Some say that Motorola did not have enough security, some—that in wartime, officers and their families should stay in barracks. But those who think this way fail to understand the realities of this war.
121 Chelyuskintsev Street is a common prefab, nine-storey building with six entrances. There, on the seventh floor, lived Arsen Pavlov with his family—his wife and two little children.
I will say it once again—the legendary Motorola lived in a common building. To clarify—when looking for an apartment in Donetsk I did not even consider those options. I am an ordinary man, without special pretensions.
The writer, Zakhar Prilepin, while visiting him, described Colonel Pavlov’s House thus:
“The usual—with the familiar light, musty smell—sufficiently shabby people’s entrance (…) three bedroom apartment, poky little rooms and a very small kitchenette.”
People think that such a big and well-known personality has to live in a luxury house in a closed compound, with security cameras and fences. But there was not even a concierge there.
“Nobody would be surprised or upset,” writes Prilepin, “if Motorola had lived in a large cottage behind a huge fence, with a tank standing in the yard. There are many empty houses in Donetsk, whose owners left for Kiev at the beginning of the war. After all, he was one of the main ‘separatist militants,’ if one believes what the Ukrainian media claims, who had so enriched himself that he should have built himself a palace long ago. But no.”
Why not? In one of the interviews, in answer to the question ‘who is Arsen Pavlov in reality?’, he said the following:
“I’m an ordinary worker. I’m just working. Working with my hands and making money—that’s my way. I don’t need anything else in order to support my family. I don’t need to strive to earn in order to be better than others. That’s the level of an ordinary working man. For myself, I consider it to be normal.”
It is said that he moved to Chelyuskintsev only this summer. Motorola’s former address, a few blocks from the scene of his death, was also not an élite house, but at least a post-Soviet high-rise brick building. I have seen how it was guarded. Several men with guns sat in a car parked in the yard. Besides, this crew was guarding his wife—when she was away the car was not even there. Arsen himself often would ride around the city on his quad-bike generally unaccompanied or with a car that was following him.
Many are surprised by such carelessness no less than by the modest life of the popular commander. Some say there is a lack of security guards, some—that in wartime, officers and their families should remain in barracks, in secured ‘cantonments’. But whoever thinks thus fails to understand the realities of this war which, for whose strangeness one unsurprisingly attempts to provide additional labels. Most often, it is described as ‘hybrid’.
And the matter here is not only in the intricate tangle of direct and indirect military intervention of the great powers in combination with information technology, economic sanctions and diplomatic manoeuvres. The issue is also in all these forms of war also form a hybrid complex with peace. What is more, these forms are often even legally dressed up as different sorts of truce and negotiation processes.
Publicist Edward Birov very correctly noted this point in an interview with Bashar al-Assad—a man fighting the same ‘hybrid war’ in another theatre of operations:
“In the minds of most contemporaries, reared on the wars of the twentieth century, and who are accustomed to certain patterns of behaviour in time of war, this combination of peaceful streets a block away from the fighting causes the greatest misunderstanding.
“The continuation of civilian life gives a psychological effect of ‘normality’ to the situation, which helps to overcome the fear of terror and allows the continuing functioning of the economy, which is also under attack.”
Assad himself explains the difference between hybrid war and the all-out warfare familiar to us from family histories, books and movies, to which absolutely all life in the country is strictly subordinated:
“This is normal when war lasts a few weeks or a few months, but for war that has already lasted six years, this means a paralysis of society and paralysis of the country. You cannot win a war with a paralysed society.”
Despite the transformation to regular army corps in line with the Russian model, the armed forces of the Donbass republics are still, in fact, a militia—that means that these are people who have taken up arms to protect the habitual ways of life of their region, their towns and cities, against an external force.
They live where they fight and fight where they live.
This possibility of peaceful life at their backs causes mixed feelings. On the one hand, it gives power to the struggle itself, on the other—it often results in irritation at those who behave as if there is no war at all. This contrast I particularly felt in June of 2015, in the midst of the battle for Maryinka—one of the suburbs of Donetsk. I was standing on a busy street, watching armoured vehicles passing by with Motorola’s ‘Spartan’ paratroopers in armour—they drove past automobiles, a shopping centre, the perfectly manicured parks of Donetsk, to the sounds of intensifying artillery fire, wafting in from the south-western suburbs. It seemed that the whole street stood still for a moment, looking at the faces of the troops arrayed with equipment and weapons, while the soldiers looked back into the faces of civilians who a moment ago were going hurriedly about their business, and had now stopped to gaze after them.
We all thought that these people were going to their deaths, and no one knew who was destined to live, and who to fall. When the column had passed—the city, as if nothing happened, began again to live its normal life. Only the rumbling of distant explosions reminded one of war and death.
Motorola was in Novorossiya since the early days of the Russian Spring and was at the front from the first days of May 2014. Many times he was wounded, several times heavily. And all that time he was an ordinary worker of this war. Donetsk is a city of such workers: some of them return to their high-rise apartments from the butchers, some from the workshop, and, for the past two years, some come home from the front.
