Sept. 18, 2022
“I know this war could be my one-way ticket, but I’m ready.” The story of Kazakh Zhasulan in the Ukrainian army.
Thanks to the war, many heroes have appeared in Ukraine. They were here before, but people just talked about them less, or were altogether silent. Some of them are Ukrainians, but there are also quite a few foreign heroes – people who risk their lives every day so that the blue-and-yellow flag can fly over all of Ukraine.
I got to know Zhasulan Dusembin thanks to my volunteer friends. Now they are helping him get Ukrainian citizenship. The soldier with the call sign “Jazz,” whom Volodymyr Zelenskyy awarded with the Order of Courage three months ago, sat modestly away from everyone. After his experience, it’s hard for him to speak. But the first thing that surprises me is that Zhasulan speaks Ukrainian fluently.
“When I first came to Ukraine, I thought it was a ‘hole’ with a terrible economy, and the people in this ‘hole’ were wild.”
Today, Zhasulan is 29. Ten years ago, he served in the Kazakh army. Until 2014, he says, he had not heard anything about Ukraine, but when the events on Independence Square began, Russian news was full of information about it. That was when Zhasulan became interested in Ukraine’s lawlessness.
“I saw a video of Ukrainians beating police officers. The news reported that the people were lawless, that a coup d’état was underway. I wondered how this was even possible. So I decided to go, see everything with my own eyes. In the beginning of January 2015, I flew to Kyiv. And the first thing that really surprised me was that people spoke Russian freely. No one beat anyone, no one was attacked. The city was beautiful, developed and European. And for the first time in my life, I could smell and taste freedom in the air,” Zhasulan said admiringly.
After two years, the man returned to Kazakhstan. But over time, he moved definitively to Kharkiv, Ukraine.
“Today shells are taking lives from Kharkiv, but yesterday I loved this living city with all my soul. I remember every street, every square. It’s like love at first sight,” Zhasulan recalls.
“I went through three circles of hell, because it was difficult for a foreigner to join the Ukrainian army. But a year ago, I finally managed to sign a contract for three years of service.”
Zhasulan put on the uniform of a defender of Ukraine in September 2021. He says that he felt something was about to happen and it was necessary to urgently take up arms. He wound up with the 53rd brigade. Today there is almost nothing left of it, but then it was fully staffed by the military. In December, he was already on the front line. They were deployed a mere half kilometer from the Russians. Enemy snipers repeatedly shot at Ukrainian positions. But the real horror began in February.
“Even before the full-scale invasion, they painted our positions and covered us with fire around the clock. Every day someone died. I thought it was the worst thing that could happen. We all retreated, wounded, but we still fought back, so we managed to gain a foothold in Volnovakha.”
Then, Jazz recalls, they had to retreat again. At the beginning of March, he was assigned to lead 90 soldiers in the village of Volodymyrivka. It was there on March 14 that the largest battle took place. Out of 90 people, 26 survived.
“I had a concussion and three shrapnel wounds. I was in the hospital for 11 days, and later learned that the president had awarded me the Order of Courage. Everything would have been fine if, upon returning to duty, I hadn’t realized that every explosion incapacitated me due to a head injury.”
The next date that stuck in his memory was May 15, in the village of Vodyane. Local residents “gave” the coordinates of the Ukrainian military to the Russians. So the enemy covered the entire village with fire. It was then that Zhasulan felt for the first time that his morale was completely broken.
“Together with another guy, we were on our knees in the middle of our fortification, crying and praying. Shells were flying, one guy’s body was torn apart, one guy was killed on the spot. But the worst thing is that civilians were dying. I’m sure that those who gave our coordinates to the Russians couldn’t imagine that half the village would be wiped out.”
One of his most unbearable memories, was when they found a little girl with torn pantyhose and blood in Volnovakha. She had been raped. Zhasulan helped the child reach her family. As long as the city was under the partial control of our military forces, the man helped the family. Later, after massive shelling, he visited the house where they lived.
“I went inside and immediately smelled the burnt flesh. A shell had flown into their house. The basement didn’t save them. The whole family was burned alive. I was crying. I cried and screamed. Six months have passed since the beginning of these horrors, but I can’t get used to this cruelty. I will never get used to it.”
Today, he is seeing a psychotherapist. He is afraid to be alone, because he keeps seeing the faces of his fallen brothers-in-arms. At night he dreams of the same friends who call him to join them as soon as possible.
Recently, Zhasulan has been transferred to the Azov Regiment, their first Kazakh.
“I think that now the most difficult period in the war has begun. We’ve started to counterattack. Unfortunately, many of our people will die. But victory is ours, though we don’t know when. Everything depends on the supply of weapons. The more he have, the less our military and civilians will die.”
Zhasulan has two children, they live in Ukraine. So he won’t be able to stay away from the war. After victory, he would like to shut himself up with his loved ones for a while, and then engage in social activities in the free Ukrainian lands.