnumbered army. The Russians were ill-prepared for Ukrainian resistance, proved incapable of adjusting to setbacks, failed to effectively combine air and land operations, misjudged Ukraine’s ability to defend its skies, and bungled basic military functions like planning and executing the movement of supplies.
The Associated Press published calls made in March 2022 by three Russian soldiers, Leonid, Maxim and Ivan, in a military division near Bucha, a town outside Kyiv that witnessed the first atrocities of the War on Ukraine. (The Ukrainian government had been intercepting Russian calls when their phones ping Ukrainian cell towers, providing important real-time intelligence for the military. Now, the calls are also potential evidence for war crimes.)
▶ Leonid #1: Leonid’s introduction to war came on Feb. 24, as his unit crossed into Ukraine from Belarus and decimated a detachment of Ukrainians at the border. ...mother: “When did you get scared?” leonid: “When our commander warned us we would be shot, 100%. He warned us that although we’d be bombed and shot at, our aim was to get through.” mother: “Did they shoot you?” leonid: “Of course. We defeated them.” mother: “Mm. Did you shoot from your tanks?” leonid: “Yeah, we did. We shot from the tanks, machine guns and rifles. We had no losses. We destroyed their four tanks. There were dead bodies lying around and burning. So, we won.” mother: “Oh what a nightmare! Lyonka, you wanted to live at that moment, right honey?” leonid: “More than ever!” mother: “More than ever, right honey?” leonid: “Of course.” mother: “It’s totally horrible.” leonid: “They were lying there, just 18- or 19-years old. Am I different from them? No, I’m not.”
▶ Leonid #2: Leonid tells his mother their plan was to seize Kyiv within a week, without firing a single bullet. ...“It was so confusing,” he says. “They were well prepared.” When Leonid tells his mother casually about looting, at first she can’t believe he’s stealing. But it’s become normal for him. As he speaks, he watches a town burn on the horizon. “Such a beauty,” he says.
leonid: “Look, Mom, I’m looking at tons of houses – I don’t know, dozens, hundreds – and they’re all empty. Everyone ran away.” mother: “So all the people left, right? You guys aren’t looting them, are you? You’re not going into other people’s houses?” leonid: “Of course we are, Mom. Are you crazy?” mother: “Oh, you are. What do you take from there?” leonid: “We take food, bed linen, pillows. Blankets, forks, spoons, pans.” mother: (Laughing) “You gotta be kidding me.” leonid: “Whoever doesn’t have any – socks, clean underwear, T-shirts, sweaters.”
▶ Leonid #3: Leonid tells his mother about the terror of going on patrol and not knowing what or who they will encounter. ...mother: “Oh Lyonka, you’ve seen so much stuff there!” leonid: “Well ... civilians are lying around right on the street with their brains coming out.” mother: “Oh God, you mean the locals?” leonid: “Yep. Well, like, yeah.” mother: “Are they the ones you guys shot or the ones ...” leonid: “The ones killed by our army.” mother: “Lyonya, they might just be peaceful people.” leonid: “Mom, there was a battle. And a guy would just pop up, you know? Maybe he would pull out a grenade launcher ... Or we had a case, a young guy was stopped, they took his cellphone. He had all this information about us in his Telegram messages – where to bomb, how many we were, how many tanks we have. And that’s it.” mother: “So they knew everything?” leonid: “He was shot right there on the spot.” mother: “Mm.” leonid: “He was 17-years old. And that’s it, right there.” mother: “Mm.” leonid: “There was a prisoner. It was an 18-year-old guy. First, he was shot in his leg. Then his ears were cut off. After that, he admitted everything, and they killed him.” mother: “Did he admit it?” leonid: “We don’t imprison them. I mean, we kill them all.” mother: “Mm.”
