Prawa autorskie: Rys. Weronika SyrkowskaRys. Weronika Syrkow...

‘UKRAINE is just the first strike. The best thing that Western politicians can do is to give Ukraine weapons and missiles, to give them the ability to stand their ground while we still have people, because there are fewer and fewer people here.

If Western politicians are really prepared to take responsibility for the lives of their people, not in words, not in speeches full of pathos, then the best investment in security in the coming years is to help Ukraine. Otherwise, they will be forced to pay with the lives of Poles, Lithuanians, Estonians and Slovaks,’ says Mariia Berlinska, a Ukrainian veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war, a volunteer, social activist, founder of the Air Reconnaissance Support Centre, initiator and head of the human rights defence project, the Invisible Battalion, founder and head of the Victory Drones project, the Dignitas Foundation.

Publikujemy angielskie tłumaczenie wywiadu z Mariją Berlińską. Wywiad po polsku można przeczytać tutaj:

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‘Fight with technology and not people’

Krystyna Garbicz, OKO.press: After the full-scale invasion, the Russian-Ukrainian war is being described as a war of drones and technology. You have been arguing about how important drones are on the front almost since the very start of Russia’s aggression. Now everyone has realized that you were right. Have the Ukrainian authorities finally heard you?

Mariia Berlinska: It is true that, since 2014, when the war was just starting, I tried, initially as a volunteer, to draw attention to the fact that this would be the greatest war of technology in the history of mankind.

The eleventh year of the war has started. Much has been done as a result of the attention of the public – thousands of people have become involved in this process.

We are truly running faster than ever, but, unfortunately, slower than our enemy. It has far greater resources. The Russians learn quickly, they are quickly increasing production and training soldiers.

I dread to think what would have happened had the volunteer military staff working with technology not performed such a huge amount of work over the last 10 years. But this is still insufficient; the enemy is too dangerous.

A friend of mine once said that you can’t win a war with drones. You still need ‘classic’ weapons, such as tanks and artillery. How would you explain to the Europeans why Ukraine also needs drones?

What should I explain to someone who has no experience of using artillery, drones or other systems? There are people who have combat experience; there are people who have experience as volunteers, which means either using technology in the field or providing this equipment to the front.

It’s like trying to convince someone who has never flown that it’s the fastest way of getting from Warsaw to New York and that person says he always goes by boat and believes that is the only fastest way. If that person had combat experience, the scepticism would vanish.

The only thing people who have no active war experience can do is to trust. In Ukrainian commanders, soldiers and volunteers who have 10 years of experience in active modern technological warfare. Or come and experience it for themselves.

‘Drones are becoming a game changer in this war’

It cannot be said that only drones, or artillery or tanks are needed in a modern war. Everything is needed. Simply put, drones and robotic systems are increasingly influencing what is happening on the battlefield. If there were some technological breakthroughs in the First World War, and others in the Second World War – for example, aviation and air defence systems were developed during the Second World War – this war has become an incentive for developing a technological ecosystem.

You are also the initiator of the Victory Drones project, the Dignitas foundation, which trains drone operators. How many drone pilots have been trained so far?

This is the biggest project in the country – although our volunteers say it is also the biggest in the world – regarding the technological militarization of the public. We have trained almost 60,000 military personnel on training grounds. Approximately 100,000 people are registered for the theoretical course.

The drone is just an element of the system. The person also has a tablet, an antenna, a radio amplifier, a walkie-talkie, Starlink and means of electronic warfare. We teach them how to use all this together.

We also teach people to create technologies. We have a ‘National FPV’ course. We teach people how to assemble drones. Front line soldiers use FPV drones which older students assemble around the world for sport. Thanks to their ingenuity, the Ukrainians are able to destroy Russian equipment that costs millions of dollars using a simple drone that costs a few hundred dollars.

Everyone in my Ukrainian tribe should be able to create and use technology to defend themselves and everyone in our tribe.

We teach teachers in schools how to use robotic systems and means of communication so that they can teach this to our children. We teach people how to repair drones, how to produce them, we are fighting for legislation for drone manufacturers to be made simpler, we are creating a community that is the largest and, unfortunately, the only one in Ukraine – it has consisted of 25,000 people so far – people who are military personnel, producers, engineers and volunteers. We also supply drones and other technical devices to the front – they are valued at tens of millions of dollars.

Victory Drones is the largest comprehensive technological assistance project for the military.

We are fighting causes, not effects.

The tank that costs several million dollars has to be destroyed to avoid the consequences amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars: dead and injured people, medical operations, compensation.

‘There cannot be any illusions. This is now already a threat to the Eastern European countries.’

How can Poland help now?

As Ukrainians, we are grateful to the Poles for their huge amount of support. Our forecast was three days or, at most, three weeks. However, Ukraine has retained its statehood – at a huge expense – primarily as a result of the heroism of our people and a miracle from God.

I want to thank the Poles for demonstrating civic and human solidarity, human support and Christian love for us as a nation that is now being killed.

Thank you very much for welcoming the Ukrainians, for supporting us with weapons and humanitarian aid.

I think Poles remember how the Warsaw Uprising was destroyed, how Russia suppressed Polish uprisings over the centuries, even before the Soviet Union emerged, when there were national liberation movements in Poland and when Poles were fighting for their freedom and independence at great expense.

The next thing I want to say is to pass my message on to Western politicians, including Polish politicians, not to waste time and to take responsibility for the decisions they make. We know that, unfortunately, Poland is still trading with Belarus. Polish taxpayers’ money is unfortunately being spent on business interests with Russia and these funds are then converted into missiles and drones against the Ukrainians.

