From Donetsk to kyiv, the route of a lost soldier

Vladyslav L. was 17 at the start of the war in Ukraine, or more precisely from “war before war”, that of Donbass, started in the spring of 2014, in the east of the country. At the time, he lived in a village near Donetsk, one of the major cities in the region, which quickly fell under the control of Russian forces and those of Ukrainian separatists. For three years, he served under them, before changing sides and joining the Ukrainian army. In the black and white world of conflict, Vladyslav L. is in the gray zone, one of those soldiers lost between the front lines, those no one wants to see. Neither kyiv nor Moscow.

In this month of January, the young man appears for “participation in a terrorist group” before a court in the Ukrainian capital, under snow and bombs. His lawyers, Nazariy Vovk and Ivan Bernatskyi, both court clerks, are the same age as him, 26 or a little older, the “war generation”. They are the ones who tell his story.

So in 2014, when the conflict broke out in the Donbass, the L. family lived on little: a sick brother, a dead father, the house that ran with the mother’s 150 euros, a caregiver. Vladyslav L. applied to all the companies in the area. Nothing. In the region, the coal mines or the steel industry, local prides of the time of the former Soviet Union, continue to collapse. We are jostling at thirty for a welder’s place.

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To make matters worse, he has a dangerous reputation: Vladyslav L. is suspected of being pro-Ukrainian by the pro-Russians. They also arrested him, questioned him, beat him, and finally released him when his mother came crying at the checkpoint.

A friend advises him to apply for 7e separatist regiment in Donetsk. On June 25, 2015, the day he just turned 18, he became a grenade launcher for 15,000 rubles a month (about 200 euros). He served until 2018, then set sail for Russia, in search of a brand new life. Back penniless three years later, after a few construction jobs. Vladyslav moves in with an aunt in Zaporijia, on the banks of the Dnieper. This is where the war picks him up, that of February 24, 2022 this time.

During the trial of Vladyslav L., an ex-soldier of the Donetsk People's Republic, in kyiv on January 11, 2023.

The ex-separatist soldier then decides to return to service. But not in the pro-Russian ranks: he presented himself at the Ukrainian military recruitment center in Zaporijia. In the madness of the first days of the invasion, anyone who knew how to hold a rifle was drafted in, with no further checks: Vladyslav L. was parachuted in as commander of Division 36, Brigade 60. In Donbass, his nom de guerre was “ Little Flower ». He chooses “Malotru” by changing his uniform, like the hero of the legends office, the French series.

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