Karazin Students on the Frontline: Yuriy Hrytskyi

22 may 2024 year

"It was an obvious decision that I had to join the military. It was a crucial moment because the war had begun, and we felt it at five in the morning."

Yuriy Hrytskyi is a graduate of the School of Sociology at Karazin University. He completed his studies in 2011. Before the full-scale war, Yuriy worked in the field of sociology. On February 24, he voluntarily went to the military enlistment office.

Currently, Yuriy is defending Ukraine as part of the 138th Battalion of the 115th Territorial Defense Brigade in the Zaporizhzhia direction. In an interview, Yuriy spoke about his combat path, education at Karazin University, and his work in sociology life, and emotions at war.

Karazin University Joins the Effort to Support Yuriy and His Comrades!

We have opened a fund so that every member of the Karazin community can contribute to this good cause.

Goal: 10,000 UAH

Link to the fund

Card number for donations: 5375 4112 1759 7777

Tell us about yourself before the war with russia. What were you doing before that?

Before the war, I primarily worked in the field of sociology. Directly before the war, since 2018, I was a Supervisor of the field stage of social research. You could say that’s why I felt this war long before it fully began. Actually, it wasn’t just me who felt it; it was felt during conversations with people and generally in the atmosphere — there was something elusive. If it were between people… Nowadays, it's trendy to talk about "chemistry." But it was in society itself. More of an expectation than a feeling that the war would begin.

How did you join the military?

Actually, the question of "joining the military in a country at war" is very important. It means that regardless of your profession, you have to use everything you can so that you have stories to tell when you return home. And so, in fact, I knew it would be a very difficult period, but I didn’t know how long it would last.

On the first day, my family and I decided that I would go to the military enlistment office. I am very grateful to my family that we were able to make this decision very quickly. To do this, of course, we needed to understand what my relatives would do and how they would be in the situation that was developing at the time. It was a rather rapid invasion, but we found opportunities for my family. First and foremost, the decision to join the army depended on what would happen to my family. When I solved this issue I was able to go calmly to our enlistment office, even though there were queues. In fact, I only got into the unit at night.

Tell Us About Your Combat Path, What Are You Currently Doing?

If it were some super-secret troops, of course, we would need permission and face-blurring programs (laughs). Since I had no idea what the military was like at all, how the army looked, what needed to be done, my thoughts were only about stopping the invader and not letting them advance further. Ideally, to turn them back and liberate the occupied territories. So my thoughts were only about quickly mastering shooting skills and following everything that more experienced and authorized people told me. But it turned out a bit differently (laughs).

The thing is, there were very few such experienced and authorized (let alone competent) people around me. Instead, there were many amateurs like me — people who at best participated in airsoft games or adult versions of quest games. We needed to rely on someone who at least somewhat understood military matters. So, we quickly self-organized, held various training sessions for ourselves, worked in pairs or threes, studied sapper skills, basics of camouflage, and navigation — elementary things. But in reality, this is a vast body of knowledge.

As soon as we started engaging in this, it became clear that it required not just basic orientation and knowledge. We really needed to understand, know a lot of information, starting with what clothing and equipment are needed, which materials to use, and where to get them. This is mostly technical information and sometimes requires mathematical knowledge. So, we had to intensively "fill in the gaps," as they say. It was a time filled with constant searching for this knowledge, a time of intense combat developments, and we were involved from morning till night.

It turned out that I have quite good shooting skills. Somehow, I spent a few months in a sports shooting range as a child, and it showed. So, I started training as a sniper and was getting good results. But things developed differently. We were sent to the borders and worked on fortifying them. After that, we were involved in direct combat actions. Currently, we are also on a combat mission in the Zaporizhzhia direction. It's a very tough and hot area, but we are holding on.

When and How Did the War Begin for You? How Did You Realize Its Inevitability?

