In Ukraine, this volunteer sniper embodies the embattled nation’s military
He’d moved to Western Europe to work as an engineer but returned after Russia invaded and soon was being trained. “I don’t like to kill people. It’s not something you want to do. But it’s something you have to do.”
KYIV, Ukraine — Before taking a shot, Ukrainian sniper Andriy buries his face in a foldout mat, breathing slowly and deliberately.
“I need to be completely relaxed, to find a place where I will not move the rifle when I pull the trigger,” he says. “I don’t think about anything. It’s a kind of vacuum.”
In a semicircle around his head are boxes of bullets, printouts of charts, a heavy-duty stapler and a roll of tape.
Strapped to his wrist is a monitor that’s the shape of a jewelry box. It’s a ballistics calculator to factor in the wind and other conditions.
After a long pause, he says the word “shot” in Ukrainian and fires.
Six months ago, the noise might have startled Andriy, who’d moved to Western Europe to pursue a career in engineering.
His experience is similar to that of many Ukrainians who returned home to the war, abruptly pulled from civilian life to embrace fighting methods ‒ modern but also makeshift ‒ that have held back the far larger Russian military.
Andriy comes from Bucha, a district near Kyiv’s airport that was hammered during the Russian advance. Hundreds of civilian killings took place there, the bodies of the dead buried in mass graves or left lying where they were shot in what the United Nations describes as potential war crimes.
Tall and with a good command of English, the sniper spoke to The Associated Press while practicing alone at an informal firing range near Kyiv before his next deployment. He asked to be identified by his first name and that some details of his civilian life remain private.
“Early in the morning on Feb. 24, I received a call from my mother,” he says. “She lives in Bucha and told me the war had started. She could hear helicopters, airplanes, bombing and explosions. I decided to return.”
To get back home to Ukraine, Andriy had taken a flight to Budapest and arranged a 750-mile overland route that included paying “a big amount of money” to a driver willing to make the risky journey east frm there. Within a few days, he had joined the ferocious fight around Kyiv and adopted the war nickname “Samurai.”
He bought his own gear and a U.S.-made sniper rifle and began receiving training from a special forces instructor, with whom he connected through friends in the military.
Andriy would not discuss specifics of the military operations but described Ukraine’s military as a force that prides itself on flexibility, harnessing a wide range of skills from its personnel to become more versatile in combat.
Snipers, he says, often are used to spot Russian military positions for artillery targeting.
“I have also gained experience in tactical medicine, with drones and shooting with assault rifles,” he says.
Military specialists are encouraged to learn new skills and even find their own equipment, with Western suppliers still delivering to Ukraine in a private market that’s monitored by the army.
To protect his hearing, Andriy acquired a set of hunter’s headphones to suppress the noise from his rifle while amplifying voices.
“You really need these,” he says.
Russia has more than doubled the territory it controls in Ukraine since launching its invasion in February — to about 20% of the country.
But Andriy shares the optimism of many Ukrainians that victory will be possible after the winter.
“I think, with the help of our friends in Europe and the United States, that we can push them out of our territory,” he says.
He says his desire to become a sniper came from a familiarity with hunting rifles, common in Ukraine, and playing the role of a distance shooter in video games.
His goal from war? “It’s to return to my home, to my family,” he says. “No one of us wanted to be a warrior, a shooter, a sniper. It’s just a necessity to be here now and do what we’re doing here.
“I don’t know how to explain this. I don’t like to kill people. It’s not something you want to do. But it’s something you have to do.”