From Facebook page @ifnotwar. Volunteer photo projects and stories dedicated to the heroes ATO.

Igor Klevko
battalion of Special Forces “Donbass”


He has very kind eyes and deep, piercing look. He is incredibly modest and reliable. There is no any fuss around him, because he is absolutely calm and self-collected. That kind of man is called the real man. It is nice to have a tea-talk about life with such people, because it seems that he knows answer for any question. But we are talking about the war now.

“As a part of 1st troop of 3rd platoon I liberated Artemovsk, Popasnaya, Lysychansk, Kurachovo, Ilovaysk . We had fulfilled different targets during sweep operations when liberated cities. I am a storm trooper- Igor starts his story giving full value to each word. We had gone out from Ilovaysk action with reconnaissance group a little bit earlier than “green corridor” announced, evacuating wounded and dead. 

I have been staying in Ukraine for more than 2 years already, I participate in АТО, and I live now nearby Kyiv. Of course, I can return to the Motherland, but the prospect to be pursued by authorities is too high to say. I am going to be prisoned in Belarus for 7 years as the participant in the armed conflict at territory of other state. There is no way back for me, but I always can step forward. My farther informed me that the search of dwelling already had happened, and he even sent me a copy of the search record. Therefore there is no any sense to be prisoned there like Nelson Mandela, no use at all. That is why I am here.
I have wonderful parents, I wish long live to my Dad and RIP to Mom

My father is not so simple- “Lion “says smiling warmly- That was me who did not understand him at that time. Now, when I have got battle experience, I change my attitude to his upbringing method to better.
I am really grateful to my teachers. Of course, to school teachers – a few of them- Igor smiles once again. But I really do appreciate the teachers from “Nhat-Nam” school, where I practice even now. Due to this school I can walk free without limp or any other problem. 

I have studied not only in a secondary school but in the outstanding school of Vietnam national wrestling”Nhat-Nam”as well. I have visited seminars in Minsk, I have studied at “Nhat-Nam” school under the guidance of Ngo Suan Binya, the Head of the school, Professor- Belorussian tells us and modesty adds- 9th Dan” “Wow…-we can’t help exclaiming- Wow!!!”

We would like to provide you with a brief from the official site of International center of wrestling “Nhat-Nam” “Exercising “Nhat-Nam” is not just to learn self-defense technique, this teaching is much deeper one, and these are philosophy and lifestyle which are valid for Asian culture. Nhat-Nam exercises help to understand yourself, trust yourself, learn to understand surrounding people, not just in fight training, but in routine communication. Spirit strength and wrestling art are used not to suppress surrounding people, but to take over your own dark origin, defending yourself, to protect earth, where was born, the Motherland.
During thousands of years due to geographical location Vietnam was repeatedly exposed to the attack of aggressors. Exactly the national wrestling arts of Vietnam, including wrestling art of Nhat-Nam, allowed withstanding foreign invaders.

The spirit of dynasties Li and Chan (12-14 centuries) is not only theoretical or ideological postulates, but vivid consciousness of national pride that supports the spirit of independence and state sovereignty in the Vietnamese people. Health and spirit of nation play a very important role at all times and in all states. Nhat-Nam as a type of traditional wrestling art includes not only these ideas, but also ideas of friendship and cooperation, exchange in the areas of culture, new conceptions in area of self-evolution”.
Do you understand what kind of man he is? This philosophy you can feel immediately, from the first moments of acquaintance with Igor, at the first glance, at the first handshake.

There were 2 favorite games in childhood- Igor continues- “war” and … “doctor”. There were others, not so valuable to remember. As a child I liked weapons, maybe, as a lot of other boys. Slingshots, to climb trees, to return home wet with the shoes full of water that was routine. May be , it was necessary to spend childhood playing piano (I have absolute pitch), but it happened otherwise and I am glad.

I have passed qualification state exam on physical culture and sport as trainer-methodologist of Vietnam national wrestling art Nhat-Nam and worked as a trainer: worked as Asian martial art trainer at sport school for children. Then, after few years worked as hand-to-hand fight instructor at departmental security. I was an entrepreneur, learned to produce metallic doors, why not? I have mastered different occupations, my point is that any skills or competences are not waste of time.

Family? I am single. I always was- as Chekhi (Chechens) say, “free” in the meaning “free”- severe soldier nicknamed “Lion” smiles.

I kept watch over Maydan from the very beginning. It was of interest to me from the first TV news. I began to surf the Internet looking for information, found a channel, which streamed Maydan events 24 hours, and looked after. There were periods, when I did not turn off a computer round the clocks – I wanted to see what’s going on. I could not arrive there at that time – my mother was seriously unwell, and I simply could not leave her. But this was the question of time”.

It was never like none of my business. Yes, this is another country, but we have common ideas. In 2000 I was the member of opposition movement “Zubr” (aurochs) in Belorussia, we resisted dictatorial regime in my country. We were trying to change the dictatorial regime to democracy in democratic way using peaceful methods. Unfortunately, we did not succeed, but the idea of this struggle for freedom is really valuable for me, that it why I could not stand back- if it is always inside me, I have to act. And my last name is Ukrainian, how can I ignore this? – Igor smiles- It is like to deny myself and my last name.”

