On Monday, the 15th of December 2014, Toro, Orion and I joined the Novorossiyan Army and Battalion Vostok. We arrived at Base 4 on the outskirts of Donetsk. We filled out some paperwork and then we were taken for an assessment by a very strong and serious young soldier. He checked our weapons handling skills, made sure we knew how to field strip the AK and the SKS and had us do 40 push ups. Toro, an older volunteer was having a bit of a struggle, but we all passed. We then went to another room to get our dogtags and IDs.
Everybody in the Novorossiyan Armed Forces (NAF) has a callsign, a code name to be used at all times instead of your real name. I had given some thought to what mine would be, and had chosen the name “Witco” in honor of one of my personal heroes, Crazy Horse. His name in the Lakota language is “Tashunka Witko” and in Lakota, the word “Witko” means “Crazy”. A perfect name, or so I thought. When I said that was what I wanted for my callsign, the soldier filling out the paperwork hesitated and looked confused. Orion, who was doing the interpreting, told me that name would probably be hard for Russians to pronounce, and maybe I should choose another one. I thought for a moment and said, “OK, how about ‘Texas’ “. It worked.
It is pronounced in the Russian fashion, which is very similar to the way the Indians and Mexicans pronounced it – “Tay-HASS”, though sometimes when I get a girl giggling with delight she will change the accent and say “Oh, TAY-hass”. Many commanders and soldiers in the NAF have code names that are geographical places or features – Volga, Baikal, Olkhon. So “Texas” was a good choice, and as someone pointed out, Texas is one of the few states in the US that every Russian has heard of. Good thing I wasn’t born in New Hampshire. It probably wouldn’t be the same…
Shortly afterwards, we loaded ourselves and all our gear into a van for the trip to Yasynuvata, a small town about 20 kilometers from Donetsk. This is where the basic training center for Battalion Vostok was located. As we drove, we passed through several checkpoints and saw signs of recent battles, including a blown up bridge. As we turned off the main road, our driver pointed to the north and casually mentioned we were now in a combat zone and the Ukrainian Army was in positions about 2 km away. Well within range of tank and BMP guns. It was looking like the training we were going to get would be “OJT”, On the Job Training. And it was.
Army barracks are not generally known for their opulence, and Vostok Boot Camp wasn’t either. In fact, it was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life up to that point, and it wasn’t the training that was hard, it was the conditions. We were crammed into a medium sized conference room that had about 40 ancient Russian Army cots with about 14 inches of space between each one. It was now cold outside, being Russia in December, so the windows stayed closed, and the smell of 40 soldiers who bathed once a week took some getting used to.
The food could only be described as horrible, and it was the same exact thing, every meal, every day – vegetable (and by “vegetable” I mean mostly potato) soup and Kashka, a cracked wheat dish with only a hint of meat. Tea was the constant drink, strong and very sweet. We washed our bowls and cups in dishwater a regular person would not wash their work boots in. It was crazy.
The toilet was a shit-encrusted shit hole of a hole, a hole in the floor that led to a hole in the ground, that was full of shit. An outhouse without a seat that had seen its better days. Like something from a Robert Rodriguez movie (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Rodriguez). And the smell there also took getting used too. It was outside, cold and dark, and you really had to watch where you stepped. So, I tried to spend as little time there as possible. I would eat only a little of the horrible food, and then have to shit only every 3rd or 4th day.
The bathing facilities were opened once a week – a Russian “Banya” with a steam room and birch branches for flaggelating yourself till you got clean. The Ukrops had bombed the water pumping station and every time we would get it fixed, they would bomb it again, so there was no running water. We got our water from nearby wells in the yards of abandoned homes. And I mean the kind of wells you see in fairy tales – with the little roof, the bucket on a chain and a crank. We got all the water for about 200 people from those wells every day. And carried it back in 20 liter milk cans.
Most of the new recruits were completely flat broke, and every time I went outside for a smoke, I would smoke one and give 5 away. For a while, I thought my new name in Russian was “Dait cigarette”, “Give me a cigarette.” But how could I refuse? These were my new comrades, some of whom I would soon be in battle with, and besides, why not pass them out? I am a Communist. I had about $3,000, and I did not expect to live to see the Spring.
Our second week of basic training consisted of two six hour shifts per day, (noon to 6 PM, and then midnight to 6AM) manning checkpoints and guard positions. It was pretty serious business. Two guards at a checkpoint about 1 km from ours were found with their weapons gone and their throats cut just a few weeks earlier. We had a 3 man team – Orion, who spoke Russian and English, and Toro and I who spoke English and Spanish. I got the PKM,(1) and I kept it loaded and I kept it close. We spent Christmas Eve, from midnight to 6AM at our checkpoint, the same one we had come through less than 2 weeks earlier. It was getting cold, but we stayed on our toes. The local civilians really appreciated what we were doing, and would bring us tea, pastries, and sometimes a shot of vodka.
One night, a car with 4 guys in it pulled up kind of late. Orion asked the driver for his papers and then said to me in English “They are state cops”. “Cool,” I said, “Let’s have them get out and open the trunk.” And they did, because the guy with the PKM said so. And it was legit, because not all the cops in Donetsk Oblast are loyal to the people of the DNR. But I could not help thinking about how back in my old home state of Texas, the goddamned state police, called the “Department of Public Safety”, often do roadside cavity searches, looking for small amounts of drugs. That shit don’t fly in the DNR. Take a lesson from it. Here, the People’s Army search the cops. And so we did. It was a most satisfying experience.
(I have since learned quite a bit about the Essence of Time Movement, and am very proud to be a member. I agree completely with their goals and methods and truly trust and admire both the leadership and rank and file members. I truly believe it was destiny that brought me to this group, and I fully intend to maintain my membership for the rest of my life. It is a group that has the potential to change the world for the better. You can learn more about it here. )
During my two weeks at Yasynuvata, I had contracted a bad respiratory infection, a hacking cough with the neon mucous that has that hideous sweet taste when you spit it out. I was given some medicine by the medic, but it had little effect, so I just worked through it. Orion caught the same cold, and his was bad enough to be taken to the hospital back in Donetsk. Mine was just as bad, but I declined the hospital trip. Which meant I was going to the airport within the next 48 hours. I traded in my PKM for an AK-74 and four 30 round magazines. I was asked if I wanted a helmet and bulletproof vest. Well… Hell, yeah I did! I still had no idea what I would be facing at the airport, but I knew I was going to be getting shot at. I was given a marginal helmet with a broken chin strap, and an excellent Class IV steel vest, and told to be ready to leave at any time.
On the night of December 30th, I was told to be ready to go at 4AM the following morning. Orion, my only interpreter, was in the hospital, Toro would remain in Ysynavata for further training, and Alfonzo and Mars would not be returning to the airport for several days. I was on my own. I was going to be spending New Year’s Eve at the Donetsk Airport with a machine gun in my hands, and there were sure to be fireworks.
Russell Bentley (Texac) is an advocate of the victims of the Novorussiyan War, and war correspondent for many media outlets, especially for The Greanville Post, the online magazine“New Eastern Outlook”, and a select number of other leading political sites.
n o t e s
(1) The PK is a 7.62 mm general-purpose machine gun designed in the Soviet Union and currently in production in Russia. The original PK machine gun was introduced in 1961 and then the improved PKM in 1969 to replace the SGM and RP-46 machine guns in Soviet service. It remains in use as a front-line infantry and vehicle-mounted weapon with Russia’s armed forces. The PK has been exported extensively and produced in several other countries under license. (WIKIPEDIA)
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