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Soldier of 3rd Separate Assault Brigade on war, drones, and peaceful life

Soldier of 3rd Separate Assault Brigade on war, drones, and peaceful life Mykola Volokhov (photo: Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

Mykola "Abdullah" Volokhov, commander of the Terra unit of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, tells how drones have become the eyes of war, what else can be done with the help of drones, and what the military says about life in the rear in an interview with RBC-Ukraine.

Mykola Volokhov, call sign "Abdullah," has been fighting with Russia since 2014. At the beginning of the full-scale offensive, he retrained from an infantryman to an aerial reconnaissance man. Currently, he is the head of the Terra unmanned systems unit of the Third Separate Assault Brigade.

Abdullah is confident that drones can be used in any military sphere, and they will be much more effective. Today, the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade is practically self-sufficient in drones, and government assistance does not cover all of its needs.

Military and vacation

Mykola Volokhov is in Kyiv today. He was sent on sick leave to improve his health, but the military does not specify what exactly, but his neck is covered with a plaster. "If I told you that I shaved my neck sloppily, would you believe me?" the guy says and laughs. Stress and phosphorus ammunition are quite bad for health, Mykola adds.

In Kyiv, he likes the New Year's Eve weather (it was snowing in the city at the time of the interview - ed.) The vacation itself does not go the way a military man would like - instead of relaxing, he has to solve problems and prepare for the next year. Mykola says that the military must recover and calls on commanders to make sure that their subordinates do not get tired. In today's realities, the call is more relevant than ever.

"Moreover, if there is a tough soldier who overestimates his capabilities, as often happens, and does not want to rest, the commander should say: 'Friend, go and rest, I can see by your face that you are about to burn out. Yes, you will be at the front longer, but then you will be physically in such a state that you will not be able to do your job properly."

Many soldiers demand rotations or at least an adequate vacation system, but it all depends on the command. In the Third Assault Brigade, Mykola says, they try to listen to the needs of the military.

Mykola "Abdullah"

- Why "Abdullah"?

- I don't look like one, do I? No beard, no black hair.

Mykola Volokhov received the call sign "Abdullah" by accident. In 2014, he decided not to go to the convocation of his graduation from the university. He and his friend Pavlo, with the call sign "Taksyst" (Taxi Driver- ed.) went to Berdiansk, to the Azov base.

"We had just been on the Maidan and had a feeling that all these problems needed to be solved and that we were the ones who had to do it."

At the Azov base, the first thing they had to do was get weapons, and for this purpose, the guys were offered to choose their call signs. Until 2014, Mykola was fond of reenacting medieval battles, and, having won battles with the Russians in Kyivan Rus Park, he earned the nickname "Nicolas Francis der Van." "I thought it would probably be hard to be in the army with a name like that," the soldier ironically says. "Back at the armory, they were told that call signs change every three weeks, so the guys named each other as a joke. Mykola still doesn't know why he is "Abdullah", or perhaps he doesn't want to reveal all the secrets. But the name stuck and has stayed with him ever since.

Soldier of 3rd Separate Assault Brigade on war, drones, and peaceful life

In addition to medieval battles, Mykola is fond of motocross and cycling, but he doesn't want to just ride a bike - he is more attracted to steep descents and downhill.

"After 2014-15, I started to notice the nature around me more. Before that, I didn't have the urge to go to the park, for example. I always thought, what am I going to do in this park, I'd rather sit at the computer or go in for sports. And then I started to notice the beauty of life around me. Maybe when there is a risk of losing your life, you start to appreciate the details.


At the beginning of the war, Mykola did not know the specifics of the military craft and could not distinguish between ground troops and airborne troops. Once he joined the Azov battalion, he became a police officer, but he never wore the uniform for a single day. On his documents, a police uniform was attached to his face using Photoshop.

"I didn't care, I had one thought - I had to go and defend the country. How and with whom - well, with those who also want to defend it. That's why I joined Azov."

Mykola says that he professes one philosophy in his life: result-oriented. In Azov, he met the same people. They didn't want to wait for things to get better, so they decided to fix things themselves, he says. In 2014-15, during the acute phase, the guy was at the front. When active hostilities began to come to an end and shelling became routine, he and many of his comrades returned to civilian life.

