August 25, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10770

Russian Undergraduate Student Explains Why He Volunteered To Fight In Ukraine

August 25, 2023
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10770

The following is an article by a Russian undergraduate student named Maxim who volunteered in the "Special Military Operation" in Ukraine, was wounded, and is now undergoing treatment in Moscow. [1]

(Source: Maxim's personal archive)

"To Answer The Question Of Why I Went To The SVO, There's No Need To Reinvent The Wheel – The Classics Have Already Said It All"

"Maxim, a student of a BA program at the Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies of the NRU HSE [National Research University Higher School of Economics], volunteered for the SVO [Special Military Operation] this spring, was wounded and is now undergoing treatment in Moscow. In an interview with 'Vyshka [a nickname for NRU HSE] for its own people,' he told why he made such a choice, how his relatives felt about it, what happened to him on the front line and what he plans to do in the future.

"How I Got To Vyshka

"I wanted to become a technologist: I went up to the 10th engineering grade of a Moscow school, developed and presented, at a conference, a new system that could be used to boost an internal combustion engine. But soon I was disappointed with this profession and decided that I would rather do something related to foreign languages and, perhaps, foreign relations. I started learning English and, in one year, I was already fluent in it.

"I decided to go to Vyshka. I considered different programs, and, in the end, I chose 'Oriental and African Studies.' The main thing I liked about it was that there were many languages, including exotic ones: Tibetan, Mongolian, written Mongolian, as well as English and German. Plus, the opportunity to take Foreign Relations, as an additional module. Furthermore, I also wanted to enter the Military Training Center of the NRU HSE – and study to become an intelligence officer with knowledge of languages. A person with such a specialization would find employment very rapidly.

"I passed all the USEs [Unified State Exams] required for admission with 90+ points, submitted my documents and was admitted on a budget place. It was 2020, which means that I had to end the third year of studies in 2023.

"At Vyshka, I not only studied, but was also a member of the Student Council, did volunteer work (for example, I went to Mariupol). We even created our own student organization, interacted with the community of teachers and counselors 'Vyshka to Children,' held the School of counselors of NRU HSE. Together with my future wife, we worked in a camp for children from orphanages with various diseases. I consider working with children a priority for every self-respecting person, because children are our future.

"How I Got To The SVO

"This year, having passed my spring exams, I applied for sabbatical leave. Together with my friend – also a third-year student from the Philosophy program (he is still in the battalion now) – we signed a contract and went to the SVO as volunteers.

"The question of why I became a volunteer has been asked more than once, and to answer it, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The classics have already said it all. There is such a wonderful poem, titled 'Courage,' by Anna Akhmatova:[2]

"We know what is now on History's scales,
"What is, in the world, going now.
"The hour of courage shew our clock's hands.
"Our courage will not bend its brow.
"None fears to die under the bullet's siege,
"None bitters to lose one's home here –
"And we will preserve you, Oh great Russian speech,
"Oh Russian great word, we all bear.
"We will carry you out, clear and free, as a wave,
"Give you to our heirs, and from slavery save.

"I saw this poem on one of the destroyed walls in Mariupol, and it sounded new to me. It quite reflects my motivations: We go and do this work so that this city would live, so that the university, schools, hospitals would work here, so that the enemy would not come to you.

"I told my relatives that I had decided to volunteer, I confronted them with the fact, and they had to accept it. It was not easy for them at that time (and now, of course, they are proud of me). I was not afraid of death. First of all, you probably will not feel anything, and secondly, you will not care anymore. But I realized that it would be very hard for my relatives to go through my death, as well as a heavy injury, if I remained disabled, lost an arm, a leg, an eye. That would be scary, and the rest, perhaps not.

"My comrade and I started preparing physically and psychologically for the SVO about four months in advance: we were choosing the equipment and the unit. Vyshka and the student movement 'White Raven' helped me with the equipment, which, as it turned out later, saved my life. The hardest moment is when you get a break from your usual life: you hug your mom, dad, wife, sister, brother, get on a bus and head off into the unknown.

"Before signing the contract, we had lived at a base: we learned how to handle weapons, we ran and trained at the shooting range. Volunteers from Novosibirsk lived in the barracks with us, and there were a lot of good people. We felt the spirit of combat brotherhood, when older comrades helped the younger ones, tried to make us gain experience to the max. And you understand that to talk to these people, to sit next to them is a great honor for you.

"And then, when we arrived at the place, from the first day to the last, everything that happened to me seemed to be a self-evident thing. Although, for example, the sanitary conditions left much to be desired, it was not a problem. I was afraid that there would be problems with food, but everything turned out to be fine – nobody canceled the food, and we were provided with personal hygiene products, underwear, and thermal underwear. In general, we were ready for everything – one could say that it was easier for me there than it was here in the last months of my studies. If you discard the unnecessary, everything is obvious: there are friends here and enemies there. In normal life it is more difficult in this respect.

