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"We are going to a country that is not our own to defend freedoms that do not exist"

''Tango'' is one of several people of different nationalities who decided to travel to Ukraine to fight alongside the Ukrainian army against Russian troops
War in Ukraine

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Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops began, several people from different countries have decided to support the Ukrainian army and go as volunteers to fight against Russia. Tango (fictitious name) is one of the Spaniards who took this path on 27 February and is now fighting the Russian troops in the city of Mariúpol.

Mr Tango, how are you? 

We are as well as can be expected.

How is the situation in Ukraine right now?

Right now we are in Mariupol, staying in the house of Ukrainian citizens who are giving us food and shelter.

Tango, I wanted to ask you about what life is like on the battlefield and what life is like there in Mariupol.

The question is quite complicated because the situation varies as the days go by. There are days that are quieter than others, when we organise ourselves and go out to the different "check points", but there are days when we are facing the enemy face to face in the open area or in the closed "CBQ" area, which are combat zones in population.

Yes, we were not aware of that explanation, but it is perfectly understandable. I wanted to ask you, mentioning these almost daily battles, about how the Russian troops are treating you, if you and the rest of the volunteers have had contact, if anyone has been taken prisoner...

Obviously we have had direct contact with the Russian troops. There has also been prisoner captures, where Russian soldiers have been captured for proper interrogation, mostly young soldiers and light infantry troops. In Mariupol, so to speak, is the more professional and experienced part of the army, while in the Kiev area Russia is sending soldiers with no combat experience to "stall" the Ukrainian fighting forces. Russia is trying to conquer the south, south-west and south-east of Ukraine, which right now are the key cities of the country.

I wanted to ask you about precisely that, about the key cities and even about the horrors of the Russian army in the Ukrainian population. Do you think that this reality corresponds to what is coming from the media in Spain and other countries?

What is being disseminated through the Spanish press is only 2% of the reality that is being experienced here. With all the videos that are circulating, we wonder why they are not being published. We don't know if it is because we are talking about extremely harsh images, but we believe that it is necessary to tell the reality of what is happening in Ukraine, we have to give visibility to this conflict. What is reported in many media does not correspond to the reality that we are experiencing here every day.

Guerra de UcraniaIt is true that some of these videos reach us and we usually publish them on social networks and so on, of course great horrors, but you can't imagine or you don't want to imagine all that you can see with your own eyes and the horror, finally, of a war. And this is precisely why I wanted to ask you, perhaps a more personal question, but what is it that drives you and your comrades to go to Ukraine to fight?

We are ex-military personnel with battlefield experience, and I'm not going to tell you that we came to Ukraine for vocation, but in the end, the values that are instilled in this profession are what make you go to another country to fight for people's freedoms, even if they are outside the European Union or NATO. It is difficult to explain this to someone who has not experienced it, I don't know if I am managing to use the right words to describe why we go to a country that is not our own to defend freedoms that do not exist. 

How many of you went to Kiev?

On 27 February we came in two cars across the border from Poland, we brought our own material and the equipment we considered necessary, more Spaniards have also come on their own. In our case, we spoke with the administrators in charge of organising the groups of volunteers interested in joining the fight in defence of the Ukrainian people, and from there they assign the position to be occupied. Some go to territorial defence, others to a private militia, it depends a little on the point of view and the thinking of each person, there are groups that are not defined by political axis, others are. Right now, anyone is being accepted, even if they don't have military experience, there is a demand right now for engineers, drone pilots, telecommunications and IT people. 

Well, and as well as you, I suppose many other volunteers of other nationalities are going, right?

Obviously, there were six of us who came on this expedition, and over the weeks more Spaniards have been coming. There are many different kinds of people here, from soldiers, mercenaries, foreign legionnaires to doctors or paramedics and engineers. Right now, there are very few Spanish soldiers as such, with the necessary combat experience. To enter into combat you need adequate preparation, you are not going to go into combat shooting at nothing, to be able to do that you need previous training. As for everything in life, you need training and certain aptitudes, then depending on how the commanders in charge see you, they will assign you to one location or another, they are not going to send you to Mariúpol if you have no experience, nor are you physically and psychologically prepared, nor do you have the necessary training. 

We hear that Kiev doesn't look favourably on all these volunteers who go without previous experience and that they can be more of a hindrance than anything else. I wanted to ask you how this is seen and, above all, who decides which front each volunteer goes to.

The Spanish volunteers who are coming to Kiev or to the different parts of Ukraine, many of them do not have a clear idea of the danger they are running and the risk of going into combat and endangering comrades or civilians. There are militias that are no longer accepting anyone who does not have military training and experience because it is very hard and you have to be prepared to live through the very strong experiences here. But personally, I can't talk much about the subject because it's something I haven't experienced, I haven't been in the foreign legion and I can't provide exact data on how the selection of personnel is being carried out.

Tango, do you and your colleagues intend to return to Spain?

For the moment, until things calm down here, we have no intention of returning because this is going to go on for a long time, it is not a war that is going to last one or two months. Our forecasts are that at least until May or June, given the situation right now, the situation will not calm down.

And well, once this time has passed, hopefully it will be brief and the situation will calm down a little, are you afraid of certain consequences that may occur when you return to Spain, such as the legal situation?

In our case we are maintaining anonymity at all times, we don't publish anything on social networks, we don't take photographs and we don't talk to our friends about it. We only publish small fragments on our official networks so that people can see a bit of what we do and the type of weaponry we use and the situations we experience. It is worth remembering that flaunting too much information is a big mistake for our security, with a simple photo of a scene or a landscape can be traced through the intelligence of the opposing side and they can have the exact point of our location. 

In relation to this, with all these dangers or problems that can arise, we wonder what the situation is like with the Ukrainian population, do you have any contact with them? How do you perceive them?

We don't have much contact with the citizens, for security reasons. For example, imagine we talk to a person, we have no way of knowing whether that citizen is a pro-Russian or not, the way to avoid this is to limit contact with the civilian population. It's the same with translators, we don't have much contact with them here because they are a risk for us, we can't trust a person 100% because you don't know their intentions, you don't know what information they can give to other people. Giving information about the number of people in our division, the language we speak or the identifying traits we have poses a risk to our integrity.

Guerra de UcraniaOf course, the attack can come from anywhere, as you tell us, you have to tread carefully. And in relation to this, to continually facing death, it is worth asking, are you afraid?

You always have to walk with lead feet, taking care with information, especially in these times when information is a treasure. Fear exists in combat and in the experiences that occur every day, thanks to it we maintain that sixth sense of thinking about the consequences of failure. You cannot be emboldened and say that you are not afraid to die, because an excess of motivation gives a false security that can lead to mistakes and this is very costly on the battlefield. For example, if you are in a position with your partner and you are overconfident and you make a mistake, it can endanger your team, the civilian population and your own physical integrity. 

As a last question, do you think the situation will last long, and do you think the fighting will continue for a long time, even after everything that has happened in Mariupol these days?

I can't tell you, every day is a different thing. We think that by the end of May or the beginning of June things could be a little more under control here, when Russia takes up positions, that's when things will calm down.

Let's hope at least that this will be the case, that the fighting will gradually cease and that Ukraine will be able to get back on its feet. Tango, thank you very much for these words. 

Thank you for conducting this interview and for giving more visibility to the real side of this armed conflict.