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How and why I decided to enroll into the army.
January 18, 2023

Hello everyone, my name is Kateryna Zabava, and I am a Junior Data Engineer at Brightgrove. Even though it’s not my main job right now, as I’ve enrolled in Territorial Defense to fight for Ukraine. Today’s story is about that.

The decision to defend Ukraine

Sometime before the full-scale invasion of Russia, I already felt something was about to happen. I’m not one who will just sit and wait for the next thing to happen; I need to be at the very center of the events. Throughout 2021, I thought about specialized training or some other way to get involved with the military.  Since the age of 14, I’ve been a part of the volunteer community. While at school and uni, I participated in medicine purchases for warehouses, from where they were delivered to the front.

That’s how I met many volunteers and soldiers, and this activity became an essential part of my life. Therefore, now I just couldn’t stay away.  In addition, I know many people who have been through the ATO and JFO. They understood that Russia’s aggression would intensify soon, so one needs to be able to defend themselves and their home. That’s how I learned about Territorial Defence about 1-1.5 months before the war.

Back then, from joining TD, I expected to stay here in Kyiv. It also meant getting a contract as a reservist, so it did not oblige me to anything in the first place. After joining, you first get proper training and then fall under the primary conscription wave.

About a month before the outbreak of war, I came to the recruiting office, talked to the commander, and continued collecting the documents necessary for the contract. When I came to sign the contract, a lot of other people wanted to do it too. So I asked if something was about to happen, but the military commissariat said they just needed to recruit a certain number of people to the reserve.

I signed the contract and was just in time for the tactical training, and I met the people I’m now serving with. We were also trained in medical care and received first aid kits. This happened about a week before the full-scale invasion.

When I officially enrolled in the army, I informed my managers within the company and on the project. Everyone supported my decision because it did not interfere with my work back then. But even now, the company supports me financially when I am fully a part of the Armed Forces.

It warms my heart to know that people are waiting for me, and after demobilization, I can return to my previous job. When you are at the frontline, this understanding is fundamental. When you have time to rest, you constantly think about home and whether you have a place to return to at all.

First days in Territorial Defence

On February 22, I met with an ATO veteran I know. He asked me about the situation and decided to show me how to behave at a checkpoint because this is one of the main tasks in TD. I wanted to know how to do it, as I didn’t know where I could be assigned if something started.  On February 23, I felt uneasy all day – my intuition was hinting at something. One of my friends went to buy a military uniform, and as I was working, I decided to buy it later. The next day my morning started with a call from a friend who was very surprised that I was still sleeping.

Then I checked all my equipment and waited for orders from my commander. At that time, I didn’t have proper armor or a helmet, only a winter uniform: a jacket, thermal underwear, and a fleece jacket. Around nine in the morning, I was told to go to the military enlistment office.

From there, we went to one of the locations where I spent half a day preparing camouflaging items. Throughout the day, we were generally preparing various things, and only in the evening, we received our weapons. There were also many people who didn’t have time to sign the contract and wanted to do it.

On the 25th, we were distributed and went to perform tasks at appointed positions. It was very cold and quite scary at first. We worked very hard, running on little to no sleep. To lie down even for half an hour was a true luxury. And in March, I moved from the company to the supply unit.  It was way better suited to my skills – I have little actual experience with weapons, but my organizational skills and knowledge came in handy. We were based in Kyiv, and while the north was occupied, we made sure that our troops in that direction had everything they needed.

Relocation to the East

When the northern direction was liberated, we didn’t know what awaited us next. Then, sometime in late spring, we found out that we were going to another location, which turned out to be Slobozhanshchyna. I had just bought a car last autumn and didn’t understand whether I really needed it. And here, it was very useful.

We arrived at the new place of deployment quite late, so we were driving at night. Besides, I even tried to avoid pits. We immediately went to bed when we arrived and waited for further orders. In general, we didn’t know what was waiting for us, but we learned everything quickly on the spot.

At that time, we had only my car in our unit, which was just a tiny Golf. At first, we used it, but we realized we needed a more suitable vehicle. Kind people helped us with it, and then we even got another car. It helped a lot, considering the number of people and things we need to transport.

Of course, we have state provisions, but volunteers bring us everything from specialized equipment to T-shirts and socks. Cars, uniforms – these are equally consumables on the frontline. We also bought a lot of equipment at our own expense.