▶ Leonid #4: Leonid tells his mother he was nearly killed five times. ...Things are so disorganized, he says, that it’s not uncommon for Russians to fire on their own troops – it even happened to him. Some soldiers shoot themselves just to get medical leave, he says. mother: “Hello, Lyonechka.” leonid: “I just wanted to call you again. I am able to speak.” mother: “Oh, that’s good.” leonid: “There are people out here who shoot themselves.” mother: “Mm.” leonid: “They do it for the insurance money. You know where they shoot themselves?” mother: “That’s silly, Lyonya.” leonid: “The bottom part of the left thigh.” mother: “It’s bull–, Lyonya. They’re crazy, you know that, right?” leonid: “Some people are so scared that they are ready to harm themselves just to leave.” mother: “Yeah, it is fear, what can you say here, it’s human fear. Everybody wants to live. I don’t argue with that, but please don’t do that. We all pray for you. You should cross yourself any chance you get, just turn away from everyone and do it. We all pray for you. We’re all worried.” leonid: “I’m standing here, and you know what the situation is? I am now 30 meters (100 feet) away from a huge cemetery.” (Giggling) mother: “Oh, that’s horrible ... may it be over soon.” Leonid says he had to learn to empty his mind. “Imagine, it’s nighttime. You’re sitting in the dark and it’s quiet out there. Alone with your thoughts. And day after day, you sit there alone with those thoughts.” He tells his girlfriend: “I already learned to think of nothing while sitting outside.” He promises to bring home a collection of bullets for the kids. “Trophies from Ukraine,” he calls them. His mother says she’s waiting for him. “Of course I’ll come, why wouldn’t I?” Leonid says. “Of course, you’ll come,” his mother says. “No doubts. You’re my beloved. Of course, you’ll come. You are my happiness.” Leonid returned to Russia in May, badly wounded, but alive. He told his mother Russia would win this war.
▶ Maxim #1: It’s not clear what military unit Maxim is in, but he makes calls from the same phone as Ivan, on the same days. ...The hunt for locals –men, women and children – who might be informing on them to the Ukrainian military is constant. Maxim is drunk in some of the calls, slurring his words, because life at the front line is more than he can take sober. The only reason Maxim is able to speak with his family back in Russia is because they’ve been stealing phones from locals. He says they’re even shaking down kids. “We take everything from them,” he explains to his wife. “Because they can also be f– spotters.” On calls home, the high sweet voice of Maxim’s own young child bubbles in the background as he talks with his wife. maxim: “Do you know how much a gram of gold costs here?” wife: “No.” maxim: “Roughly? About two or three thousand rubles, right?” wife: “Well, yeah ...” maxim: “Well, I have 1½ kilograms (more than three pounds). With labels even.” wife: “Holy f–, are we looters?!” maxim: “With labels, yeah. It’s just that we f– up this ... We were shooting at this shopping mall from a tank. Then we go in, and there’s a f– jewelry store. Everything was taken. But there was a safe there. We cracked it open, and inside ... f– me! So the seven of us loaded up.” wife: “I see.” maxim: “They had these f– necklaces, you know. In our money, they’re like 30-to-40,000 a piece, 60,000 a piece.” wife: “Holy crap.” maxim: “I scored about a kilo and a half of necklaces, charms, bracelets ... these ... earrings ... earrings with rings ...” wife: “That’s enough, don’t tell me.” maxim: “Anyway, I counted and if it’s 3,000 rubles a gram, then I have about 3.5 million. If you offload it.” wife: “Got it. How’s the situation there?” maxim: “It’s f– OK.” wife: “OK? Got it.” maxim: “We don’t have a f– thing to do, so we go around and loot the f– shopping mall.” wife: “Just be careful, in the name of Christ.”
▶ Maxim #2: Maxim and his mother discuss the opposing stories about the war being told on Ukrainian and Russian television. ...They blame the United States and recite conspiracy theories pushed by Russian state media. But Maxim and his mother believe it’s the Ukrainians who are deluded by fake news and propaganda, not them. The best way to end the war, his mother says, is to kill the presidents of Ukraine and the United States. Later, Maxim tells his mother that thousands of Russian troops died in the first weeks of war – so many that there’s no time to do anything except haul away the bodies. That’s not what they’re saying on Russian TV, his mother says. maxim: “Here, it’s all American. All the weapons.” mother: “It’s the Americans driving this, of course! Look at their laboratories. They are developing biological weapons. Coronavirus literally started there.” maxim: “Yeah, I also saw somewhere that they used bats.” mother: “All of it. Bats, migrating birds, and even coronavirus might be their biological weapon. They even found all these papers with signatures from the U.S. all over Ukraine. Biden’s son is the mastermind behind all of this. ... When will it end? When they stop supplying weapons.” maxim: “Mm.” mother: “Until they catch (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy and execute him, nothing will end. He’s a fool, a fool! He’s a puppet for the U.S. and they really don’t need him, the fool. You watch TV and you feel bad for the people, the civilians, some travelling with young kids. ... If I was given a gun, I’d go and shoot Biden.” (Laughs) maxim: (Laughs)
▶ Maxim #3: One night last March, Maxim was having trouble keeping it together on a call with his wife. ...He’d been drinking, as he did every night. He told her he’d killed civilians – so many he thinks he’s going crazy. He said might not make it home alive. He was just sitting there, drunk in the dark, waiting for the Ukrainian artillery strikes to start. wife: “Why? Why are you drinking?” maxim: “Everyone is like that here. It’s impossible without it here.” wife: “How the f– will you protect yourself if you are tipsy?” maxim: “Totally normal. On the contrary, it’s easier to shoot ... civilians. Let’s not talk about this. I’ll come back and tell you how it is here and why we drink!” wife: “Please, just be careful!” maxim: “Everything will be fine. Honestly, I’m scared s–less myself. I never saw such hell as here. I am f– shocked.” wife: “Why the f– did you go there?” Minutes later, he’s on the phone with his child. ‘You’re coming back?” the child asks. “Of course,” Maxim says.
