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Vadym Sukharevskyi. Interview with a legend

Vadym Sukharevskyi, the commander of the 53rd Battalion: “I decided...

Vadym Sukharevskyi. Interview with a legend

Vadym Sukharevskyi. Interview with a legend

Vadym Sukharevskyi, the commander of the 53rd Battalion: “I decided to become an officer because got annoyed by the fact that most commanders are unable to make decisions. They used to be afraid of responsibility then and they are similarly afraid of it now.“

Once I swore to myself that if I become an officer I will belong to that category of military who are not afraid to make decisions and stand for them irrespectively of career or insignia, under any conditions.


I am a native of the town of Berehove, Zakarpatska region. I graduated from Mukacheve lyceum that provided advanced military and physical training. To get military education had been an idea of my own, and we even had an argument with my father regarding my decision. As soon as he felt a bit affronted by the army, he thought I might have preferred another occupation offering easier and better lifestyle, like a career of a lawyer or that sort of thing. Anyway, I entered the military lyceum I planned to. At that time, it looked like an experiment to me, – to experience what army really was. I used to see my dad in a military uniform, and aspired to test myself as well. Honestly, on graduating from the lyceum, I concluded: “If someone says I am going to stay in the army, I will kill him,” – my teenager mentality failed to withstand metal toys.

Next it was the regular service in the airborne troops where everything radically changed, and I got, to say, really passionate about the army, because the airborne troops make a state of mind, a religion. I got the feeling of both affiliation to the legendary troops and to those guys who dedicated themselves to defense of their homeland, training, strengthening of their spirit and completion of combat missions. I figured out that out of the 16 months of service before signing a contract I spent only 4 months in places of our permanent stationing, and the rest was spent in various ranges, including 5 winter camps, long-term army camps and international military exercises. It was absolutely cool. I served in military intelligence which affected my attitude a lot as well.

While in regular service, I volunteered to participate in the training camp designed to prepare troops for military operations in Iraq. A month and a half before sending of the troops I signed a contract.  On the 10th of February we took off to Iraq from Sknyliv aerodrome at the temperature of –16 °C; landed there, and thermometer indicated +28 °C. So our service in the military intelligence squadron started. For three months I served in the brigade commander’s personal security service. Then escalation of events began. The battle that took place in the 6th of April, was referred as the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s first combined forces fighting. Our squadron was jammed in the town and got under mortar fire. As a result, we had 1 KIA, 5 WIA. We survived thanks to the fact we possessed APCs and machine guns of large caliber, so we fired back causing numerous fatalities among the opponent troops.

In Iraq, there were lots of interesting things, but unfortunately we lost 8 people in 9 months of service. At that time, it felt shocking for our state. When back home, I was convinced I should leave the army. One of the reasons behind that decision was the fact that military service means absence of normal family life. For 16 months of my regular service I did not happen to get a leave at least once, plus 9 months spent in Iraq – for a 19 years old guy that seemed too much. I was one of the youngest combatant if not the youngest one among our troops there. Got my combatant status then. Still I needed to take a rest, simply relax and forgot many things I happen to face. The leave was rather long – 45 days. So I enjoyed it for some time relaxing and watching what civilian life looked like, and after two weeks I realized it was enough for me – I missed both the army in general and my comrades in particular. Generally speaking, that period gave me the advantage of sound attitude. For the entire period of time I spent in the ATO zone I never raised my voice although there happened lots of situations that implied losing your temper.

On my return to the army I decided to become an officer, because while in Iraq I used to observe that the majority of our commanders were totally incapable of making decisions, and this was extremely annoying. They were afraid of responsibility at that time, and they are often afraid of it now, – they prefer to wait until someone else takes it instead. And this is rather a common place. So I promised myself that if I become an officer, I will belong to those category of military who are never afraid of making decisions and standing for them, notwithstanding any circumstances and in spite of career or insignia concerns. Another purpose for doing that was my aspiration to prove helpful for my subordinates in their service and in life, and give them all knowledge and skills I possess. Since then I have been trying to stick to these principles.

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So I was back in the army, entered Odesa Military Academy where they trained paratroopers, and Airborne Forces was my true love. Before the Academy, I was promoted to a sergeant. Graduated from it with honors. Funny enough that I was entering the Academy being a deputy commander of the Special Forces second squad of the reconnaissance company of the 80th Brigade, and returned to service in my squad ranked as his commander. At that time, it was mostly formed of contract service fighters the majority of which used to participate in the peacekeeping missions. When the service started, I tried to squeeze the guys out as much as I could: forced marches, mountain trainings, spending the night in an open air at the altitude of 1600 meters. I tried to teach them all kinds of exercises that I liked myself. Naturally, the outcome of such trainings was rather noticeable. Later, in 2011, I was promoted to chief of the battalions’ reconnaissance squad, and then to the commander of the battalion’s air assault company. When I was in this position, on the 5th of March, 2014, we carried out that advance along our country’s northern border.

