|23rd August 2019|
|Heroes are among us: Pavlo STARCHENKO|
|"Punisher" - nicknamed him Luhansk people in 2014.
"The key man" named him Ukrainian soldiers who stood at Luhansk airport at that time.
"Peaceful Bird" is the name of the film made by the capital's TV presenters about Pavlo Starchenko, an employee of UkSATSE, a leading engineer of an airfield radar complex of the telecommunications service of "Kyivñenteraero" RB.
He doesn’t differ from ordinary people in his appearance. He is busy doing quite usual things: he goes to work, does repairs at parents’ place, makes jokes and cannot explain why he has deserved such a popularity.
Till the end of summer 2014 he worked in Lugansk Air Traffic Service of Kharkiv regional structural branch of UkSATSE. He was responsible for the stable operation of ground air navigation equipment, which provided air traffic controllers with the information necessary to control air traffic and ensured safety in the Ukrainian sky. Pavlo used to go to “work” at the airport and was helping the Ukrainian soldiers the whole summer when there were no civilians left after the evacuation of the workers.
The guy was 27 years old when a hunting was open on him. Only later on did he realize the danger he and his family were facing. He is still under a wanted list on the websites of the so-called "LPR" security agencies. Nevertheless, he does not regret anything, except that he could probably have done more.
Next is a direct speech.
I worked in Lugansk Air Traffic Service as a radio-navigation and radar engineer, I also was a shift supervisor. My responsibility was provision of communication between technical staff and air traffic controllers. I have maintained the equipment that ensured safety of flights: it provided information about the situation in the airspace and also provided communication between air traffic controllers and aircraft. We are their eyes and ears. In Luhansk at that time there was still used a Soviet radar "Ekran-85", an old direction finder of a radio station "Baklan". Nowadays such equipment one can see in "Kyivtsentraero" museum.
In April 2014, Lugansk airport was already shelled. We kept working during the shelling, because we had to ensure safety of aircraft flying through our zone, which was not closed at that time. Those were not usual conditions. You come to work - there is military equipment there, people with weapons - soldiers of the 80th Separate Airborne Assault Brigade from Lviv. We used to find common understanding with them. I used to find. But not all of the workers, some of them wished to see a different development of events.
Lugansk service was encircled all the time. It seemed that nobody wanted to know about us - neither in Kharkiv, nor in Kyiv.
There were attempts to take over the airfield by force. Together with our soldiers, we prevented some people from entering the control room. It's only after some time that you realize what could have happened to you. At the airfield, on the way to work or from work. You didn't think about it at that time.
When all of our service staff and airport staff were evacuated, I was still coming to work almost every day. It was my second home. And that was a matter of principle. I had to help our soldiers. They were left alone face to face with a big mess. While there were civilians at the airport, it was possible to bring food to the soldiers unnoticed. Many people did so - the entire village was working at the airport. However, the soldiers needed moral support not less than foodstuff -by presence, by a word, by clue from someone who knew the local area and was well-oriented in engineering communications.
On the day when the head of technical facilities of Luhansk service and I disconnected all the facilities at the airport from the backup power supply, we locked them up and he gave all those keys to me, so that they would be at my disposal, because I was not going anywhere. All ours had already left and I lived with my parents in the village near the airport. My elder brother and family lived in another village.
In fact, there was no need to monitor the facilities, but the keys became a cover for me to continue supporting our soldiers who were at the airport, and in particular at the facilities of UkSATSE. The support was - food, water, useful information. They were encircled, and no transport could reach them. Occasionally some containers were dropped for them from airplanes, probably with food, but it was definitely not enough for them. If it wasn't for the keys, there would have been no reason going there for me. I used to say that I had to check the equipment. In fact, those keys had no value. The locks wouldn't really stop anyone.