▶ Maxim #4: In their last intercepted call, Maxim’s wife seems to have a premonition. ...wife: “Is everything all right?” maxim: “Yeah. Why?” wife: “Be honest with me, is everything all right?” maxim: “Huh? Why do you ask?” wife: “It’s nothing, I just can’t sleep at night.” Maxim is a little breathless. He and his unit are getting ready to go. His wife asks him where they’re going. “Forward, I won’t be able to call for a while.”
▶ Ivan #1: Ivan was in Belarus on training when they got a Telegram message: “Tomorrow you are leaving for Ukraine. There is a genocide of the Russian population. And we have to stop it.” ...When his mother found out he was in Ukraine, she said she stopped speaking for days and took sedatives. Her hair went gray. Still, she was proud of him. Ivan ended up in Bucha. ivan: “Mom, hi.” mother: “Hi, son! How–” ivan: “How are you?” mother: “Vanya, I understand they might be listening so I’m afraid–” ivan: “Doesn’t matter.” mother: “... to ask where you are, what’s happening. Where are you?” ivan: “In Bucha.” mother: “In Bucha?” ivan: “In Bucha.” mother: “Son, be as careful as you can, OK? Don’t go charging around! Always keep a cool head.” ivan: “Oh, come on, I’m not charging around.” mother: “Yeah, right! And yesterday you told me how you’re gonna f– kill everyone out there.” (Laughs) ivan: “We will kill if we have to.” mother: “Huh?” ivan: “If we have to – we have to.” mother: “I understand you. I’m so proud of you, my son! I don’t even know how to put it. I love you so much. And I bless you for everything, everything! I wish you success in everything. And I’ll wait for you no matter what.”
▶ Ivan #2: Ivan calls his girlfriend, Olya, and tells her he had a dream about her. ...ivan: “F–, you know, it’s driving me crazy here. It’s just that ... You were just ... I felt you, touched you with my hand. I don’t understand how it’s possible, why, where ... But I really felt you. I don’t know, I felt something warm, something dear. It’s like something was on fire in my hands, so warm ... And that’s it. I don’t know. I was sleeping and then I woke up with all these thoughts. War ... You know, when you’re sleeping – and then you’re like ... War ... Where, where is it? It was just dark in the house, so dark. And I went outside, walked around the streets, and thought: damn, f– it. And that’s it. I really want to come see you.” girlfriend: “I am waiting for you.” ivan: “Waiting? OK. I’m waiting, too. Waiting for the time I can come see you ... Let’s make a deal. When we see each other, let’s spend the entire day together. Laying around, sitting together, eating, looking at each other – just us, together.” girlfriend: (Laughs) “Agreed.” ivan: “Together all the time. Hugging, cuddling, kissing ... Together all the time, not letting each other go.” girlfriend: “Well, yeah!” ivan: “You can go f– crazy here. It’s so f– up, the s– that’s happening. I really thought it would be easy here, to tell you the truth. That it’s just gonna be easy to talk, think about it. But it turned out to be hard, you need to think with your head all the time. So that’s that. We are really at the front line. As far out as you could be. Kyiv is 15 kilometers (about 10 miles) from us. It is scary, Olya. It really is scary.” girlfriend: “Hello?” ivan: “Do you hear me?” The line drops.
▶ Ivan #3: As things get worse for Ivan in Ukraine, his mother’s patriotism deepens and her rage grows. ...mother: “Do you have any predictions about the end ...?” ivan: “We are here for the time being. We’ll probably stay until they clean up the whole of Ukraine. Maybe they’ll pull us out. Maybe not. We’re going for Kyiv.” mother: “What are they going to do?” ivan: “We’re not going anywhere until they clean up all of these pests.” mother: “Are those bastards getting cleaned up?” ivan: “Yes, they are. But they’ve been waiting for us and preparing, you understand? Preparing properly. American motherf– have been helping them out.” mother: “F– f–. F– kill them all. You have my blessing.” ... Death came for Ivan. In July, a local paper published a notice of his funeral with a photo of him, again in fatigues holding a large rifle. Ivan died heroically in Russia’s “special military operation,” the announcement said. “We will never forget you. All of Russia shares this grief.” Reached by the AP in January, Ivan’s mother at first denied she’d ever talked with her son from the front. But she agreed to listen to some of the intercepted audio and confirmed it was her speaking with Ivan. “He wasn’t involved in murders, let alone in looting,” she told the AP before hanging up the phone. Ivan was her only son.
