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“Guys, you are the best, I love you!” – Last battle of Yurii Butusov

February 16, 2017 / Online edition “Censor.NET”

Exactly two years ago, Sergeant of the 3rd SF regiment Vadym Dovhoruk, who was then part of group led by Captain Yurii Butusov, was ambushed while escorting a column from Debaltseve during the “truce” on February 16, 2015.

In the interview for “Censor.NET” (conducted by Vika Yasynska and me), Vadym Dovhoruk told us how Captain Butusov perished, whom he did not abandon until the last minute. Because of the battle that broke out, the vehicle with wounded servicemen which was following his APC was able to turn around and thus save the lives of those on board.

“Yura Butusov was once my group leader, but then we were scattered and found ourselves in different groups. Personnel of the 3rd SF regiment accompanied columns from Bakhmut to Debaltsevo. At the base, Yura came up to me and asked: “Vados, will you come with me as part of my group? I need men with experience”. I said: “Leader, I will go with you”.

We respected Yurii, he was a real man. We did not have our own “armour” and the APC was given to us by the 101st guard brigade. We were given the task to escort and protect a convoy. The enemy already had positions along that road, and by then it was the only road leading to Debaltsevo. We battled our way through there and back. The shelling from small arms was incessant and our leader ordered us to stay inside the APC. We moved at a high speed while the rifleman shot from the turret. It was a risk, but we managed all right. Once more, we were given the task to escort a convoy to Debaltsevo, and we had to battle our way under fire. We fell into ambushes five or six times. The mission to escort another convoy was assigned to us in the headquarters of the 128th brigade. There, two colonels gave us a new route leading from Debaltsevo, not the one we had been using earlier. They said that the enemy surrounded everything and the new route would be laid across the city. We had one vehicle with wounded servicemen and a second one with perished servicemen in our column. We were given an APC – Yura placed it at the end of the column. Our APC led the column. But it happened so that the new route which we were given lead straight to enemy positions. The “Separatists” had already entered Debaltsevo and we came to them. Yura ordered to increase speed, the machine gunner opened fire. We were shelled from different sides. Because of that, other vehicles managed to escape. The main thing is that the vehicle with wounded servicemen turned around and changed its course. At the same time, the right side of our vehicle was hit from a grenade launcher, and then the left side. I sat next to our leader – then there was an explosion.

Yura was conscious and ordered everyone to get out of the vehicle. He realized from the start that there would be no escape. He had a grenade in his pocket, for himself, the last one… Yura was wounded by the first explosion, he cried: “Guys, you are the best, I love you! Forgive me, if I did something wrong!”

That is when I passed out and fell to the ground. I opened my eyes – one of my arms had been torn off by the explosion and our critically wounded leader was leaning on my remaining arm. My comrade, Vitalii Feditnik, was on top of me but he was already dead.

When I opened my eyes Yura, also conscious, was next to me. I said: “I can’t move, help me.” Somehow Yura moved away, freeing me and said: “My arm was severely cut, try to do it”. To which I responded: “Well, what are you showing me your arm for? Those are merely lacerations, but I have no arm at all!” And I showed him – my arm was torn away, it lay in my sleeve and you could roll it whichever way you wanted to. And at that moment… we burst out laughing! And there we sat together, laughing, I - rolling my arm.

We fell silent. And Yura said to me: “Vados, forgive me that it has to end like this”. I answered: “Leader, everything is OK”. He: “Let’s try to get out”.

That’s when I saw that the side of his body was severely lacerated. Splinters literally nailed him down to the armour. He was in terrible pain, he couldn’t break away but he tried to crawl. The bleeding didn’t stop… He cried out in pain, he could not do it with the help of his hands, so he planted his feet firmly on the ground and pushed himself out. He did not want to give up. We fell out of the APC. I crawled up to him – snowflakes landed on the leader’s face but they did not melt…

I have many ghastly recollections from the war – both explosions and deaths. But, maybe, the most difficult thing – was to witness how a lifeless comrade lay on me, and how our leader died in front of my eyes, who had still been alive several minutes ago and had said that he was in severe pain and felt hot. I looked at him and understood that there was nothing I could do. I cannot forget that feeling of helplessness…

As I made my way out of the APC I felt dreadful and dizzy. I could not apply a tourniquet myself but, probably, the wound had been blocked with clothes and it was freezing, the temperature was 20 below zero. This must have been the reason why I did not die. I got away from the road as far as I could, about three hundred meters. The separatists passed me by – I pretended to be dead. I thought that our forces would break through and save us. I remained there for four days. I did a great deal of thinking… The bitter cold, especially during night, the wind and nothing to keep me warm. I was lying and thinking how amusing it was that before, when I would go outdoors in the cold weather, I would always start feeling terribly cold within half an hour, and here I was lying without movement for several days and I was still alive.

Separatist and Russian tanks held positions nearby. It was evident, their faces showed it, they had an inward slant of the eyes. One tank was 15 meters from the place where I was and it shelled our positions for nearly 24 hours. As I lay there I thought, no, I will not crawl over and surrender. If I am found out, so be it. If I freeze – that is my destiny. I ate snow – there was nothing else, but I wanted to drink. On the fourth day, on February 19, 2015, I was found by a chance separatists’ patrol from “Prizrak” (“Phantom”) brigade in the evening. They came up to me, looked me over but did not shoot me down, instead they rendered aid to me. Then they delivered me to hospital. I was saved. But my legs had frostbites. The hospital was full of wounded separatists but doctors did all that they could. They did not manage to save my legs, they had to be amputated. Later, I was exchanged. The doctors from Kyiv Ambustial center restored me to life.

Unfortunately, two of my comrades – Serhii Hlondar and Oleksandr Korinkov, were taken captive during that battle and are still in the hands of the enemy. I would like for them to return home as soon as possible.

Today, on the second anniversary of that battle, I am driving to Bakhmach, to the grave of my leader, People’s Hero Captain Butusov. The memory of Yura will remain with me forever”.

Yurii Butusov