Yes, indeed, a working profession can also be without a shadow of the Soviet romance. Some wash cars, some make granite headstones, some repair the plumbing and sweep the yard.
One of the liberal intellectuals somehow poured out his heart on his facebook page thus: “Had it not been for the Kremlin, Motorola would still have been working as a car-washer at a gas station, the DPR and the LPR would have existed only in the minds of three and a half cripples, and Girkin would have been quietly boozing in his Khrushchyovka [a type of housing block developed in the Khrushchev period ―ed.].”
If you think that this represents a primary political antagonism with the Kremlin, then you are wrong. Quite the contrary. These people experience unabashed disgust for the inhabitants of Soviet-built prefab houses, especially if those inhabitants try to leave the confines of their designated reservations.
Arsen Pavlov leaves his dusty job and becomes Motorola in order to take part in the events that determine the course of history for the next decade. In order to insert into this history both his name and his call sign. In order to become a hero in New York Times and Daily Mail reports, publishing photos from his wedding.
In order to become a legend.
Motorola was the most vivid, but far from the only living refutation of all the talk about the loss of ‘passionarity‘ by the Russians and about the rupture and withering of the Russian people. And this is the main reason for some absolutely incredible hatred felt towards him by political Ukrainians on both sides of the Russo-Ukrainian border.
In propaganda rhetoric he and his equally famous teammate, Mikhail Givi Tolstykh, became the equivalent of the biblical Gog and Magog. “Givi and Motorola will come for you,” “Givi and Motorola will burn your homes,” “what do you want, Givi and Motorola?” pro-Ukrainians scare each other. How exactly did they earn themselves such glory?
In order to somehow kill the horror that engulfed the Ukrainians from the blast of the ‘North Wind’ in August 2014, the media invented the myth of the heroic defence of Donetsk Airport (DAP), in which the antagonists of the ‘cyborgs’ became the selfsame Givi and Motorola. Since the airport was not so much defended by Ukrainian arms as by the first Minsk Protocols, it fell during the first few days of a new offensive, and in the mythological perception of the Ukrainians, the people who took it became their nightmare, the epitome of existential evil—nazgûls of their imaginary Mordor.
This very story shows perfectly well the entire difference between the battling sides that many sometimes very conveniently tend to ignore. A living, flesh and blood Motorola, with his real strengths and weaknesses confronted some ‘cyborgs’, similarly faceless as the previous Ukrainian ‘umbrella brand’, the ‘Heavenly Hundred’.
Again, no forenames, no surnames nor even the names of units. What for? Needless details. How to evaluate the real losses? How to find the responsible commanders? Cyborgs have ‘no casualties’. A Cyborg can lie under a concrete slab, and this will be enough for patriotic Kiev housewives to be confident that ‘DAP is theirs’. And they do not have commanders. There was a ‘legendary battalion commander Kupol’, but as soon as Pavlov in the next minute of truce shook hands with him on camera, he immediately became disembodied, and it turned out that he was not ‘that one’, the ‘legendary’ Kupol, but somebody else.
In this distinction is contained both the strength and the vulnerability of Novorossiya’s uprising.
The strength lies in the fact that a living man is ultimately more attractive than a media brand, and this rebellion gave rise to bright, heroic human images that have arisen almost out of nothing, once people got out of their Khrushchyovkas and car-washes. Very much still rests on such individuals and their images. Without them, there would not be any ‘voentorg’ or ‘vacationers’, no efforts of the ‘patriotic Russian bureaucracy’, none of what today sustains life on two scraps of ground torn away from Ukraine.
On the other hand, from the begining these people were opposed by the state machine, with its intelligence services, army and propaganda, the power of which should not be underestimated. It is able to crush even by its inertia, by its weight. Any—even the rustiest and most corrupt—state mechanism is stronger than charismatic individuals. One state machine can be countered only by another—one more powerful and more effective. With all my enthusiasm towards the republics, I am aware of the fact that “certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions” simply do not have the resources to create such a machine.
The death of anyone who bears the ‘spirit of the fourteenth year’ is an irreparable loss. And nobody can say yet what will happen when these people in the first ranks will be all gone. Who and what will come to replace them? It is difficult to name a more reliable guarantee that the Russian Spring will not be buried along with its heroes than the memory they themselves have bequeathed. A memory that will live in the hearts of millions from Vladivostok to Brest.
These questions, of course, must be solved by Donetsk residents, but it seems to me that the Colonel of the DPR Army, Arsen Sergeyevich Pavlov, is worthy of burial in the southern park of the Teatralnaya Square, on Artyom Street. There, where lie the liberators of Donetsk: Commander of the 32nd Guards Tank Brigade, Colonel Franz Andreyevich Grinkevich, and member of the Military Council of the Southern Front, Lieutenant-General Kuzma Akimovich Gurov.
Eternal memory to the hero!