In 9 years Mykola managed to get another higher education. All this time, he kept in touch with the guys who went to the front with him in 2014. Over the years, many of them have grown up and had their personal military experience before the full-scale invasion. Therefore, in the first days of the full-scale invasion, Mykola notes, his friends were not confused.

February 24

When Russia started shelling, Mykola was in Vinnytsia. His friend woke him up and told him that Kyiv had been hit by missiles. He and his friends immediately decided to go there.

"The picture is as follows: we are driving from Vinnytsia to Kyiv. There is a huge traffic jam of cars on the way out, and some expensive "cubes" are driving in the opposite lane. And not a single car going to Kyiv."

Everything happened very quickly - Russian troops were approaching Kyiv from Chornobyl, and Mykola decided that he would have to fight for the city. The guys went to the Territorial Defense Forces, received weapons, and quickly organized themselves in anticipation of street guerrilla battles.

"We decided that the Russians would come in, start tying us up, and we would shoot at their infantry. We know the city. We quickly distributed the logistics across Kyiv so that there would be some kind of fuel canister everywhere. We organized everything in two days."

At that time, Mykola really thought that "everything would be bloody in three days," but no one was going to give up. When it became obvious that the Russians could not reach Kyiv and were bogged down in the region, his group joined Special Operations Forces fighters and began to move towards Irpin and Bucha.

Even then, the military was trying to fight a little bit with drones. His friend with the rather unusual call sign "Sarai" (Barn - ed.) was working in IT in 2014, and "Abdullah" helped him organize UAV activities, when those were the first Furias (name of Ukrainian drones - ed.). Experienced soldiers did not perceive drones well, because "reconnaissance should walk, it seems to be manly." When the full-scale invasion began and the drones began to bring the first results, many UAV operators were trained by a military man named "Sarai" who had already become experienced in this matter.

"My friend "Sarai" taught our Terra unit to fight with drones. It turns out I was involved in this topic back in 2014."

Mykola himself had previously seen the war, as he says, "through anti-tank guns." When the large-scale clashes began, his unit was fighting in the Kherson direction and fought Russian vehicles with Corsairs (anti-tank missile system - ed.).

"I saw the war like that. And then "Sarai" said, "All these "shooters" of yours are childish jokes. There is something more serious. We just need to agree, but if we do, we will become the eyes of the war and guide the gods of war." (The gods of war are artillery troops - ed.)

Soldier of 3rd Separate Assault Brigade on war, drones, and peaceful life

Drones are a feature of our war

In war, everything is necessary, there is no need to remove or replace anything, says Mykola. But if you add UAVs to any industry, the result will be more effective. For example, if you fly over a minefield at dawn, you can see the mines that are still warm through a thermal imager. The commander can watch the advance of the troops through the UAV.

"As it used to be, Napoleon was riding a horse, a messenger approached him and told him in words that 400 infantrymen were moving somewhere on his left flank. He said, "Let them add 300 more from the reserve. Everything may be different now."

The Russians were preparing for the war and before the start of active hostilities, they were already using Orlanes (Russian UAV - ed.), which fly on gasoline. This is an important aspect because, in electronic drones, everything depends on how much charge is in the battery. The Orlan is a platform for a repeater, cameras, and ammunition. The Ukrainian military quickly adapted to the "drone war" and the Armed Forces proved to be more advanced in this field.

"The Russians have an Orlan spy plane and a real spy plane with pilots inside. And we switched to small drones because we want the katsaps (Russians - ed.) to leave here in packages."

Drones have helped the Ukrainian army to take back the first kilometers from the enemy. But UAVs are not enough, and the third assault brigade has to provide itself with drones, although the soldiers should not think about it, Mykola says.

"The state also supplies certain drones, but if we relied on the state alone, we would not be able to effectively perform combat missions."

In addition, the Russians have very well-established electronic warfare systems. Ukrainian drone operators have learned to bypass it, but Russian electronic warfare has reached certain heights.

"Russia has a strong electronic warfare system, it's true. Their electronic warfare components are recognized worldwide. Therefore, we work in extremely difficult conditions. Even in such conditions, we manage to keep our equipment working. But there is a problem".

Drones against the Russians

"I am very amused when Russians say that they do not abandon their fellows. For some reason, they like to do it so much."

