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"Not everyone fights with weapons," – General Andrii Kovalchuk

General Andrii Kovalchuk is the Hero of Ukraine, the First Deputy Commander of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces. He was awarded many honorary orders and medals. It is especially gratifying that this military officer, a participant in UN missions and hostilities in eastern Ukraine, was born in Volyn, in the village of Shchytyn, Lyubeshiv district.

At the invitation of Anatolii Tsos, the rector of Lesya Ukrainka Eastern European National University, the Hero of Ukraine visited our university. The situation with the coronavirus led to signifanct changes in the program of his visit: though the meeting was constructive yet prompt. So was the interview. My interlocutor responds to all the questions, though as a military general, with a restrained and serious expression. Only the mention of his native Lyubeshiv district and its forests makes him smile.


- Mr General, you are a native of Volyn, an honorary citizen of Lyubeshiv district, but we all understand the peculiarities of military life, especially in time of war. How often do you have the opportunity to visit your native land?

- It is not always possible to visit motherland. I try to visit my parents at most twice a year. My parents are elderly people who need attention and help, but, unfortunately, I cannot visit them very often.


- Today you are in Lesya Ukrainka Eastern European National University. Do you have any ideas for cooperation with our University? How do you see such collaboration? 

- We have established the cooperation with the help of Iryna Konstankevich, our deputy in Verkhovna Rada. She has regular telephone communications with Anatolii Vasylovych (Rector of Lesya Ukrainka Eastern European National University - Ed.). He invited me to visit the University. In fact, until now I have never been here, so I have taken advantage of the invitation..



Not everyone fights with weapons

- Your meeting with students was postponed due to the coronavirus situation and quarantine. However, I can't help but wonder what key messages you wanted to convey to the students. 

- It is no secret that today there are many gaps in the context of patriotic education. Therefore, first of all, I want to convey to students my vision of what this education should be. Another aspect is to explain where the war began. Today, not everyone fights with weapons. The Crimea was conquered by the Russians with no single shot. This style of war is quite common now. I would like to make the youth understand it. It is necessary to clarify how it all began, and the end of it is already known. An example of our east - Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, illustrates it. Unfortunately, we have been in war to this day, we must effectively counteract taking into account its peculiarities in order to enable our future generations to realise that such things may happen.


- A number of higher educational institutions have military departments. There has been a lot of debate around this issue. It is believed that such structural units of civilian universities are not too effective and are not well-adapted to the requirements of the modern army. What is your opinion of this? 

- Adaptation is a process that, as in any training, begins with the basics, and then everything can be improved. The fact that military departments are being opened is an advantage. You need to be able to defend yourself, so it is the right approach.



- At Lesya Ukrainka Eastern European National University there are plans to open a military department where they will train reserve officers for educational programs such as “Military Journalism”, “Military Psychology”, “Military Translation”, and more. How much is the demand for such specialties in the Ukrainian army?

- These are great specialties, very necessary now. There is an extreme shortage of professional psychologists. In the context of war after the combat mission, a warrior requires inevitable relaxation and psychological support. It is needed not only for soldiers, but also for members of their families, ordinary people.


- What about "Military Journalism" and "Military Translation"? 

- Today there is another serious problem. Not all of us are fluent in English, but it is a language of communication for the NATO members. That is why military translators are in need in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. As for journalism, the information struggle is still going on, and the destructive impact of information on

human consciousness is the basis of a hybrid war. In our situation of war in the east, not every journalist can perform their tasks to the fullest extent. There are certain nuances - state or military secrets, negative impact on human consciousness, on the masses, etc. That's why we have to deal with it.



- We recently spoke with Oleksii Kushnier, a member of the Azov Volunteer Battalion, about how the university can assist in social adaptation of soldiers returning from the war zone. You are aware of the current state not from news and journalistic issues. In your opinion, how can the university be useful to our military heroes? 

- I think it's never too late to study. For some reason, there is a category of military people who have lost their health, so they cannot perform their professional duties. In order to adapt to the new conditions, find yourself, you need to study. As the result, it will be easier to find a profession in civilian life. Therefore, we need to help those defenders who have fulfilled their duty to the state and are eager to learn. Such social adaptation should be done in higher educational institutions, where one can acquire another profession.


- Mr General, we have a number of universities with good traditions that prepare the military. Is their learning process adapted to the conditions of war? Has the educational process been adjusted during the time of war? 

