When Failure is Not an Option

Host, Ken Harbaugh, interviews political leaders, influencers, and other history makers about the choices we confront when failure is not an option. Choices like Alexander the Great made when he landed his troops on the shores of Persia and ordered his men to burn their boats.

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Ukraine Report #4: A Volunteer Soldier in Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces

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Ukraine Report #4: A Volunteer Soldier in Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces

Today we interviewed Nikolay, who’s a volunteer soldier in Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces. Shortly after the war began, his family was able to flee to the U.S., but despite having no military experience, Nikolay decided he had to stay and fight for his country.

You can find the transcript of this episode below.

Ken Harbaugh:

Burn the Boats is proud to support VoteVets, the nation's largest and most impactful progressive veterans organization. To learn more or to join their mission, go to VoteVets.org.

Nikolay:

It was honestly shocking how quickly my life changed. I went from being a financial executive, wearing suits every day, in one moment, I stay a soldier with a bullet-proof vest and an AR-15.

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions. As the invasion of Ukraine unfolds, we want to provide timely insights from the experts. So we've launched a series of special unedited episodes separate from our normal content. My guest today is Nikolay. I'm not using his last name because he is currently serving inside Ukraine as a volunteer in the country's territorial defense forces.

Nikolay, it's an honor to speak with you. How are you doing today?

Nikolay:

Hello, Ken. I'm fine. How are you?

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm good. Thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us where you are now? Are you allowed to share that information?

Nikolay:

First of all, many thanks to everyone who organized this call, and to your podcast that invited me and gave me this opportunity to tell your listeners about what is going on in my country now. Right now, I am patrolling the city and calling from my post. I have a little pause for an hour. I'm in Odessa. It's a city of millions in the south of Ukraine. It has a rich 200 years history, a major Black Sea port, and a beautiful culture with very hospitable residents.

Ken Harbaugh:

Can you describe the unit that you are serving in? Are they volunteers? Is it a professional unit?

Nikolay:

After my family fled to safety, I came to join a volunteer military organization. It's called here the Territorial Defense Force. If only people could see the videos and photos, the huge queues at military registration offices, and the lines of volunteers and blood donors. It was the fourth day of the war, and this moment all volunteer spots were closed. But I am a gun owner and my help is required to protect the city. My main call to action was hearing the sounds of sirens and explosions as they echoed through the city day and night. There are cases of saboteur attacks on military facilities and state authorities and the city continues to inspire volunteers like me to fight back.

Most of volunteers also get personal weapons, but there are people among us who just come with the kitchen knives and bats. We all come from different walks of life. Some of us are officers while others are sailors or self employed. We are all different faiths and skin colors. But the one thing that unites us all is a will to protect our land, people, and our values.

Ken Harbaugh:

Where were you, Nikolay, on the first day of the war and what were your thoughts when you heard that Russia had invaded your country?

Nikolay:

On the first day of war, I, like many, was at home and about to go to work. I work near the strategic facility and several missiles hit there, so it was dangerous to go to work. There has been a lot of discussion about the invasion and everyone was holding breath, waiting for more news about the situation. I truly did not believe that it could happen because it would be a suicide mission. But even unfolds, I quickly went through all five stages of grief. Afterwards, I immediately started thinking, what I would have to do. It was honestly shocking how quickly my life changed. I went from being a financial executive, wearing suits every day, iin one moment, I stay a soldier with a bullet-proof vest and have a AR-15. I would do anything to return to my life before this happened and to have my family by my side again. But for now, I must do my duty and protect my country.

Ken Harbaugh:

Where is your family, Nikolay? Are they safe?

Nikolay:

My family right now is in United States with my relatives.

Ken Harbaugh:

Nikolay, how is the morale of your unit, and what has been your toughest day so far?

Nikolay:

Well, morale is very high. We all feel a great sense of pride because we are fighting against the tyrannical forces that are trying to destroy our beautiful country. Ukraine also has a great sense of humor which also really helps with morale. The third day was the hardest, I think. I had to take my family to the Romanian border so they could be safe. As well, as we drove to those empty roads, we noticed broken streets and the destruction that the Russian forces did. There was also great risk of getting bombed since we were out in the open. We were scared, but we didn't give up.

Ken Harbaugh:

Nikolay, have there been moments when you feared that the Russians might win?

