Ukrainian Symphony: The Art of War
Zarina Zabrisky talks to Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline of the fight against Putin's forces
To mark the release of Byline TV’s powerful new documentary The Eastern Front, starring the journalists Zarina Zabrisky and John Sweeney, we are publishing an exclusive new report from Zabrisky, for Byline Supplement subscribers, about her experiences with Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline
On the way to the artillery unit, our film crew stops by a gas station near the hottest spot at the front—Fortress Bakhmut, as Ukrainians call it. Russians call it Artemivsk, after a Bolshevik leader Comrade Artem. Since 1571, Bakhmut changed names five times, becoming Artemivsk twice—each time the Russians got hold of it. In August 2022, the Russian private military company Wagner, largely comprised of former convicts, started storming the now iconic Donbas town, turning it into unconquered ruins by spring 2023.
A spacious coffee shop on the road to Bakhmut is buzzing. Soldiers just in from the frontline, mud on their boots, line up for coffee, hot dogs, French fries, cigarettes, and anything from wet wipes to flashlights. No alcohol, unlike at gas stations elsewhere around the country. Donbas, a war zone for nine years, is dry. Cardboard all over the windows: a place popular with the Ukrainian military is a delicacy for Russian artillery. A polite young soldier with a Japanese warrior sleeve tattoo helps me to figure out a tricky coffee machine. With heavy silver earrings and a hip haircut, Vitalii could easily be an art college student sipping a designer latte in a San Francisco hipster café, not at a gas station in Donbas. I ask him about the tattoo.
“This Samurai unit fought for life and justice. It defeated demons, even after death,” he says. “Basically, the same reason I joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Byline Supplement to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.