I avoided injury or death (yet again) on the evening of 6 February 2015, when 40 Battalion’s main base at Debaltseve came under heavy shelling. The days prior to this major bombardment had been calm and we were starting to relax, renewing our routine of supplying the troops and maintaining the defensive line. But that Friday evening, around 6.30pm, our base was suddenly shelled with Russian MLRS BM-21 Grad and high-calibre mortars.

Debaltseve MLRS rocket
Rests of Russian MLRS Grad rocket in our base at Debaltseve. My photo.

On that evening (as I recall), I had been drafting several orders for our battalion commander, typing them on my laptop. However, some additional corrections were suggested by my roommate and deputy commander, Colonel Volodymyr Sarychev, so I fulfilled his request and then went to another room to print out the drafts. (Three days later Colonel Sarychev was captured by Russian ‘kazacks’ from the Rostov region, who, on 9 February, effectively cut our Debaltseve–Artemivsk MSR [major supply route] at the village of Lohvynove. Sarychev spent seventy-eight days in captivity, returning home on 29 April after long and tortuous negotiations for his release.)

However, the quality of our old printer — donated by volunteers — was low, so the colonel suggested I print out the draft orders on a second, newer machine. The fastidiousness of the colonel, which sometimes annoyed me, actually saved both our lives that evening because — as we quit the room in search of the new printer — we avoided being hit by a sudden rocket attack.

Well, the new printer did not follow my commands, and a soldier who perfectly knew this machine was absent at the base. And so, for some time, I could not print out my drafts correctly. Officers and soldiers gathered round to give their controversial advice about printing, but their suggestions confused me even more. Moreover, a soldier arrived asking me to switch off the computer and printer, in order to make the replacement of independent electricity generators possible. I kindly asked him to wait just a couple of minutes, as I had to print the final pages …

Debaltseve MLRS rocket damage
A hole made by Russian MLRS Grad rocket in the balcony of our base at Debaltseve. My photo.

As the last page came spluttering out of the printer and I handed it to the colonel, several powerful explosions were heard behind the wall to our right. Suddenly everything started to shake as in an earthquake — plaster falling from the ceiling and walls, accompanied by desperate cries …

Debaltseve MLRS rocket damage
Damaged living room. Part of Russian MLRS Grad rocket is wisible in the wall. My photo.

One of the Russian MLRS BM-21 Grad rockets had hit a balcony some 15-20 metres from me, demolishing the concrete ceiling and falling into the living room. Debris from the ceiling severely wounded a soldier who, at that moment, was sleeping near the wall. We immediately sent him to the hospital in Artemivsk.

(Edited by Christopher Summerville)