The decision to arrive to Ukraine I have accepted together with a friend. And the start, I think, was Crimea, when “green men” dropped in there. I, as the grown man took an interest, to say so, of work of different ” structures”. It was clear they were not simple fellows next-door to me, who put on a uniform and came on alien soil. Based at my experience at that moment, I concluded, that it was a Special Forces operation to annex the territory.

“Green man”- this is military operation. Gunned people, joint coordinated movement, well equipped, other signs- it was obvious that this is special forces.

So, we had decided to go to Ukraine. To stand back- that was…not fair.

We contacted the responsible person from “Donbass” battalion in FB; they were recruiting recruits, volunteers. That was at the beginning of May, 2014. We asked is it possible for foreigners to take part in operations to liberate annexed territories and got to go-ahead. So, we came here together with my friend, qualified doctor (by the way, he also has Ukrainian last name). We had decided, if my skills were not in demand, his skills would be in demand definitely. 

Nobody saw us off; we tried to limit the list of friends who knew we leave for Ukraine. It is not so easy in Belarus, not all, to say the least, supported us, it was hard to trust in. And we did not feel need in obstacles in our movements. That is why we left quit.

So we got to Ukraine to help with in our powers. We arrived on purpose, directly to “Donbass”, presented ourselves, were recorded, passed interview and became the soldiers of the 3rd platoon. That was the beginning.

Unfortunately, my mother died when I was at training in Novopetrovtsy. I was not with her. Naturally, I could not leave, and it is clear what I felt. But I had to exercise. I overcame, but it was very hard point for me. RIP…

What do I feel when hear “It is not my war” from Ukrainians? What can I feel… That’s the same as Belarusians sitting home- that just the category of citizens, it is their lifestyle. I have no right to criticize or condemn anybody. Not all can fight or struggle. That’s normal. Let’s take warrior caste in India. Not all Indians are warriors, not all are in such caste. Or like in Japan there were peasants and samurais. Exactly the same is here, but the terms are modern. Not all can be soldiers.

Being in ATO I got acquainted with many nice, real people, many of them became my friend forever. It is clear who is who at forefront. One thing is to tell about the war out of war actions, other thing is to cooperate there. I am glad that now I know many real man. 
In general, the war changed me, and I hope to better. I feel that now I take it easy. Before that I myself make my life more complicated, now it is easy to think, to take decisions- it seems to me, it is because I see better and stop get hooked on an idea.

I had travelled through Europe, and it was interesting for me to study people, how they live, approach to living. I will say that Ukrainians are remarkable people, but it would be nice to change a bit approach to living and what you do. When a man does something thoroughly, the result is wonderful. As Germans, for example. It is worth to learn from them.

We all need to treat ourselves and our role in this life consciously. It is as in Asian martial art- you are not just waved, you have to understand the aim.

When I came here for the first time (if I am not mistaken, in 1992) and heard Ukrainian language… Friend of mine communicated, he met a girl and they talked I liked the melody of the language- very nice language. That was the first impression, long ago.

Nowadays I can add: there are more free people here, people feel freedom here- that is the fortune, I think. If you lose freedom inside it is more difficult to achieve other things.
What are my future plans? Now I am passing on contract. There are some issues with Immigration office? As all foreigners have, I hope everything will be settled. If everything is going to be OK, I’ll be in Special Forces of Ukraine.

In 2014, before Ilovaysk, while liberating cities, we achieved a lot. If we had not been slow down, we could finish all that till autumn fall 2014. During 2 years- 2 battle injuries, I had not only to fight, but to stay in hospital. 

But I like it to be a soldier. To liberate cities. The period when I approved myself was year 2014, when I fought in “Donbass” platoon. These are the brightest moments. You know, to liberate cities it is…feeling. That means me a lot. I remember, we liberated Lysichansk, the shops were closed. We opened the doors by stocks to feed people. They were paralyzed by fear, which is easy to understand – hungry, they sat in cellars under shelling for a long time. And one aunty came and said “Could I embrace you?” “Why?” I asked. And she replied “I want to touch real soldier”. Lysichansk, do you understand? Not all, of course, but the part of people was glad. That’s worth much.

But, recently I was in Lysichansk at Liberation Day, I paid attention that people reacted in different manner seeing us. If at that time they were afraid to demonstrate separatism, now they openly show it. It is a pity to us, soldiers, who liberated these cities paying awful price –the lives of many good fellows, to observe that nothing has changed in these cities. The same mayors, the same administration which is far from patriotic view. We need to do something with that.

At the end of our conversation we asked our legionaries the same question: “What would you wish Ukrainians addressing them directly?” That’s what we have heard: “I would like to wish them to reach the highest perfection. To be aimed at self-improvement. If you have self-evolution in your life, you’ll have a sense in life. And there will be a way for everybody.”

What can we add? Thank You, the Warrior of Light! If such people support us in our grief we will overcome!