What has motivated Illya Samoylenko since 2014? Today officer of the general staff of the regiment for the defense of Mariupol, after having fought the pro-Russian separatists, he fights the Kremlin troops. Like a story that repeats itself.
“For at least 150 years, Russia has been invading us”, he said. And when we invoke the pretext of the latest invasion – to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine – this volunteer initially committed to an ultra-nationalist militia, the original Azov regiment, replies without batting an eyelid: “Kill civilians when you bomb maternity hospitals, theaters and hospitals. Not soldiers.”
Together with Telegram, in the absence of other communication networks in the besieged city, he denounces tactics from another era, brutal operations, with radical objectives. Because for him, what Vladimir Putin undertook, beyond the destruction of the Ukraine, is the repression of the Ukrainians.
Moscow does not want our territory. Moscow does not covet our resources. Moscow does not expect our citizens to become Russian. Moscow just wants to destroy us.
Illya Samoylenko is adamant: “Russia is carrying out a genocide of Ukrainians.” A systematic destruction that goes through discovered massive crimes – the city of Boutcha, on the outskirts of kyiv, was the scene of barbaric acts attributed to the Russian occupier – or that remain to be discovered in the areas occupied by Kremlin troops. “It has uncovered the atrocities committed in certain regions of the Ukraine; expect to see much worse things in Mariupol”he warns.
Unless the traces of his crimes have been erased in the meantime. This is the meaning, believes the soldier, of the massive bombardments to which Mariupol is subjected: “Right now, the Russians are trying to cover up their shameful secret. They are trying to destroy everything.”
Destroying everything is also the tactic that Moscow implemented in Grozny, Chechnya, in 1995, or in Aleppo, Syria, in 2016.
They are experienced in the siege technique as it was practiced in the Middle Ages. Unable to take the city by storm, they attempt to raze it to the ground.
“The planes, at high altitudes, drop their bombs on Mariupol, on apartment buildings, on hospitals, on theaters, indiscriminately. And they do it on purpose. With the tanks, it is the same: they unload their high-caliber ammunition on the buildings , even when manned”.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, the port city on the coast of the Sea of Azov has been a strategic target. But the Kremlin troops have to reckon with fierce resistance. “Russia may have taken a third of Mariupol, but now they are engaged in urban warfare with no real front.” A conflict that, on the ground, costs him dearly, says Samoylenko. “We have already killed at least 2,000 Russians and destroyed or damaged at least 50 of their tanks.”
This is what makes the reputation of the Azov regiment. “We fight and win.” In adversity, “We are not abandoning our city, we are not abandoning our citizens, we are not abandoning our mission.”claims who, in 2014, joined the few hundred volunteers who came to fight against Russian separatists in Donbass.
Since then, the militia has aligned. It became a regular military unit, and grew to become “probably the most effective in Ukraine and, perhaps, in Europe”.
For Illya Samoylenko, it is the condition of survival, in the face of a clamorous military imbalance: “The Russians use bombers, fighters; they have fighter ships; They fire missiles. They also have artillery, tanks, and many ground troops. At least 10,000 soldiers have been deployed around Mariupol.” His regiment had a maximum of 2,500 men, equipped with “obsolete Soviet equipment”.
“I am very grateful to the countries that have delivered weapons to Ukraine since February 24. But we in Mariupol have not received anything.” The blame lies with the blockade imposed by the Russians at the beginning of the recent operations. So how to counter Russian bombers operating at 7,000 meters? How to pierce the armor of tanks that come to devastate residential areas?
Not even mention recovery. Because there are lost neighborhoods. Behind the wall, the situation of civilians is heartbreaking. “They have no more resources, they are starving. Especially since Russia is trying to block all humanitarian aid from the Ukrainian side. Moscow. A real genocide!”
And then the Russians kidnap and transfer the inhabitants of the occupied areas of Mariupol. “I had in my hands pamphlets distributed to civilians announcing their “relocation” to the extreme east of Russia, to Vladivostok or Kamchatka for example, Illya Samoylenko testifies. They are told: ‘Now you are Russian citizens and you are going to be displaced’.”
For the military, what happens in Mariupol is everyone’s business now.
The Russians violate all laws of war, all international treaties, ensures. They used banned ammunition, and even chemical weapons, yesterday in Mariupol.
At this stage, due to the lack of an on-site laboratory, the facts are difficult to establish. But Samoylenko shouts: “We learned at the same time that the commander in chief of operations in Ukraine had changed; he was replaced by the one who, in 2016, had participated in the siege of Aleppo [où des attaques chimiques avaient été menées par le régime, avec l’aide supposée de la Russie, ndlr].”
More than ever, the West must react. “In Mariupol, we are not just fighting for our freedom. Because Russia will not stop with us if we do not stop it.”