"About The Injury

"I was a member of an evacuation group. They brought to our headquarters what the soldiers needed on the front line: food, medicines, and other things. We delivered all this to them, and took the wounded, the dead, and trophies from the front line. From the headquarters to the front line there was a little more than 5 kilometers along the only path that the enemy knew about, every meter of this path was hit, and the drones were hovering over it around the clock. It was called the death road.

"Once we had the task of pulling out some dead comrades from the front line, and – at 7 PM – a group of six of us moved from the headquarters along this trail. We came under heavy fire: for 40 minutes they kept hitting the whole path from start to finish, but we still reached the position, pulled out a friend, packed him, put him on a stretcher and carried him back along the path.

"Here we were spotted by a 'little bird,' mortar fire started and the commander ordered us to disperse. Forest, night, darkness, no moonlight – you cannot see anything in front of you. And an explosive mine hit me – as if a baseball bat had hit me on the back, on the lower back. I felt that my arm was numb, my fingers did not work. I was saved from more severe consequences by my equipment. I had headphones on my helmet, thanks to which I avoided a severe contusion with ruptured eardrums. And if I had not had a combat belt, the shrapnel would have entered my lower back and shattered the bone.

"I automatically jumped up and back, and the next mine exploded exactly where I had just been lying. They must have noticed that I was wounded and tried to finish me off. I dropped my headphones, and at that moment I was concussed. And then there was just a second of panic, real despair, after which there was an adrenaline rush, I was crawling, I did not feel any pain, the commander came running, and we all ran after him through the forest. At that time, from our side, two batteries of Grad MLRS began to work in their direction – they fired a full package, lighting up the whole sky.

(Source: Maxim's personal archive)

"On The Attitude Toward The Fighters

"In the SVO zone, of course, we interacted with the local population, and people were as loyal to us as possible. Wherever you went – to a store, a pharmacy, a bank – everyone would step aside with respect, and even the oldest grandmother would let us skip the line. And if you say to her, 'No, I will wait,' she will reply, 'You are our defenders, go without queuing.'

"On the site in the LDNR [The Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples Republics], where fighters are dropped off after hospitalization, volunteers came to us – a large column with flags. They set up a fair: they prepared a lot of food, gave us everything we needed down to towels and toothbrushes. They gave me a button phone and I called my family. At that moment I realized that everything that had happened to me was not in vain, and you simply do not have a right to let down these people who sincerely care about you and their country.

"There are examples when soldiers of the SVO, upon coming home, say that they are fighting there, risking their lives, and you are doing well here, going out to restaurants. It is hard for me to understand them. In my opinion, it is the opposite: if you come home and people live there as if there were no special operation, it means that you are doing your job well.

"About Returning

"When I was returning to Moscow after being injured, I felt calm, joy and peace. You cross the Moscow Ring Road, you see these panel neighborhoods, your house, a mowed lawn, well-paved asphalt, you hug your family and remember that not long ago you were under fire, walking a tightrope. What was happening to me was completely impossible to realize at once.

"Many young people, including students, decide to volunteer on the line of contact today. Among them there are those who are guided primarily by the desire to earn money, to get some privileges upon their return, but this, in my opinion, is a big mistake and they will be disappointed. When you arrive there, you suddenly realize that tomorrow you may be dead, you will never hug your relatives again, you will never say 'I love you' to them, and you will condemn them to grief and suffering. And then why do you need those roughly 200,000 a month that you are paid?

"If a person realizes what is happening in the country and in the world and is ready to do this difficult work not because of money and privileges – I respect such a choice. Money in this case is like a flavor enhancer, doping, an opportunity to make a little brighter what we already have in life.

"About The Future

"At Vyshka, they tell me now that I can count on any help. And I do not even know what else to ask for, if Vyshka has already saved my life. What can be more precious than life?

"Now, Rector Nikita Yurievich Anisimov, Vice-Rector Sergey Vladimirovich Rozhkov and Vice-Rector Dmitry Igorevich Zemtsov are helping me with doctors. I go to the clinic; they do all the necessary examinations. The fragments have not been removed yet, and, unfortunately, the radial nerve does not show signs of life. There will be another appointment with a neurosurgeon, and then a consilium: the doctors will decide what to do with me.

"Most likely, I will have to go to the SVO again. I would like to come back alive and to graduate from university. The huge life experience that I gained at the SVO should be used for the good of the country. For a while, I have witnessed death, pain, destruction, and then, on the contrary, there comes the time to create – to build my family, my country. I plan to study, work, bring up my children – to live by honor, by conscience, so that life is not wasted."


[1], August 10, 2023.

[2] The poem was written in 1942.

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