How did you receive the news of a full-scale invasion? What were your actions? How did you get to the front?
On the 24th of 2022, I woke up from the first arrival. I said to myself: “God, even if it were training”, because near my place of residence training is often held. However, after the second arrival, I realized that not this time. I woke up and had a very difficult task – I had to inform my relatives about the beginning of the war. He had been ready for the full-scale invasion for two years already. Warned people, recommended to collect alarm suitcases/shoulders. Acquaintances and friends treated it with irony. Until the 24th of 2022. Then the calls began with questions: “What to do?”, “Where to run?”, etc.
For two years he actually prepared to escape, but on the 24th he decided to fight. Signed up as a volunteer. He was seconded for only two weeks. During this time, together with an actor friend, they engaged in volunteer activities. A friend signed up on the same day as me, now he is serving in another unit of the Armed Forces. In particular, they delivered medicine, food, and warm clothes to people and military personnel. Once I even managed to work with the Prytula fund, despite the extremely difficult access to the capital in the early days.
Your first baptism of fire.
For a very long time, my platoon was engaged in engineering work, digging trenches, building defensive structures and dugouts. The first battles in which my unit took part took place in the Kyiv region in the Brovar district. There, my unit took part in the battle for Brovary. We supported the victorious soldiers from the Black Zaporozhian brigade. Later, they took part in clearing the forests of the Kyiv region, and later – the forests of the Chernihiv region. In the summer, he went to defend Bakhmut, which he did until mid-October. He was injured and contused several times. Also, from the middle of spring until he was sent to the East, he engaged in training and preparation of servicemen from his battalion and local DFTG. Volunteers, former special forces from Poland and several other countries helped us in this. In particular, he received a certificate of completion of their training course.
Stories from the front, which were engraved in your memory forever.
The battles for the Kyiv region were remembered for the frankly strange strategy of the enemy. In particular, the convoys of equipment were formed in a very strange way – together with tanks and BMPs, artillery installations were traveling along the highway in broad daylight in one column. The world’s leading media wrote about my experience of the battle near Brovary.
“Ilya Berezenko, a Ukrainian soldier who witnessed the Ukrainian attack on the Russian armored column from a distant position, said that it was intended to hit the first and last tank in the column, hoping to capture those who were trapped. From this point of view, the strike, which began fighting in a strip of villages in the area, which was still ongoing, was only a partial success.An ambush video released by the Ukrainian army from a drone, which largely matches soldier Berezenko’s account, shows many Russian armored vehicles leaving , seemingly unharmed, while others are burning. At the same time, Berezenko noted that from his point of view as a soldier, this episode shows the mistakes of the Russians. According to him, the accumulation of armored vehicles on the road was an easy target. “First came their artillery, then tanks. The whole scenario was strange,” – quotes Ilyu The New York Times.
During the sweeps, it was very common to encounter the fact that the enemies leave their wounded and killed, but take away the loot. The situation near Bakhmut is extremely difficult, the constant attack of the enemy on foot is very surprising. That is, artillery and air strikes are constant, and they are the main cause of losses among us, but several times a day they go to positions, try to break through. Then we inflict the greatest losses on them. This is from an infantryman’s point of view, of course. Our losses are also serious, experiencing the death of our comrades is the most difficult thing in war. Despite all this, the defense forces continue to hold positions in our direction, in particular, my platoon, with whom I have served for the last seven or eight months, is directly engaged in this.
What is the humor at the front? Does it help?
Guys joke a lot, but not at zero or -1 odds. There, everyone is gathered as much as possible and performs tasks. The jokes come already when they are dragged to the 2-3 line or to the rear. Many jokes concern the incompetence of the enemy, everyday situations, and the behavior of fellow citizens. Humor helps to experience what has been seen, gives relaxation. Without him, many would simply lose their nerve.
After the liberation of Ukrainian lands, the enemy leaves mined territories. Your safety advice for civilians. What do you need to know in order not to be blown up by mines or explosives? What are the disguises?
The main thing is to follow the advice of the State Emergency Service, do not go to the forest, do not go to the roadside (even in long-vacated territories). If your house has been freed from occupiers, do not go there until it is inspected by sappers. Mines can hide in household items, light switches, and garbage. Unexploded shells are also common. During the sweeps of Kyiv Oblast, my squad found many similar shells in people’s gardens.
Information war, its varieties, fakes and DEEPFAKE. Your advice on how to correctly navigate the information space for a civilian.