You know, it was already noticeable from 2010 that very unhealthy processes were beginning. There was a bit of relief and hope (that everything would start to develop in the right direction) when Ukraine hosted the UEFA European Football Championship, Euro 2012. At that time, literally the entire East, without exception, was pro-Ukrainian. There were no people who would say that the East is not Ukraine, that Donbas is not Ukraine. Such people simply did not exist without external influence. It was very inspiring. But it was also astonishing how quickly everything changed. In 2014, it was a surprise: how could this happen in Crimea, in Donbas. Moreover, I have roots in the Luhansk region. It was very hard for me to accept that some of my close relatives had completely misguided views and intentions.

I often remember spending a lot of time there (in Luhansk region), as my entire childhood was there. And in adulthood, I visited several times, conducting research, at least in the non-occupied territories. Every time I went to Luhansk or Donetsk region, I recalled my impressions of sitting by the pond on an evening fishing trip, with such a warm night and such familiar sounds. And such a landscape, which you want to find wherever you are, at least in Ukraine. Such landscapes that resonate with something from my native Luhansk region. And you know, these are the landscapes that we will see again.

Yuriy on Traveling Across Ukraine and Sociological Work

Then there was the period after 2016 when I was involved in conducting social research as a supervisor. Initially, it was in the Kharkiv region and adjacent areas. But then I had to join a larger project, and from 2018, I traveled all over Ukraine. You know, when you travel, you gain the experience of a traveler, but you're not just a traveler. You are a researcher who lives in those areas. It might be a very short period. But every time I arrived at a new place, I understood there was a certain difference from a traveler's experience. The places a sociologist sees are unlikely to be seen by a traveler, and this makes them unique.

But here's the paradox. The more I discovered of Ukraine, the more I got to know about it, the less of it I felt I had. The less of it there was for me.

You know, I made some notes. Here's one of them. It was made during a trip to the Ivano-Frankivsk region. There is a very picturesque monastery. Picturesque not only for it but also for the road to it. The people there are picturesque too, honestly. They are very colorful.

Interviewer's Notes

''Today, I was at a monastery.

The Basilian Monastery on Jasna Hora.

This place inspires reflection. Reflection in general and particularly on how beautiful and picturesque everything is here.

And I realized that I miss this very much.

I miss Ukraine.

I miss Ukraine every time I see a roadside chapel in the Boykivshchyna region and realize that in Kharkivshchyna, this is not possible because "the neighbors would criticize it";

...When I hear Ukrainian folk songs in the buses of the Ivano-Frankivsk region and understand that in Slobozhanshchyna, I am doomed to listen exclusively to criminal songs (note made before 2022);

...When unknown children greet you with "Glory to Jesus!" and you respond: "Glory forever!"

...When at the crossroads, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary and people and cars stop there more often to pray than people go to church on Sunday in our region;

...When a Boyko from the prayer-filled village of Hoshiv votes for the separatist Boyko;

...When I compare the attitude towards ATO veterans here and in Eastern Ukraine;

...When I see the respect for heroes who died for Ukraine's freedom here;

...When I encounter the "russian world" and other manifestations of idiocy...

I also miss Ukraine when village roads are unpaved, when you constantly see overloaded logging trucks, when people everywhere complain about the government but don't know their own representatives in parliament or the heads of their regions.

I miss Ukraine when I am called a stranger, even though I am in Ukraine; when I am frowned upon just because I speak Ukrainian or because my language has an unusual sound.

When I have to prove something to someone just to be recognized as a person, I also miss Ukraine.

I miss Ukraine to the point of gnashing teeth when everyone around is used to complaining about corruption and bribes and thinks that everyone owes them everything, but only they deserve decent pay.

I miss Ukraine when I miss home because only at home can you feel protected. 


When and Why Did You Decide to Join the Army?

To defend your country, you need to be sure that your family is safe. In 2014, when my child was only six months old, I couldn’t leave my family under any circumstances.

