Olga Andrianova, 31, rarely speaks to her husband Serhiy, 26. “He’s hurt,” she said. “He told me that they had no more medicine. Guys are dying because they don’t have proper medical help. Their wounds begin to rot more and more. Serhiy was lucky. His feet were hit, but one of the doctors was able to save them. “They didn’t have to amputate, thank God,” says Olga. But there are no painkillers. “They just lie down using their own internal will. That’s how they hold up. »
In a modern, high-tech conflict characterized by intelligence-led drone strikes, their battlefield is out of the history books. “It’s strange. This is not a war,” says Hanna. In the Azovstal warren, there are few direct clashes with opposing troops. Instead, Azov fighters are starving and bombed. “It’s a siege,” Hanna said. “Actually, I’d say it’s just murder.”
Of course, no one knows better than the Russians, on whose psyches the Nazi blockade of Leningrad remains etched, the terrible realities of siege warfare. Now they inflict on their desperate foes the same ruthless constriction that was once inflicted on them.
The Azovs are a hardline group of ultra-nationalist militiamen initially brought together in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and have since been regularized. The women insist that any legacy of far-right extremism has been purged from the ranks.
“Our husbands are simple people, patriots, not neo-Nazis,” says Yuliia. “They love their country and fight for our common values.”
Yet, in describing their men, these women find themselves blurting out not common values but how different they are from their compatriots. They themselves are different, young in appearance but older in appearance, hardened by a war which, for them, they specify, has not lasted for eight weeks but for eight years, since the attack on Crimea.
“For many Ukrainians it was ‘wow’ that the war started,” says Yuliia. “But we have been fighting this war since 2014.” That is why, like Putin, they do not speak of the February invasion as a war. They simply see it as “an escalation”.
And if they criticize some Ukrainians for their complacency, they blame others for their outright betrayal.