Regarding this, I wrote an article in which I described in detail the problems with this technology for the Ukrainian resource “Military“:
“The real threat to the world, and especially to Ukraine in the current conditions, have become the newest means of propaganda, intimidation and distortion of information. The most serious weapon in the hands of those who like to distort information, pass off lies as truth, is currently Deepfake technology, which allows, with the help of neural networks (in fact, the current capabilities of artificial intelligence training) to realistically superimpose the face of one person on the face of another and make any statement on their behalf. Deepfake works by processing a huge amount of data. Specifically, a video with a victim whose identity is going to be stolen. After processing this array data, artificial intelligence is able to realistically superimpose the face of one person on the face of another. The software successfully synchronizes movements and facial expressions, lip movement, even slight head movements. However, this technology is still far from ideal. At the moment, experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology advise paying attention to certain details , which will be able to identify the video as a product of the intervention of academic intelligence.
1. First of all, pay attention to the face. The most advanced Deepfakes affect him.
2. Pay attention to the cheeks and forehead. Don’t they seem too smooth, or on the contrary, too wrinkled? Does their texture match the texture of the neck, or do the signs of age match the age of the person they are trying to imitate?
3. Pay attention to the eyes and eyebrows. Do shadows appear and disappear as they should and where they should? Deepfake often cannot accurately convey the physical properties of light.
4. Pay attention to glasses. Is the light playing on them, or is there too much light on them? Are there reflections on them?
5. Pay attention to the mustache and beard. Deepfake is able to imitate them, but cannot cope with their naturalness and changes depending on the viewing angle.
6. Pay attention to facial flaws. Do wrinkles look natural? Do the scars look natural?
7. Pay attention to the size and color of the lips. Do they match the proportions of the face? Do they not seem too contrasting, or on the contrary, they lack color?
In order to show that your video is not a deepfake, software specialists recommend:
1. Often turn the head and touch the face. It is possible to pass your hand in front of your face.
2. Let go of the beard or bristles. The mustache also works to complicate the imitation.
3. Make the lighting simulation as difficult as possible: a beacon that flashes or a garland that casts visible light on the face can indicate the authenticity of the video.
These tips won’t help prevent a deepfake, but these tips can help ensure that a particular video isn’t a deepfake.”
What are the most urgent needs at the front now?
The basic needs now remain the same as always: means of observation and communication. Thermal imagers, thermal imaging sights and walkie-talkies are very useful. In addition, there is often no place to charge all this, so power banks and generators are also needed in large quantities. We also need warm clothes, chemical heaters, and sleeping bags. Due to the sharp increase in the number of military personnel, the state cannot manage to provide for everyone, so volunteers and charitable foundations, such as “Return Alive”, “Prytula Fund” and others, help a lot. Larger organizations also actively help with the purchase of transport. In addition, the enemy actively uses small, commercial drones to target artillery, so anti-drone means are also needed, but they cost a lot. Thanks to friends and acquaintances, I was able to raise money for one such installation, and it has already shown very good results on the battlefield.
Does language matter at the front?
Language plays a decisive role on night shifts. Then everyone suddenly starts to remember Ukrainian and communicate exclusively in it. In safety, everyone communicates in a way that is convenient for them. We do not discriminate in this sense. In combat situations in open space, they often switch to Russian, but this is due to adrenaline, and no one has any questions either, because most of them are orders and important information.
Your personal predictions about the war. Return to the borders on February 24, 2022 and return to the borders of Ukraine in early 2014.
I am not a prophet and I do not make predictions. But I am convinced that without a decisive Victory and the liberation of all of Ukraine, it is just a matter of time before our enemies regroup and strike again. It can be devastating, as it was with Chechnya, so the war must go to the undisputed Victory of Ukraine. I went to war with exactly this thought.
How do you see Ukraine after the victory? In your opinion, what should be the model of modern Ukraine, so as not to end up on the same rake again (for such a long history of our country)?
Practice has proven that international institutions do not actually work in security matters, so Ukraine must rely on itself and the help of real partners. We need to stabilize the economic situation, not lose the national unity that exists now and prevent a political crisis. In particular, to establish the production of weapons and ammunition, it is possible to conclude contracts for the production of Western weapons on the territory of Ukraine. It is also necessary to reform the judicial system, complete reforms in education and health care. The continuation of the reform of the Armed Forces and the increase in budget funding should not cause any doubt in anyone now. These are the key areas of work without which the future of Ukraine is hopeless in my opinion.
What are your plans for the future after the Victory of Ukraine?
I would like to continue training military personnel, journalism, and possibly running a channel on YouTube or another internet platform. Specific wishes from the more down-to-earth – to go to the movies, exhibitions, seminars, and training without any obstacles and not to worry every minute about the possible inevitable death of my loved ones and friends.
All photos: from the personal archive of Ilya Berezenko