During the next assault, one of the drone operators, whom Mykola named Zhora, dropped a shell on a Russian soldier. He was wounded and fell.

"He starts to crawl, he tourniquets himself, his helmet falls off, he fixes it, and it's such a drama. And then his "colleague" passes by him, and the impression is that he is almost walking with a coconut raft. He walks along, approaches this crawler, says something, and moves on. As if nothing had happened."

Another "tragedy" took place during the fighting, when Ukrainian infantry stormed Russian trenches. In an attempt to hide from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, about 15 occupants disappeared into a dugout. At some point, a man ran out of it, took an assault rifle from someone, and started shooting.

"Perhaps the most heroic one they had was running out with an assault rifle, trying to shoot and failing. The muzzle is clogged or something. He runs back, throws the machine gun away sits down, wraps his arms around his knees, and sits there like that, offended. This drama had an effect because two of their infantrymen moved towards us, but something didn't work out, and this "hero" was the first to escape from us.

Operators are trying to use drones in non-standard ways. For example, a drone was used to drop various "propaganda ammunition" into one of the trenches. Another Mavic-3 UAV was used as a loudspeaker.

"One of the drones has such a function. So we flew to one dugout and used the loudspeaker: "Russian Ivan, surrender! Resistance is useless!". They surrendered. They had no choice then."

"When I come to Kyiv, I am happy"

Mykola recalls himself in 2014 when he came back to Kyiv from the front after his rotation. That day, a concert by Liapis Trubetskyi was taking place in the capital, and he did not know how to react. "I was thinking that we are fighting there, and you?" After 9 years of war, the guy's opinion changed.

"I was sad when there was a Kyiv campaign, the city was empty. Nothing was working, no shops, no cafes, no place to drink coffee. And now I see that air defense is working well in Kyiv, I am happy."

Soldier of 3rd Separate Assault Brigade on war, drones, and peaceful life

Mykola understands why various conflicts arise in the rear, but as a soldier, he tries not to participate in them.

"We are there to hold the front, we are there voluntarily, at least the people in the 3rd Assault Brigade. Sometimes it's hard, sometimes you sit in a trench, it's cold, uncomfortable, sometimes the katsaps try to kill you, and I don't like it either. But we did it so that people could live normally."

During his vacation, he decided to go to a cafe with his girlfriend and have breakfast. When asked to bring the bill, the waitress said that the meal was on the house. "That's nice," Mykola says. "It is unlikely that any of the militaries will get angry if you approach them on the street and say "Thank you". But it is much more effective to thank the army with donations, he adds.

Representatives of Territorial Recruitment Centers in gyms

"I am 99% sure that you cannot force people to fight. You can't. Force is the most primitive solution. You can force them to carry boxes. But what about painting a picture? Write a program, create a business process? And war is a struggle not of force, but of the human mind, cunning and abilities."

A mobilized soldier without motivation can be forced to dig holes on the front line and receive 100 thousand hryvnias (Ukrainian currency - ed.) for this work. But it is much more effective to ask what this mobilized person did in civilian life and use his abilities for the benefit of the army. Even more important is motivation.

"For us, motivation is the most important thing, we try to get rid of those who are not motivated. I can't imagine us grabbing people on the streets."

Zaluzhnyi and Zelenskyy

Mykola deliberately limits himself to news that is not directly related to his activities. However, information about a possible conflict between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi has reached him. There is little talk about it among his entourage. We can judge Zaluzhnyi himself as a direct leader of the army by his results. And they are undoubtedly there.

"Just remember, the military aggression began, Russia did not capture our country, did not destroy our statehood. We have moved from a stalled defense with a flavor of hopelessness to discussions about how the Russians are not retreating enough here and we are not liberating enough territory there. Isn't this the result?"

Soldier of 3rd Separate Assault Brigade on war, drones, and peaceful life

Mykola recalls his dialogues with his brothers-in-arms and how they discuss whether it is better to go back to the borders of 2014 or 1991. Some jokingly mention that Rostov-on-Don was once Ukrainian territory.

"But of course, we are joking. I do not have an imperial type of thinking. I want to go to the border and return to Crimea. There are such great bike trails there. I haven't had time to ride there yet."