We had people who helped us all the time. From what I know, one Kyiv condominium association took us under its wing, the Come Back Alive foundation, and people from the place of work of each soldier in our unit. The companies where we worked before the war supplied a lot of equipment to us.

Brightgrove is one of the companies that support its people in the Armed Forces and TD. For example, they helped me buy uninterruptible power supplies for batteries that ensure the stable operation of equipment even under challenging conditions. Or many colleagues donated when we were raising money for a car.  In general, volunteers help us immensely. Firstly, you feel much safer at the frontline when you know about the home front. Secondly, not only material but also moral support is important, so we are very, very grateful to everyone who supports us. The main thing is to be open about your needs, and people will definitely help you.

Life at the frontline

Of course, life at the frontline is completely different. On the good side, you completely forget about procrastination. Each task you receive must be completed instantly because many subsequent steps depend on it.

Not only the speed but also the quality of work is critical. For example, when we brought equipment to others, we carefully checked everything while in a safe place. Thus, we were sure that everything would work well at the frontline. We also prepared everything for a quick usage start and trained people if necessary.

My IT skills helped me a lot to perform tasks in the supply unit. I even had the opportunity to acquire new professional knowledge. For example, in our team, there was another person from the IT sphere who knew one technology, and I knew another. We got together, exchanged information, and now our entire unit knows both technologies.

Therefore, my work experience helped me in military service and vice versa. I already understand that my current activities will positively impact my career in IT. This also applies to new acquaintances that will be useful in the future.  Moreover, I have improved my soft skills a lot because, in the military, it’s crucial to convey information to people or negotiate with them. Because this is a closed team, friendly relations within it are one of the keys to success. The speed and quality of work depend on it.

I can no longer imagine my life without a car. During the war, the ability to drive is essential, but now I am not ready to do without a car in peacetime. Of course, my driving skills have also improved despite less than a year of experience.

I’m interested in cars, so driving different vehicles in different conditions is cool. Sometimes these are very dangerous areas. Once, we were going through a field where, as we found out later, we could meet an enemy tank. Even I subconsciously wanted to pass this area as soon as possible. But, in the end, everything was fine.

In general, during the war, I realized how important it is to listen to your intuition. One night I woke up and I was terrified, so I decided to go down to the bomb shelter just in case. As soon as I did, there was an explosion – not directly near us, but very close.

The most challenging thing at the frontline is the sudden situation change when you get into the zone of close artillery fire. Of course, I heard the explosions in Kyiv, but they were far away. The distance is much shorter at the frontline, and other weapons are used.

Once we heard an artillery duel all day, and it was terrifying. I wanted to hide somewhere. But, you get used to it, so now I can easily distinguish what it is, where it came from, and whether I need to hide. Because of the explosions’ proximity, it was scary to go to bed at first, but that lasted only a few days. Then I could fall asleep fine, but loud sounds still woke me up for some time. There was constant shelling near  the place of our deployment , but fortunately, we were not under direct fire. We joked that the most important thing was that shells should not hit our toilet outside because it would be embarrassing.

Humor is essential at the front. Of course, sometimes it’s scary and sad, but we try to joke all the time. We have our inside jokes; one of my colleagues even made T-shirts with phrases like “Territorial Defence is like the Armed Forces but crazy”. We treated even dangerous situations with humor.

So, for example, guys from my unit once hit down an anti-tank hedgehog and came shouting, “We shot down a hedgehog!” I didn’t understand what kind of hedgehog and why they hit it until I went outside and saw the crumpled car. Everyone was amused except the driver – he loved this car very much, so he wasn’t in the mood for jokes.

To sum up, I’d like to say that not everyone should go to the frontline. It makes no sense to fight without the home front because you protect civilians and their ability to work. For civilians, it’s difficult without the military, and the military – without civilians, because their support is critical. Volunteers, postal services, car service stations – all those who help the military are also important to our troops.

I have friends who tell me they cannot live and rest peacefully. But we’re fighting for the Ukrainians to have a normal life. Of course, not forgetting about the military.  When we return from the frontline, everyone will have to work hard to restore our country. Therefore, it’s important to be active now and do as much as everyone can for our victory.

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