The soldiers at Lugansk airport were doubtful as to whether they could trust me. I did not impose on them, but my consultations on their location at the sites implied that I was not an engineer, but maybe a Russian officer. The guys admitted it only later, when I visited them in Chernivtsi, in the 2nd Battalion of the 80th Brigade- the guys who were then at the airport in Luhansk. I myself used to serve in the army as an artillery soldier.
TO BE SAVED ON THE SAVIOUR FEAST DAY
I was still being hunted. The locals were giving up both my itineraries and the time when I was driving to bring water for the guys. Then so many things revealed in people ... There were several attempts to kill me. At some point I realized that it made no sense to stay there any longer: I couldn't change the situation and could have died in vain; nobody could save me - only I could help myself.
There was a blue-yellow national flag lying in my drawer at home. Later on, it was found out, which became a further proof that I was a "punisher".
The flag of Ukraine is something very dear to me, it’s ours.
I used to go with the guys on a reconnaissance mission. One morning when I returned home my mother had cooked borscht for the soldiers, and I went to take it to them. It happened when I was coming back from their positions located near our transmission centre, when I was already in the village, I was being shot at with a machine gun mounted on a quad bike. I survived by miracle. I didn't say anything at home. At that moment I realized that it was enough for me.
In the evening of August 19, I left home, taking with me a next-door couple with a little boy. I only thought about survival of the people who were with me - it was necessary to break free. My parents flatly refused to leave and stayed at their house at first. But a few days later a tank shot twice at our house, they managed to escape and were hiding in the sunflower field until evening. Then they took their documents and walked to the nearest village, which was still under control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
I am still on a wanted list in Luhansk region - on the website of the "Tribunal" and on the website of the "Ministry of State Security" of the so-called "Luhansk People's Republic".
I do not feel sorry for anything. Except that I could probably have done more.
I don't think about returning to Lugansk. When you keep it in your head all the time, you won't have time to live here either.
Before and after the army I worked at Lugansk airport. First - on the landing system, then - as a technician of telecommunications. When we were modernizing the airport terminal, I was involved in the construction of all new communications - the Internet, telecommunications, warning systems - information boards, ticket offices, customs, frontier guards. I did all of that with my own hands. And that knowledge was eventually useful for me when I was helping our military. After that, I worked as an engineer of the meteorological station in the building of the airfield control tower. There I was spotted by UkSATSE specialists.
I applied for working in UkSATSE in 2010. There were a lot of other applicants for my position, but after a professional selection I was probably the one who suited this position by my "technical characteristics".
After Lugansk, I moved to Lviv regional branch of UkSATSE. I wanted to get away from the past life. I was in such a condition that I had to plunge into work to forget a little about the summer of 2014. For more than a year I worked in Lviv as a simple shift engineer at a radar complex. Then I moved to Kyiv.
The day after the attack on Luhansk airport, my distant relatives called and told me that my parents were no longer alive. They said that they were shot dead near the garages of our Luhansk service. I couldn't believe in what I was told, I was like in a fog. Four hours later, my brother called me from an unknown phone number and told me that the parents were alive and that they were at his place. Now they live in Kyiv region.
When was the last time I cried? I can't remember. Maybe when I met the soldiers ... There are moments when men cry, too.
There was a reassessment of all values. I realized that only the most trusted people will not betray you. Only they will support you in a difficult moment. Many friends and acquaintances have dropped out. Though they didn't say anything to my face.
I have a completely different attitude towards people now. Whenever I am- in transport, at work, I keep an eye on people around me, analyse their behaviour. It's already on the subconscious level. I'm attentive to every little thing and very picky about the words I hear.
Many of my colleagues left Lugansk. Among them there were separatists and normal people. At the beginning we communicated more closely with our fellow countrymen. We were strangers here. We came here and occupied the positions that somebody local was applying for.
People are only human, they're just, as they say, devastated by the housing issue. Those who haven't experienced war won't understand what it means when you used to have everything and all of a sudden you have nothing. The main thing is that you still have your skills, and family members are close to you.