This time, in 2022, my child was no longer that small. Therefore, I felt that, morally, I belonged more to the military than to my family. Even if I stayed home, I wouldn’t be able to be a full-fledged family man. I would be constantly disappearing at volunteer meetings, on some trips, gatherings, training, and so on.

So, it was an obvious decision that I had to join the army. It was a key moment, as the war had begun, and we felt it at five in the morning. I woke up because the neighbors above were making a lot of noise. And at midnight the day before, I was reading the news with one thought: "Where are the reports of the invasion?" So, I understood why the neighbors started running around. And it was an obvious decision what I had to do next.

What Motivates You Now and Helps You Hold On?

For almost this entire period, I was an ordinary soldier, a trench rat, but my skills were needed not only as a simple performer. So now I am a rear rat, and in this sense, I am very fortunate.

But I know people with whom I have the honor of being acquainted who are still in the trenches and have been there all this time. Honestly, 2022 passed like in a fog. I remember it as if it didn’t happen. More active for us was 2023, which had very difficult days.

And now it all continues more on a routine basis. There isn’t much time, emotion, or strength left for expecting anything. Days pass like ordinary everyday life. It is by no means reminiscent of something like Groundhog Day. It just indicates that you need to get through the end of the day. You need to do everything necessary and make it to the end. Then there will be the next day. And then there might be something else, maybe the same thing again, but again you will have the same task — to make it to the end and do everything, no matter what.

What Are the Biggest Challenges in the Army? What Do You Want to Share?

There are many tough moments in the army. The army is practically made up of these moments. It’s very hard psychologically. You are in an environment with people who are not very happy to see you. People who had their own lives before.

Actually, I’m lucky because my unit consists of similarly motivated people like me. But many have already changed their attitude towards their previous motivations, the current situation, and themselves... All this greatly affects everyday interactions.

I think the hardest moments are the moments of decision-making. When you have a real opportunity to change something in your life or change nothing.

For example, when we see flags at cemeteries. Practically every time, unless it was someone’s mistake (let’s put it politely), every time a person who was alive, who now lies under this flag, had a choice. They had a simple choice — to stay alive.

And there are different paths — to surrender, to just throw everything away and go home or hide somewhere. Or not to stay alive. This choice... It is very difficult.

Can You Share a Memorable Story? Some Moments That You Recall With a Smile

In fact, almost all such moments are related to animals. Where there are soldiers, there are always many dogs and cats. There are many interesting moments with them. It is very pleasant to spend time with them because they remind you that there is not only war around. There is something around that distracts you.

Here's the story. So, after the party, the guys ordered some medals (laughs). Turns out, you can actually order them as souvenirs. Anyway, the medals arrived. But it's not like ordering toothpaste or boots. These are medals, they need to be presented. So, we staged a whole award ceremony. We even boasted in front of the commander. And then, lo and behold, the local newspaper reports about some medal presentation. It was quite a funny situation...

You know, it wouldn't be a bad idea to keep a diary. Honestly, I tried here in the army, but either it didn't work out, or I didn't know what to write about, or I didn't know why.

But after that, I got interested in military literature. All those books I read, they were written by people who actually recalled their time here. And I kept wondering how they remembered all those details. Because, for example, I doubt I'd remember something in such detail.

Yuri mentioned some works to read.

Books by Sergei Saigon. They're straight-up about military life and what it's like to be in the infantry — one of the toughest, honestly, branches of the military.

"Footprints on the Road" by Valery Markus.

Of course, the late Maxim Krivtsov. As far as I know, he wrote poetry, but it's worth reading. Practically every piece of his is very lifelike. About struggle, about the choices I mentioned.

Tell me about your university education — what did Karazin give you?

It's the ultimate virtue — to be an educated person. It's a whole different state of being, let's call it that. What's the value of education? A person with a higher humanities education will always be able to understand another person. Because there are very few cases when you are understood.