- I cannot say that it is fully adapted, starting from the conditions of formation of the armed forces units taking into account how prepared the enemy is. Finally, as time goes by, new technologies, new weapons are constantly being developed. All this also needs some improvement. We formulate requirements but who will implement them and how is another question.


Heroes are not born 

- Unfortunately, Volyn has lost many Heroes in the undeclared war. On August 20, 2014, a student of our University, Andrii Snitko, who covered a bombshell with his body, was killed during a cleansing operation of Ilovaysk. Hardly anybody dares to do so. Is a person ready for this from birth or are such traits fueled by patriotism and friendship? 

- Heroes are not born! Of course, such people are psychologically tuned. And, probably, this is the highest point of human development - a true patriot. It is such an apogee in education, above all, psychological apogee. If we had more such patriots, I mean not the ones who sacrifice their lives, but those who are ready to do it, our Ukraine would be invincible. It is important to protect them, save their lives.


- You are a participant of peacekeeping missions, you know all the features from the inside. There is a lot of discussion about peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine. Can a peacekeeping mission help end the war, or will it, on the contrary, freeze the situation for many years? 

- It all depends on the mandate, that is on the tasks that are assigned to the peacekeeping mission. If there are peacekeepers standing there in the midst of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and bandits, and these peacekeepers do not fulfill their task of disarming the latter, then it will really freeze the conflict. If this mandate is created in such a way that it indeed involves the disarmament and taking the people who illegally took up weapon and shot to court, then it will be a success. Russia, as an aggressor, seeks to achieve its goals as soon as possible, but the world community opposes it. Therefore, Russia is trying to slow down, freeze the situation and thus complete its mission. They do not need Ukraine, or need it only if our country surrenders, as it was under the Soviet Union - a kind of shield between NATO and Russia, capable of doing exactly what the current tsar says.


- What if the mission is intended to pass the border to Ukraine? 

- Again, it all depends on the mandate and whether Russia agrees to it. But we all understand that Russia will not agree. To close the border for Russia means practically to lose what they have started fighting for. I am sure as soon as the border is closed, or Russia says that they will not send troops, this conflict will end very soon.


I treat volunteers with great respect

 - Recently we have celebrated Volunteer Day. Many students of Lesya Ukrainka University have worked or fought as volunteers. What is the role of the volunteer movement in the war in eastern Ukraine, particularly at the beginning of the war? 

- I performed the missions together with the volunteers. I had the opportunity to manage volunteer units. Frankly speaking, at that time they played one of the key roles to stop the aggressor. We all know how “ready” our armed forces used to be. For decades they were disarmed, destroyed, so the moment came when they (the invaders - ed.) were convinced that there was no army left and the aggression began. The volunteers stood side by side with our army. There were different people among the volunteers. But the major part was played by the patriots who deliberately took up weapon to protect our land, our Ukraine. Therefore, I treat volunteers with great respect.


- The next question is about coronavirus issues. Is the Ukrainian army ready for the pandemic? Is this virus able to frighten Ukrainian soldiers, who are not afraid of the enemy army? 

- I think that of all the institutions the armed forces are the most prepared. First, they are under control, and secondly, it is easier to persuade a serviceman to obey the rules, because they are used to orders. The military is obliged to execute them. These are such basic things as hand washing, personal hygiene, etc. But the issue of provision - it is relevant everywhere. Whether there are basic hygiene products, whether there are means of protection, the same tests, and medicine - these questions are open.


- Finally, I will quote one of your interviews: "Let’s expel Putin out of Ukraine - and there will be enough time to gather mushrooms in our forests surrounding Shchytyn." Is it time to start preparing a mushroom basket, or do we have to wait? 

- (Smiles) I am looking forward to that. I would like to gather mushrooms soon, but it does not depend on me only. While politicians are negotiating - soldiers are preparing for the worst scenario. And when politicians get tired of talking, then we will have to speak with the power of weapon. Therefore, the main task of soldiers today is to be ready for everything. And it is not only about soldiers, because why then have we created military training departments and prepare future defenders? And so it was from immemorial times - a man defends his land, his family. However, once a bow and arrows were used, today tanks are applied. And it is the duty of every citizen to protect their land. I would really like to gather those mushrooms as soon as possible, but it is the matter of time, of the capabilities of our politicians, of our leadership, of global support. Therefore, it's not as simple as we would like it to be.

Text - Andrii Moshkun

Photo - Iryna Zahorskа

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