Commander of the Khartia volunteer unit Vsevolod Kozhemiako in a Sept. 13 interview told NV about his participation in a counter-offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Kharkiv area.
NV: How did the counter-offensive begin for you and your volunteer unit?
Kozhemiako: Of course, here, among the military and those involved in these processes, things had long been ripening and everyone was waiting for it. When our guys moved to Balakliya, everyone understood that this was the beginning! And certain successes were achieved. (Everything) was planned so gradually that other units also began to advance in different areas.
It was not always easy, (there was some) resistance, but everyone advanced. And the 127th territorial defense unit, to which we are subordinate, also moved forward in the north, together with the national guards, toward the state border. The command assigned us the task of entering certain settlements and ensuring control there, which we did.
NV: In footage you published on social networks, we saw how you reached the Ukrainian-Russian border. In particular, we saw the border ‘wall’ (construction project) of former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Kozhemiako: Famous. It was a humorous video, because we need to somehow cheer ourselves and people up. In order to reach that wall, we marched about 15 kilometers on foot, passed two villages, and were quite exhausted… The fact that we reached the border is the work of the entire unit, several units worked, a lot of people. Our task was just to enter those villages that are very close to the border. We saw these crossing points and also “cleaned” them. I would not like to say that it was only us who reached it, because everyone reached it on different flanks. As you know, yesterday near Vovchansk, but only my video became so popular for some reason.
NV: Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that the counter-offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Kharkiv Oblast was even more successful than expected. And it really looks like a lightning, fantastic success. Why do you think the Russians fled so fast that even we did not expect?
Kozhemiako: First of all, what we see confirms the military operation was very carefully and very well planned, this is a fact. And it gives a lift! I’m very happy that everything is happening not only due to the heroism of the Ukrainian people and those who defend Ukraine, but thanks to military thought. This offensive was very carefully planned, a lot of facts were taken into account, it’s true.
This means that our military intelligence is at a very high level. And when certain actions were taken in the direction of Balakliya, a domino effect began: it made no sense for the Russian army to stay in certain places, because there was a threat of their encirclement and destruction. Their commanders, and the soldiers, understood this. A real panic began, the army fled. They didn’t just retreat en masse in the direction of Balakliya – Izyum – Kupyansk, but they left military equipment there, a lot of equipment, tanks, artillery.
… It made no sense for them to stay in our northern areas, because they would have been destroyed. They prepared their retreat and withdrew as quickly as possible.
The fact that their retreat was planned very quickly and in a little panic is indicated by the fact that they tried to destroy the ammunition, equipment, take everything, but they still left things. We can see it both in terms of ammunition and equipment. But we understand the decision for their retreat was probably made a few days ago.
NV: A week ago, you said that our Ukrainian positions were only 10 kilometers from the city of Kharkiv and that you could go to war as if you were going to work. Will the situation change now as a result of such a successful counter-offensive?
Kozhemiako: They will no longer be able to shell us with artillery from our territory, they can only work from their territory.
That’s very important. Life is starting again in many settlements, people are coming back little by little, they’ve started to relax. They’ve been living there for almost half a year under (occupation). This northern direction was immediately occupied on the first day of the war, people didn’t even have time (to leave)... I have a friend who left the village of Mali Prokhody at 4.00 a.m. in sleepwear and pajamas. He took his wife and child – they left right in front of the Russian column. His relatives remained there, there were a lot of such people who could not simply react to it.
There was a lot of destruction there, many people were tortured... Our law enforcement agencies have started working there, and I think we’ll learn about a lot of atrocities the Russians committed against Ukrainians in those occupied territories. Veterans of the Anti-Terrorist Operation remained there, as well as Ukrainian activists did not have time to leave, etc.
As for the Russians’ escape, both the information from the intelligence and my words that not all collaborators knew that the Russians would leave confirms the fact that they withdrew suddenly at night. The collaborators woke up, saw that no one was there and lined up at the border with Russia. Those who cooperated with the Russian authorities also managed to escape.
NV: Did you have an opportunity to talk with people who were under occupation in the already liberated Kharkiv Oblast, and if so, what do they say?
Kozhemiako: Being in Kharkiv you’re already under a certain amount of psychological and mental pressure, we’re constantly at war here, constantly under fire and on the front line... But we are here, doing some kind of action, something that depends on us. It would be so difficult for me, for example, if I were not some famous person, to live under occupation – I cannot imagine at all. It’s just terrifying when you can’t influence anything, you can’t do anything, and you can’t escape anywhere.
We talked with some people. One family … they were not even allowed to go out of the house. The Russians were afraid that they would call and pass on their positions and information. Which people did anyway, by the way. But they were not allowed to leave their homes, they remained in houses and couldn’t even go outside. And those houses without the owners, the Russians just robbed them.
We could not talk more in detail and for a long time, because we had to do some work, we had a task there. I think the time will come and we’ll all learn a lot more.
But people were happy.