Education is needed to quickly orient yourself. For example, in how people's moods change, how the situation changes, what needs to be done, because the army is mostly intuitive behavior. Here, they mostly guess what needs to be done. And for that, you need to have either considerable experience: military, army, or some emotional capital, let's call it that.

And of course, education is about connections. Especially when it comes to Kharkiv University, like Karazin University. These are the kind of people who just opened up a whole new world to me. For me, this rock was unapproachable. But as soon as I started getting to know these people — fellow students like me — I realized it's a whole different world. And I understood that I want to be part of this world.

Although, you know, in the army I met many self-made geniuses who could create any engineering marvel from scrap materials. They quickly adapted to the conditions they found themselves in.

Education is one of those tools that provides this skill — to explore, to learn. And such people are immediately noticeable, regardless of their level of education; it's interesting to talk to them at least. At most, you can rely on them, deal with them.

What is Karazin University to you in a few words?

It's a place that always warms not only with memories. A place I always want to rely on. It's a very reliable and solid place.

Yurii about fears

Of course, there are many fears. But, you know, I'll tell you what it's like to be at war. Essentially, it's an extreme affair, what does it entail? When you're on the frontline, you go there at night. If you're lucky, it'll be a moonlit night — you'll be able to orient yourself. And if you're lucky, you'll have a special night vision device. And then you can not only orient yourself in the terrain but also see danger from above, from the front, or from the sides. But these are very exceptional cases. If you're a platoon or company commander, then you may be equipped with this device almost guaranteed.

Not all of these devices are in working condition, especially after the first few outings. So mostly you have to rely on touch, somehow intuitively. So the night is the only chance to get to a place where you can replace your comrades. When you get there, considering that you've already overcome some stress, then you can only be confident that everything will be okay. And for this, someone needs to constantly watch over this.

Let's assume, for example, three people on one post — that's still okay. Every 8 hours a person changes: they can observe, watch over the situation, warn. The other two, well, at least one, can rest. But very often it's not three people, it's fewer, and the workload increases. The more people there are, the less workload, the less fatigue.

When you're in such a condition, even if there are three of you, even if there are more than three of you, it's already much easier. But if you find yourself in this state for more than three days, then just eight hours of rest is not enough. You need a whole day. And it's not just about emotional exhaustion, but physical exhaustion too, because during all this time you're in very uncomfortable positions in body armor and other equipment. And the simplest things are very difficult for you all this time. It's hard for you to eat, drink, go to the bathroom. The less time you spend like this, the better. The more, the less capable you are of enduring all this. If there are more people, it will just be easier for everyone who goes out.

Why am I talking about this now?

When it comes to joining the army, there's a fear that you'll die. It's a real fear, unfortunately, a real possibility. But if you analyze what people die from, it becomes clear that mostly it's because they're tired.

When you're tired, your reactions are very slow. When you need to bend down, you don't bend down. When you need to crouch, you don't crouch. When you need to run, you don't run. When you need to jump, you don't jump. When you need to do something quickly, you don't do it, because you're tired.

The less of this there is, which can be achieved, unfortunately, only through the number of people, the fewer losses we will have. This is what we've encountered. This is what I wanted to say.

Now you can give advice, guidance, wishes to the Karazinites and the entire community that will see the story about you. What would you like to say?

Right now, our main goal is to survive, and for that, we need to do the right things and say the right words. And for this, you need to read the right sources.

Read Ukrainian sources, pro-Ukrainian sources. Read those things, find out those news, which make the situation clearer. Not the ones where you want to blame someone, or be disappointed in something. There's a lot of that now, including among people in the military who are disappointed. But if you talk to them, it becomes clear that they don't have any real reason for it. That it's influenced by what they read. Information hygiene here is very weak. And I'm not just talking about our ordinary rank and file.

However, you can save yourself: by choosing sources and treating what's happening around you correctly. And this means certain behavior. Specifically, take courses in first aid, know the MARCH protocol. You also need to take care of yourself, do physical exercises, and be vigilant. This is what is needed now more than ever.


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