Story #107. “Only Forward, Not a Step Back”: A Story of Borys, a Sculptor Turned Soldier

August 17, 2023
The artist who fought off enemy troops in Bakhmut.

Borys, call sign "Kama," is a 23-year-old Ukrainian soldier of the Aidar assault battalion. A sculptor by trade and a graduate of the Lviv Academy of Arts.

Despite having no combat experience, the artist decided on the first day of the Russian invasion that his fate is one that belongs in the army.

"On February 25, I had already showed up at the military enlistment office after my friends and I gathered a group of about 12 people. It was my mother's birthday. 'How are you?' she asked, I replied, 'I'm fine. I'm on my way to the military commissariat.' Of course, after hearing that, she didn't sleep for the next two nights."

After a month of training, Borys and his company were stationed in Kostiantynivka, Donetsk Oblast. From there, they went back and forth to Bakhmut for assault operations.

"Combat assaults always result in heavy losses. There are always many wounded. We do our best to save every brother-in-arms, but the circumstances do not always allow it."

"My ammunition and backpack weigh between 40 and 45 kg. The body armor weighs only 8 kg. I do, however, carry a lot of grenades, disposable grenade launchers, RPGs, shells, etc. Everything moves quickly during an assault. The more you take, the easier the battle will be."

"Our company commander is one good man. We always have ammunition, food, and weapons on hand, plus NATO rearmament, thanks to him; two seconds and the magazine is re-loaded! However, as always, we need more. In war, not even 'enough' will be enough. But for now, we can cope with what we've got," Borys shared his combat experience.

During one of the assaults, Borys was wounded. One bullet struck his arm, another in his shoulder, hitting the nerves.

He told us that rehabilitation will take at least a year, but the left arm will likely never function as it used to. Now, the shoulder works at 10% of its full capacity. However, there is hope that in the future, the arm's functionality will be restored to 65-80%.

"I didn't want to be confined to the dugout, so I made a run for it. We were in the grip of a storm. It was a critical juncture. I had to move quickly, and that's when I was shot. My brother-in-arms tied the tourniquet around my arm, and I sat with it for 4 and a half hours.  My mind was clouded. The Russians were hiding in the bushes, so I couldn't make out who shot me. There was just an open field separating us, but we had no choice but to go through it."

Borys is currently undergoing treatment, but despite his serious injury, he continues to work in his studio in order to keep his work alive.

Borys's pre-war work in papier-mâché.

"I try not to think about what happened to me, but the memory follows me around. I go for a walk on the lake, to get away from everyone and everything. Some alone time to check in with myself. Every day, I get calls informing me that someone has been injured or killed. It's tough."

"The war broke many lives, not just those on the front lines, but also those who stayed behind.

Almost every family now has someone fighting in the military and they all know someone who has either died from the war or is injured. To be honest, many of our plans have been ruined. We need to win. And we need to do it as soon as possible."

"It's unrealistic to plan anything when at war. You never know what will happen, even in the next hour," adds Borys.

"Some people arrive at the battlefield with confidence, but when the first fight begins, this confidence turns into hysteria. This can have serious consequences on a person. I've heard of instances where the military rushes into battle, but when they hear the first bullet whistle, they become disoriented and retreat. We all understand that we must calm down our brothers-in-arms, bringing them back to their senses, so we can move on. You just can't stand still. The line will break, and we will become more vulnerable."

"We have a combat mission. We have to fulfill it. Only forward, not a step back."

Borys plans to return to the academy after the war to pursue a postgraduate degree. Meanwhile, despite his exhausting treatment, he jokes about his injury.

"Even though I'm right-handed, I've always been able to use both hands equally well." "I'm definitely right-handed now [laughs]."

Another pre-war sculpture by Borys - a plaster bust of Ivan Piddubnyi.

Nika Krychovska
Journalist at UkraineWorld