▶ February 15 2022: I arrived to the training ground [in Stary Krym, Crimea]. ...Our entire squadron, about 40 people, all lived in one tent with plank boards and one makeshift stove. Even in Chechnya, where we only lived in tents or mud huts, our living conditions were organized better. Here we had nowhere to wash up and the food was horrible. For those who arrived later than the rest, me and about five other people, there was neither a sleeping bag, nor camo, armor, or helmets left. I finally received my rifle. It turned out that it had a broken belt, was rusty and kept getting stuck, so I cleaned it in oil for a long time trying to put it in order. Around February 20, an order came for everyone to urgently gather and move out, packing lightly. We were supposed to perform a forced march to some unknown location. Some people joked that now we would attack Ukraine and capture Kyiv in three days. But already then I thought it is no time for laughter. I said that if something like this were to happen, we would not capture anything in three days.
▶ February 23 2022: The division commander arrived and, congratulating us on the [Defender of the Fatherland] holiday, announced that starting from tomorrow, our salary per day would be $69. ...It was a clear sign that something serious is about to happen. Rumors began spreading that we are about to go storm Kherson, which seemed to be nonsense to me. Everything changed that day. I noticed how people began to change, some were nervous and tried not to communicate with anyone, some frankly seemed scared, some, on the contrary, were unusually cheerful.
▶ February 24 2022: At about 4 a.m. I opened my eyes again and heard a roar, a rumble, a vibration of the earth. ...I sensed an acrid smell of gunpowder in the air. I look out of the truck and see that the sky is lit bright from volleys. It was not clear what is happening, who was shooting from where and at whom, but the weariness from lack of food, water and sleep disappeared. A minute later, I lit up a cigarette to wake up, and realized that the fire is coming 10-20 kilometers ahead of our convoy. Everyone around me also began to wake up and smoke and there was a quiet murmur: “It’s started.” We must have a plan. The convoy became animated and started to slowly move forward. I saw the lights switch on in the houses and people looking out the windows and balconies of five-story buildings. It was already dawn, perhaps 6 a.m., the sun went up and I saw a dozen helicopters, a dozen planes, armored assault vehicles drive across the field. Then tanks appeared, hundreds of pieces of equipment under Russian flags. By 1 p.m. we drove to a huge field where our trucks got bogged down in the mud. I got nervous. A huge column standing in the middle of an open field for half an hour is just an ideal target. If the enemy notices us and is nearby, we are f–ed. Many began to climb out of the trucks and smoke, turning to one from another. The order is to go to Kherson and capture the bridge across the Dnieper. I understood that something global was happening, but I did not know what exactly. Many thoughts were spinning in my head. I thought that we couldn’t just attack Ukraine, maybe NATO really got in the way and we intervened. Maybe there are also battles going on in Russia, maybe the Ukrainians attacked together with NATO. Maybe there is something going on in the Far East – if America also started a war against us. Then the scale will be huge, and nuclear weapons, then surely someone will use it, damn it. The commander tried to cheer everyone up. We are going ahead, leaving the stuck equipment behind, he said, and everyone should be ready for battle. He said it with feigned courage, but in his eyes I saw that he was also freaking out. It was quite dark and we got word that we are staying here until dawn. We climbed into sleeping bags without taking off our shoes, laying on boxes with mines, embracing our rifles.
▶ February 25 2022: Somewhere around 5 in the morning they wake everyone up, telling us to get ready to move out. ...I lit a cigarette and walked around. Our principal medical officer was looking for a place to put a wounded soldier. He constantly said that he was cold, and we covered him with our sleeping bags. I was told later that this guy had died. We drove on terrible roads, through some dachas, greenhouses, villages. In settlements we met occasional civilians who saw us off with a sullen look. Ukrainian flags were fluttering over some houses, evoking mixed feelings of respect for the brave patriotism of these people and a sense that these colors now somehow belong to an enemy. We reached a highway at around 8 a.m. and ... I noticed the trucks of the guys from my squadron. They look kind of crazy. I walk from car to car, asking about how things are. Everyone answers me incomprehensibly: “Damn, this is f–ed up,” “We got wrecked all night,” “I collected corpses from the road, one had his brains all out on the pavement.” We are approaching a fork and signs point to Kherson and Odessa. I am thinking about how we will storm Kherson. I don’t think the mayor of the city will come out with bread and salt, raise the Russian flag over the administration building, and we’ll enter the city in a parade column. At around 4 p.m. our convoy takes a turn and settles in the forest. Commanders tell us the news that Ukrainian GRAD rocket launchers were seen ahead, so everyone must prepare for shelling, urgently dig in as deep as possible, and also that our cars almost ran out of fuel and we have communication problems. I stand and talk with the guys, they tell me that they are from the 11th brigade, that there are 50 of them left. The rest are probably dead.