I was among supporters of Maidan and totally believed in it. When the war started, my personal attitude toward the enemy was no point to talk about – I never felt anything else but hatred to the opponent. As well as I will never forgive them the losses among my guys.

In the spring of 2014 in Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv regions we repeatedly advanced to the frontiers to enforce our border guards in the sectors where there were lots of concentrated katsap forces, including air assault squads, paratroopers and missile service sections. Even then we were conscious of the fact that the war started.

In Sloviansk, we had the possibility to fight and to act in the way we thought would be the most effective.

At the beginning of April 2014 some subdivisions of our Brigade entered the city of Luhansk. Fully operational and prepared for implementation of tasks. At that time, only administrative buildings were seized. On the night of April, 13th we got the commander of the Brigade’s order to advance to Sloviansk. We did not know what was going on there; similarly, we never heard of Girkin and so on, because we remained isolated as regards information for some time. Along with my company, we marched toward Sloviansk, but on the 13th of April we got ambushed and had to fight back for the first time.

Officially, the ATO began on the 15th of April. At that time, the only troops representing the Armed Forces, apart from helicopters, were just two companies – one company of the 25th brigade on their BMDs and another one was mine, on BTR-80 APCs. There were also two representatives of the AFU’s generals – Hennadiy Vorobiov and Yuriy Biryskin, and the rest of troops were Special Forces, namely Alpha and Omega. They were supposed to play the main role, while we had to back them. Near Sloviansk, combat reconnaissance made a common reality. And on the 2nd of May along with the Jaguar and Omega Special Forces squads, supported by copters, we started to storm the first checkpoint. At the same time the enemy downed two our helicopters MI-24 – this happened in late April. We were engaged in search of the pilots. Still we managed to capture the checkpoint, and likewise in a day or two captured another checkpoint which the separs (short for separatists) called ”East Scorpion” – it was positioned in some crossroads in Sloviansk. There we got practically encircled by the enemy. They shelled us with mortars and “Nonas”. Clashes with enemy saboteur groups started as well. During one of these we captured the “DPR”’s deputy logistics commander. This was a slugger driving a huge SUV – he introduced himself as a father who headed to visit his son. While inspecting his car, just before letting him go, our fighter happened to found a grenade inside the gear box. Then we discovered a false bottom where there was a pump-action shotgun, two combat knives, two guns, mounting equipment, uniform, the deputy logistics commander’s ID, 30 thousand hryvnias and… a dildo. My guys sorted everything out for display and called me, laughing aloud. Then I asked him, what this gear was for. He replied, I will understand when I turn as old as he was.

On the whole, while we were in Sloviansk, we had the opportunity to learn about all possible calibers, from 5,45 to 122, out in ourselves. But we were given the chance to fight and act in the way we thought was the best. After a month and a half, we got replaced by the 25th Brigade. And the next day we headed to Luhansk airport. When we landed, the enemy just downed our IL-76. For that moment, the airport was entirely encircled, with no water and power. All defense was concentrated on the runway, and correspondingly limited by the airport itself. The whole surface beyond it was mined. But we repeatedly advanced to carry out search for the downed IL. We were guided and adjusted by a plane – and we managed to find the bodies. Gathered the remains& This was not for the first time – before, we used to search for bodies as well: excavated the remains from under the downed copters’ wreckage. Also, the plane carrying Kulchytskyi, had been downed almost over me; them those MI-24 following the storming of Semenivka by the 95th Brigade. Still as there were lots of bodies onboard of the IL, it felt rather creepy.

Luhansk airport is, roughly, an old building though thoroughly renovated, – it possesses no basements or underground structure except for a bunker that left from Soviet era. First, in terms of combat actions, it was quite calm at the airport. But closer to the mid July the firing got substantially intensified. I still remember the first “Grad” MLRS shelling – luckily enough, I took care beforehand, so my guys sit still safe in the bunker at that time. It is just earlier we used to get under 120 mm mortar shelling a few times, so after Sloviansk mission where this situation was rather a common practice, I kind of had a premonition about it. Later, we calculated that there were only four days with no shelling in Sloviansk. Afterwards, “Grad” bombing continued regularly – they seemed just tried to flatten everything around.

Surprisingly enough, but nothing special or interesting happened in the airport’s defense while we were there. It came to more exciting things when we proceeded to more energetic actions. Once my company was ordered to take control of the side road leading from Heorhiivka to the airport, and to provide support for the convoy that had to advance toward us for backup – this should be the Battalion Tactical Group of the 80th Brigade. That time we destroyed two separs’ strongholds. One of them was located in the middle of a cemetery. I concentrated the company for the march and got everything ready for meeting and backing of our guys. That is, we took the foremost control positions and did everything right – we pointed both our BTRs to Heorhiivka and started to wait for the upcoming convoy.

