Ukraine soldier’s ‘broken soul’ amid war pressure
In the trenches of eastern Ukraine, Ivan Skuratovskyi’s calm verges on numbness — even after a sniper’s bullet recently killed one of the 50 or so men under his command.
It is the sort of thing that has happened from time to time over the eight years he’s been deployed up and down the 250-mile (400-kilometer) front line — a soldier in a war he never imagined when he enlisted in 2013.
Ukraine forces have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014, when the country’s Kremlin-friendly president was ousted, Moscow annexed Crimea and then backed a separatist insurgency in the east of the country.
The fighting between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed over 14,000 people.
Skuratovskyi grieves, but death and conflict have become an inescapable part of his life.
“The war has put pressure on me and broken my soul,” he said. “I’m becoming more cold-hearted, some would say dead-hearted. I have a tough sense of humor. It’s a protective reaction to extreme situations.”
Talks on the separatist conflict will take place on Thursday, when foreign policy advisers from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine – the so-called Normandy format – will meet in Berlin.
France and Germany helped broker a peace deal, known as the Minsk agreements, that ended large-scale fighting inside Ukraine.
The deal, however, has failed to bring a political settlement of the conflict, and efforts to resolve it have stalled.
The Kremlin has accused Kyiv of sabotaging the deal, and Ukrainian officials in recent weeks said that implementing it would hurt Ukraine.
From his front-line vantage point, Skuratovskyi, who recently re-upped with the army for another two years, agreed a diplomacy-focused approach was needed and said he sees no armed solution to the standoff.
“Weapons won’t solve any problem here,” Skuratovskyi said.
He talks regularly by video call from his current post in the town of Adiivka, Donbas province, with his wife, Maryna, on the other side of the country in the seaside city of Mykolaiv, near Moldova.
Maryna said her worst moment came in 2014 when an explosion went off while he was on the line with her. Sometimes she has thought he might not make it home alive.
Some European leaders see talks on the Minsk Agreements as a possible way to ease tensions in the larger crisis between Russia and Ukraine.
Russia has recently massed over 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border and has launched military maneuvers in the region, but says it has no plans to invade its neighbur, despite Western fears.
Moscow wants guarantees from the West that NATO not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet nations as members, that the alliance halt weapon deployments there, and that it roll back its forces from Eastern Europe.
The U.S. and NATO flatly reject these demands.
Western leaders in recent weeks have engaged in multiple rounds of high-stakes diplomacy in hopes of de-escalating the crisis.