Nikolay:

Perhaps on the first or second day of the war there were doubts about our victory, but I knew we would never go down without a fight. Now, I am optimistic and I'm positive that Ukraine will prevail. I think how strong our forces are, and the international support gives me hope. Even if I'm not a military expert, I still do my job to the best of my abilities. Like many of us, I must do it well for my sake of my country, our shared patriotism, and courage even in these dark times, which gives me hope for the future.

Ken Harbaugh:

What is it like fighting on your own soil? What advantages has that given you in confronting the invaders?

Nikolay:

The main advantage is basically the whole world is supporting our country. This is really motivating and help us fight this battle against you. History has shown that the good side always win and gives us the courage we need to fight back. I've never had this experience like this before. I'm not military. Even if it can be difficult at times, I'm proud to be fighting for my land for the first time. It's like fighting for your family, for loved ones, for justice, for truth, for freedom, for everything that is dear to you. This might sound a little bit corny. This might sound a bit corny, but this is the battle between good and evil.

Ken Harbaugh:

What is your assessment of the Russian forces and their training levels and motivation?

Nikolay:

As I said before, I'm not a military expert, but their forces seem weak and unorganized despite their size. They say that they have one of the strongest armies in the world, but the data doesn't match reality. They have a huge logistics problem. They greatly overestimated their state. They assumed that they could easily take over Ukraine in two days, but they were wrong. In fact, the invasion turn out to be a one way ticket. In three weeks, our armed forces destroyed a lot of invading forces. Now, a lot of Russian troops lost their motivation. Many are afraid and have begun to desert the army. Others have tried to take revenge by killing our civilians, but we will endure and burn them here.

Ken Harbaugh:

How important is your president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to the morale of Ukrainians fighting on the front lines, like you?

Nikolay:

Good question, thank you. I have to admit that until February 24th, when the war started, I was his critic. He did many things that I didn't approve of. His support after being elected fell from 75% to 25% in the end of January. However, at the end of February, his approval rating was more than 90%. He has done a lot to raise morale and get international support. He is now famous and well liked by people all over the world. He motivates us and helps by giving daily updates about the situation in Ukraine. Yes, he just does that this leader of the states should do. Yes, he is not a professional commander, he's not a military professional, but he inspires his team to make the right decision. Also, I just want to make it clear that the Russian army is not at war with the Ukrainian army. This is war with the Ukrainian people.

Ken Harbaugh:

What are your hopes for your country, looking ahead?

Nikolay:

That my country will be a prosperous and strong state. I want to go back to my life before the war and I hope that nothing like it will ever happen again. I know that as we rebuild, we can make Ukraine an even better country than it was before. I hope for this.

Ken Harbaugh:

What can Americans do to help?

Nikolay:

Like many of my fellow citizens, I am grateful for the help from the United States. America is our closest ally and their assistance that we received bring us closer to victory. To ensure the safety of our civilians, we argue Americans to consider a few of these options. They can't introduce a no fly zone. However, this would be a clear result in a direct clash between the US army and enemy forces. In addition, providing air defense equipment, bulletproof vest, and night vision equipment, thermal imaging equipment, would really help us. Last is they could also keep placing in sanctions against their terrorists.

Ken Harbaugh:

Nikolay, is there anything else that you think our audience should know about the war in Ukraine before we let you go?

Nikolay:

Today, as we discuss this war, the terms of the settlement are being debated. I don't know what the final agreement will look like, and what borders will be drawn, but I'm sure that Ukraine must restore its territorial integrity to the borders of 2013. If we are lucky, Putin's regime will end and he will be held accountable. Also, if we didn't already know, Ukrainians provide food for hundreds of millions of people all around the world and the continuity of these crazy prices increase their likelihood of famine this year. So hopefully this conflict will be ended soon and that the settlements will be favorable to Ukraine. In conclusion, glory to Ukraine, glory to heroes, glory to the nations, death to the enemies.

Ken Harbaugh:

Slava Ukrainii. Thank you so much, Nikolay, for joining us.

Nikolay:

Thank you a lot.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more, follow us on Twitter at @Team_Harbaugh.

And if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review.

Thanks to our partner, VoteVets. Their mission is to give a voice to veterans on matters of national security, veterans’ care, and issues that affect the lives of those who have served. VoteVets is backed by more than 700,000 veterans, family members, and their supporters. To learn more, go to VoteVets.org.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.

I’m Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.



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