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These Ukrainians voluntarily joined the Armed Forces after more than 18 months of the full-scale war

“I did not join the army to die. I came to live according to my principles. To live in such a way that I would not be ashamed to die,” Marharita said.

Illustrative photo.
Photo: AP Photo / Bernat Armangue

On February 24, 2022, dozens of people lined up in front of nationwide military registration and enlistment offices. However, some people could not join the Armed Forces right away and chose a field where they could be helpful at the time. 

In the second year of the full-scale invasion, the military repeatedly called on people to join the Armed Forces, reminding them that those who went to fight in 2022 had been injured, killed, or in need of rotation. And there are Ukrainians who are answering that call – and voluntarily joining the Armed Forces to protect Ukraine now, more than 18 months into the full-scale war.

Nazar Voitenkov, a rookie soldier

Nazar Voitenkov, 22, is a former TV journalist for Ukrainian Channel 5 and a Master’s student at the Institute of Journalism (Kyiv). Since the start of the full-scale invasion, he has worked with the military and their families, with people who have survived the occupation and Russian torture chambers as a volunteer. 

Photo from the personal archive.

“I went on work trips to Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions, looking for like-minded people beyond my work. The people I talked to most often were not born for military service, despite being here, on the frontline. They love their country,” he said. 

Nazar felt he needed to do more. So, he occasionally looked for a press officer job in the Armed Forces.

“One of the motivations for leaving journalism was to feel 100% effective. With my knowledge, I wanted to be useful in the army,” Nazar Voitenkov said. 

In October, a friend found him a vacancy for a press officer. He immediately decided to apply. 

“That was the moment I realized I could not miss this opportunity. I had no idea how I was going to finish my studies. But I accepted it immediately because if not now, when?” he said.

Nazar signed a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, took the oath, and set off for a future soldier preparatory course. First, he arrived at a training ground in Ukraine, where he was offered the chance to train in the UK. 

“No one asked me to join the army. It is a test that I have to pass with dignity. We don’t believe we are to blame for being born next to Russia. It is not our problem that this country is an aggressor; the question is how we will respond to its aggression,” Nazar said. 

In December 2023, the Ukrainian defender is planning to receive a Master’s degree. He said the university understood the situation and allowed him not to attend classes. However, he has to appear to present his thesis. 

Nazar was preparing mentally for the military service, setting himself up to be helpful in the army. The physical training was more difficult. He felt it during the course when his body was not always ready for heavy exertion. 

“I am glad that I am getting physically fit. My back got used to the bulletproof vest, and my legs got used to the weight of the backpacks,” Nazar said. 

He also prepared his family mentally, explaining his choice. “My family understands it is important and necessary; they have accepted my choice. However, they asked me if I had any regrets and if I would return. I explain to them that I can’t go back,” he said. 

Photo from the personal archive.

“I am motivated by a desire for revenge. My civilian work has shown me how much evil Russia has done. I saw the dead in Bucha and the destruction of Ukrainian cities; I was at the exhumation site. My fight is about protecting the future in my home, which I do not want to look for outside Ukraine. I love this country and want a peaceful Ukraine to be the legacy for my descendants,” Nazar said.

Marharita, a combat medic

In civilian life, 23-year-old Marharita worked as a barista in coffee shops. Originally from Kamianske in the Dnipropetrovsk region, she lived in Poltava for a while and moved to Kyiv at 17. 

After February 24, 2022, she started volunteering. Marharita has considered joining the Armed Forces since the first day of the full-scale war. 

“I was afraid that bureaucracy left over from the days of the Soviet army was challenging. It was also scary to change my life and lose my comfort completely,” she says. 

Photo from the personal archive.

But on September 29, 2023, she decided to join the military. Her mum’s support made a big difference. A few days later, Marharita was already at the Territorial Recruitment Centre.

“I joined [the Armed Forces] because I always felt I was not doing enough. A lot of my friends are either fighting or training. I was not motivated by money, fame, or a medal. I do what I have to do. I want to return to civilian life in peaceful Ukraine,” Marharita told. 

In preparation for her service, the girl visited a therapist to tune up her mentality. She also went to Kramatorsk, the Donetsk region, as a civilian to talk to the military and take tactical medicine courses. 

“War is cold and scary. I know I will have to endure a lot. People I care about will die. I know all the worst about the war. All I have left is to see and feel it,” she shared. 

What motivates her most are the people. Marharita has found friends and got a lot of support from family; they come to see her whenever she gets the chance. 

“I did not join the army to die. I came to live according to my principles. To live in such a way that I would not be ashamed to die,” Marharita told.

Vlad Krupko, the 3rd Assault Brigade’s soldier

Vlad Krupko, 24, is from Kramatorsk, the Donetsk region. In 2016, he moved to Lviv to study at the Ukrainian Catholic University. In 2022, he graduated with a Master’s degree in Media Communications. Vlad ran an advertising agency and worked in video production and design. 

Photo from the personal archive.

After Russia started a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he became a volunteer. Vlad immediately tried to join the army on 24 February, but the military commissariat refused to take him. 

“I feel the war has caught up with me for the second time (his hometown, Kramatorsk, faced war back in 2014 when the Russians invaded East of Ukraine; for the second time, the war caught Vlad in Lviv in the West of the country in 2022 — ed). I could never have imagined that Kramatorsk (Vlad’s parents lived in the city and had already moved abroad – ed.) and Lviv could be bombed,” Vlad said. 

The second time he wanted to join the Armed Forces was in the spring of 2023. Vlad Krupko intended to join the 3rd Assault Brigade, where many of his friends were fighting. He managed to enter the brigade by personal invitation. 

“When the 3rd Assault Brigade came into my life, I realized I would join the military. I like their approach to work — responsibility, cohesion, and unity,” Vlad explained. 

Before joining the army, a soldier must spend a month in a specialized recruitment center, undergoing physical, moral, psychological, and tactical training. 

“I have seen people who deliberately want to become stormtroopers. They are motivated soldiers who will do anything to win,” Vlad said. 

After leaving the recruitment center at the end of September 2023, Vlad went to France for a future soldier preparatory course. 

Grandparents are the only members of his family staying in Ukraine. But all relatives support him. Although they are unhappy about the decision, they understand it is necessary. 

He also has the aid of his girlfriend. She is collecting parcels and essentials, learning military slang, and using “+” as a message that everything is fine, Vlad said.  

“What motivates me most is that I want children. I want them to see vibrant and strong Ukraine instead of the sadness we experienced,” he said.

Written by Kateryna Vovk
Translated by Oleksandra Sobol
Edited by Yuliia Bondar