But when it came in sight, a battle started. We advanced toward them, entered the village where seized a checkpoint aided by the Aidar battalion, and got positioned there, in the center of the village. The convoy arrived in the village as well, but they got ordered to move back. As a result, we had to stay for a night along with Aidar fighters and four tanks. About 4:30 AM the separs started to squeeze us out of there. The fight was quite fierce, but we managed to change the tide of it: I lead one of my tanks off the road, and it managed to hit the separs’ one.  Another enemy T-72 we hit right in the village streets. We got 4 WIA in that battle. Thus we safeguarded Heorhiivka, and its central road became the main artery leading to the airport. In reality, this highway rather resembled a narrow path winding through separs-controlled territory. Near Heorhiivka, we defeated the “LPR”’s scouting company and got lots of trophies, like AGSs and SPGs: we did not have these before, as SPGs had been taken off the inventory. So we had to remember the skills we had got at our military schools – the guidelines on handling and shooting it. Later, we were sent to Lutuhyne along with the Aidar fighters again. 


We were going to withdraw for rotation, but the enemy seemed tried to get rid of us as soon as possible.

Later, In August, we had a raid following which we joined to the 95th Brigade and separated “DPR” and “LPR” – in just four days together we liberated seven townships. Following the capture of Novosvitlivka and Khriashchuvate with our troops, my company was positioned near Krasne. There we got under round-the-clock firing of the russian artillery divisions. They carried out continuous storming, and on the 17th of August I got wounded. While I was in a hospital, storming of the airport and our troops’ withdrawal happened. In Krasnodon, nine soldiers got captured; four men from my company among them. When we managed to liberate them, the guys told that the russians asked what drugs they used to keep defending the airport for so long.

In total, I spent about a month in hospitals: first in Kharkiv, then in Chernihiv. While I was rehabilitating, I became a father. I brought him and my wife back home from the hospital, and the next morning boarded the train that took me to Lviv. On the 24th of October, 2014, I headed to the forefront again. And on the 24th of November I was informed I had entered the Cherniakhovskyi National University of Defense. It came out that I had been listed into the Air Assault and Special Forces faculty as early as in August, in accordance with the Minister of Defense’s order. As a result, on the 26th of November I was in Lviv again: in a day I stepped down from the post of the deputy commander of the Air Assault training battalion. On November 28th in the morning I started my studying process, and the first exam session was to start on the 10th of December. I took it with the highest grades. Afterwards I was offered to take the position of a coach. It was late summer of 2015. First I refused, still later, on reflection, I agreed to the proposition. I fought quite a lot, and this was a nice opportunity to spend time with my family, I reckoned. So I consented to the offer and took the exam, and in 4 days before the graduation I got to know I was appointed a commander of the marine infantry battalion. Honestly, I was happy to learn I would be able to join the army again as deep inside I remained a military man. Naturally, my wife got upset, because she was preparing for a quiet family life, a normal one.

I have been serving as the commander of the battalion for a year and a half. The work is absolutely absorbing, but some administrative issues are rather annoying as apart from general quarters you need to care about meal, maintenance and repair, provision and the rest of things. Still I am proud of my subdivision. The battalion has been positioned in a frontline on the area stretching for 11,5 kilometers. In some segments we advanced forward for up to 4.5 km. I cannot speak about casualties on the other side, but the fact is when in June we got rotated back here, there was not a single machine-gun fire at us. It looked like they just were happy that we were leaving. But in the very beginning, when we arrived to these very positions for the first time, the enemy shelled us as heavily as they only could – the shelling lasted for about two weeks, and the guys had to switch their colleagues under continuous fire. Actually, over time we had a situation when the distance between our positions and the separs’ ones reached about 60 meters here and there. However, since October 2016 to June 2017 we had losses as well. Still, for a newly formed unit that had been shaped in a short period of time, we managed to show off our character and skills quite assuredly. The last rotation in the battalion our fighters got awarded with the third class Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s order, and over forty third and second class Orders for Bravery. Likewise, we also got over five hundred of other state and military awards.

Today, Mariupol remains our permanent location. Now this city is our home, and it is our job to defend it safeguard it. Now we are in the process of transition to the structure of a separate military unit. With regard to autonomy in the work, it is good as it suggests progress. Actually, serving with the Marine Infantry is a single positive thing for me. I am empowered to do my job and I am trusted – this in absolutely encouraging. And as I said, for an officer his performance totally orbits around responsibility. Apart from this, the commander has to combine two more purposes as well: to protect his personnel and to implement a task. This balance in an officer’s service is most difficult to keep. Contemplation, scheduling and further analysis take most of the time. Being unsatisfied with imperfect enactment is always an issue, too. But when I realize the amount of mistakes was rather insignificant, it makes me happy.

PS: Vadym was awarded the third class Bohdan Khmelnytsky order for defense of Sloviansk and the second class Bohdan Khmelnytsky order for fighting near Luhansk airport.

Text and photo: Vika Yasynska,

Dear friends, may we remind you that the Mariupol Defenders initiative is aimed at accumulating funds for supporting the Marine Infantry Battalion under Vadym Sukharevskyi command. Your benevolent contributions definitely get into reliable hands and are highly helpful in bringing our collective victory closer.

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