▶ February 26-28 2022: Filatyev’s convoy made its way to Kherson and surrounded the local airport, looting stores in villages along the way. ...On the third day, the convoy received the order to enter Kherson. Filatyev was told to stay behind and cover the front-line units with mortar fire if necessary. He recounted hearing distant fighting all day. The southern port city would become the first major Ukrainian city that Russia captured in its invasion.
▶ March 1 2022: We marched to the city on foot ... [around 5:30 p.m.] we arrived at the Kherson seaport. ...It was already dark, the units marching ahead of us had already occupied it. Everyone looked exhausted and ran wild. We searched the buildings for food, water, showers and a place to sleep, someone began to take out computers and anything else of value. Walking through the building, I found an office with a TV. Several people sat there and watching the news, they found a bottle of champagne in the office. Seeing the cold champagne, I took a few sips from the bottle, sat down with them and began to watch the news intently. The channel was in Ukrainian, I didn’t understand half of it. All I understood there was that Russian troops were advancing from all directions, Odessa, Kharkov, Kyiv were occupied, they began to show footage of broken buildings and injured women and children. We ate everything like savages, all that was there was, cereal, oatmeal, jam, honey, coffee. ... Nobody cared about anything, we were already pushed to the limit.
▶ March 2-6 2022: Filatyev’s exhausted convoy was ordered to push ahead to storm Mykolaiv and Odessa, though the Russian campaign had already begun to stall....Filatyev described how his unit wandered in the woods trying to reach Mykolaiv, about 40 miles away. He recalled asking a senior officer about their next movements. The commander said he had no clue what to do. The first reinforcements arrived: separatist forces from Donetsk, mostly men over 45 in shabby fatigues. According to Filatyev, they were forced to go to the front lines when many regular Russian army soldiers refused.
▶ Into mid-April 2022: From now on and for more than a month it was Groundhog Day. ...We were digging in, artillery was shelling us, our aviation was almost nowhere to be seen. We just held positions in the trenches on the front line, we could not shower, eat, or sleep properly. Everyone had overgrown beards and were covered in dirt, uniforms and shoes began to fray. [Ukrainian forces] could clearly see us from the drones and kept shelling us so almost all of the equipment soon went out of order. We got a couple of boxes with the so-called humanitarian aid, containing cheap socks, T-shirts, shorts and soap. Some soldiers began to shoot themselves ... to get [the government money] and get out of this hell. Our prisoner had his fingers and genitals cut off. Dead Ukrainians at one of the posts were plopped on seats, given names and cigarettes. Due to artillery shelling, some villages nearby practically ceased to exist. Everyone was getting angrier and angrier. Some grandmother poisoned our pies. Almost everyone got a fungus, someone’s teeth fell out, the skin was peeling off. Many discussed how, when they return, they will hold the command accountable for lack of provision and incompetent leadership. Some began to sleep on duty because of fatigue. Sometimes we managed to catch a wave of the Ukrainian radio, where they poured dirt on us and called us orcs, which only embittered us even more. My legs and back hurt terribly, but an order came not to evacuate anyone due to illness. I kept saying, “God, I will do everything to change this if I survive.” ... I decided that I would describe the last year of my life, so that as many people as possible would know what our army is now. By mid-April, earth got into my eyes due to artillery shelling. After five days of torment, with the threat of losing an eye looming over me, they evacuated me.
▶ Post-April 2022: I survived, unlike many others. My conscience tells me that I must try to stop this madness. ...We did not have the moral right to attack another country, especially the people closest to us. This is an army that bullies its own soldiers, those who have already been in the war, those who do not want to return there and die for something they don’t even understand. I will tell you a secret. The majority in the army, they are dissatisfied with what is happening there, they are dissatisfied with the government and their command, they are dissatisfied with Putin and his policies, they are dissatisfied with the Minister of Defense who did not serve in the army. The main enemy of all Russians and Ukrainians is propaganda, which just further fuels hatred in people. I can no longer watch all this happen and remain silent.