Story #109. "I Feel Their Fear": Soldier Reflects on How the Full-Scale War Has Changed Him

September 1, 2023
Arsen, a former teacher and businessman, gave up his established routine for military service, which had already been partly present in his life.

Before the full-scale war, Arsen taught at a pedagogical college and managed a small business. But the more Russian full-scale aggression was spreading across Ukraine, the more present were the thoughts of army service in his mind.

Arsen further realized that armed service had been on the periphery of his life for some time already.

"I had participated in various military courses, camps, and competitions since I was fifteen. I also used to play airsoft and so on. I had trained on how to use weapons since then," recalls Arsen.

Even though he was interested in these things as hobbies, he had no plans to build his life around them, nor did he intend to serve in the army. Somewhere deep inside, he felt that civilian life couldn't provide him with what he needed, but he was still afraid to let it go. Then the war put everything into place for him.

My life has changed radically since I entered the combat phase.

Arsen is now a unit commander, a position that took some guts to reach. The responsibilities he took upon himself have led him to reevaluate his place in this world.

"I understood that I am essential to my unit, that they need me, and that I need them. We cannot do without each other. When you arrive in the rear, you often think that the world has changed around you, but then you realize that it is not the world that has changed, but you."

When Arsen was recently on leave, he realized how intensely the war had sharpened his sensitivity to injustice. While at the front, he had become accustomed to the absence of small things like earthly cunning or dealing with bureaucracy, for example.

In war, I know my place, my duties, and what I have to do. Living as a civilian, as far as I'm concerned, now feels unreal. I also have an awareness that no one understands me there, and that I am not that needed.

Even previous sources of joy, like the new car he had wanted and bought before the war, don't satisfy him as they used to. While at the front, on the contrary, everything feels far more meaningful, and his positive spirit is always with him there.

"I think it is unacceptable to lose heart, and you must constantly raise your spirit. We joke there, scroll TikTok, etc. We also maintain a positive attitude through our success, for example, when we hit the enemy's positions and watch it from our drones," Arsen explains.

Some soldiers are delighted when children send them drawings, but Arsen also notices how wrong it is for kids to know what war means.

As a pretty reflective personality, Arsen felt that the war had numbed some of his emotions, and at the same time, it made him way more sensitive.

"After being at war, I feel people more, I feel their fear, and if they are being true with me or not."

Nevertheless, he is enduring this war in good spirits. That includes due respect for his adversary.

"Yes, they are our enemies, but I respect them in principle as they know how to fight, and I learn a lot from them. I watch them and see what they do and how. Yes, we must fight, take them captive, and replenish our prisoner exchange pool, but it's not out of anger, it is just necessary."

One time, Arsen had been manning a position for over 40 hours all alone, surrounded by nothing but wet, muddy terrain. He recalls it as one of the worst days of his service. It was precisely during this time that he had a close encounter with the enemy one-on-one.

"They fired from an automatic grenade launcher, used mortar shelling, and automatic rounds. I remember how scary it was, I imagined the worst. But suddenly that fear turned into some euphoria," remembers Arsen, still surprised by what his psyche was capable of.

Arsen is returning to the front very soon, after undergoing an operation. He feels no regrets about leaving civilian life behind him because, as he says, today you are here, and tomorrow you're gone. And this applies not only to a war zone, so one should get used to this fact and simply move on.

Yelyzaveta Dzhulai
Journalist at UkraineWorld