If I were to pass on just one message to Polish and Western politicians, I would say: Please, don’t waste your fucking time. Don`t waste fucking time. Ukrainian soldiers are winning time not only for their families.

Ukrainian soldiers are winning time for the whole of Europe at the expense of their lives and health.

As a person whose forecasts have unfortunately come true over all these years, since 2014, I responsibly declare that Poland, the Baltic States in general, and the countries of Eastern Europe will be next if Ukraine falls. There cannot be any illusions. Polish readers and viewers can watch my old interviews, for example from 2015, when I was warning that aerial reconnaissance is very important, that this will be the biggest war of drones, and that Russia will come back sooner or later. I tried to wake up the Ukrainian public.

Ukraine is just the first blow. The best thing that Western politicians can do is to give Ukraine weapons and missiles,

while we still have people, because there are fewer and fewer people here.

This matter can now be solved with iron [i.e., weapons – ed.] at a significantly lower cost. Otherwise, they will be forced to solve it with the lives and health of their citizens. Just as we are, unfortunately, correcting our mistakes with hundreds of thousands of our people.

Negotiations with Russia?

You often say that war is a marathon sprint, when both endurance and speed are necessary. How do Ukraine’s partners view this war? Doesn’t it seem as if they would already want to sit Ukraine down at the negotiating table?

What negotiating table? Forget it. Negotiations can theoretically take place, but they will mean an even bigger war that is postponed, and a war on the whole of the European continent – not only in Ukraine.

Think ahead. I realize this is difficult and people don’t want to believe it. We are living in a world where there is Netflix, where we can go out to a restaurant in the evening, hire an Uber, where we can follow the news about progress with modern technologies, flights to Mars, anything. This world in which we go to work, pay with payment cards and in which we can buy anything we want online, is putting us to sleep. We believe it would never be possible for Russian soldiers to come to your house, drag you out of bed and shoot you in this same world.

But unfortunately this is what happened to the Ukrainians who fell asleep in the evening in Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol. They came home from work, watched Netflix, used Twitter. And in the morning, the Russian soldiers were already taking these people into the forest, stripping them and shooting them in their hundreds. This is the modern world. It’s time to finally wake up.

We can only talk about negotiations to prepare even better for war with Russia. Otherwise, we will pass the war on to our children, just as in Ukraine. Those who were 12–13 years old when my war started are already dead or wounded.

The Western world can pay a much lower price, the price of iron right now, and can save its own people in the future.

The politicians should think at least 5–6–7 years ahead. A modern war against Europe is already taking place.

At the economic and at the information level. This is a different dimension of war.

The axis of evil is already forming and will include such countries as China, North Korea, Iran and Belarus. Countries with authoritarian or totalitarian value systems. They will attack us, people with democratic values and freedoms, values of human rights and respect for people.

I have a simple question for Western politicians, including Polish ones:

What will you do if a swarm of hundreds of Russian attack drones strikes houses in border towns and even in Warsaw?

What will you do when you have to pull children out of the rubble, as the Ukrainians are doing now?

Putin will say these are not his drones, for example, that they came from Ukraine or another country. He will say that in the same way he spoke about Crimea: these are not my soldiers. The war will not start with tank and infantry attacks like in the Second World War.

The war is already in progress, and we shall see it when, God forbid – I want to be wrong in this forecast – one day Polish infrastructure, warehouses, Lithuanian hospitals, residential buildings or fuel stations are attacked by swarms of Russian attack drones that will carry 100 kg payloads of explosives.

These things are absolutely realistic; technologically, Russia can already do this today. And they will say it’s not them. And if then the pseudo-experts who are trying to tell us that we shouldn’t knock out Russian missiles say that we shouldn’t knock out drones and that we should suffer, this will then mean that we have lost, we as Europe, we as free Christian societies, as the Western world.

Does this mean that all these discussions about restoring the borders from 1991, about returning territory, these arguments should be forgotten for now and should the argument about preparing for war between Russia and NATO be presented?

Don’t listen to idiots, no matter what they call themselves – experts, MPs or ministers. It’s irrelevant what they have written on their doors, if their words did not come true previously, they are idiots who do not assume responsibility for their words.

Check what they said earlier, whether they predicted such a war – even in 2020. It’s mainly just noise, people say something and then everyone forgets what they said a week later. And they are already talking about another subject, also completely irresponsibly.

I’m prepared to listen to someone who, for example, said there would be a full-scale invasion. Someone whose words came true. There are literally dozens of people in Ukraine, military personnel, engineers and volunteers, who, three or four years ago, said there would be a full-scale invasion and that it would be a technological war and what the scenarios would be – and these scenarios are actually coming true now.

‘It’s naive to think that Putin will stop at the border.’

I’ll return again to the matter of drones. What are the differences on the front between the Ukrainian and Russian armies in terms of the number of drones? What is the situation?

It’s difficult to say because there are dozens of types of drones. If we were to try to measure the average temperature, Ukraine had an advantage in the summer/autumn of 2022, even in a part of 2023, but now, unfortunately, the advantage has been lost, because for every Ukrainian dollar spent on technology, Russia can easily invest 7–8–12 and more. War is always primarily mathematics.

Now it’s a war of resources. Unfortunately, people at war are also a resource.

The more resources we put into weapons technology, the fewer people will die. People are the weakest point, because when Ukraine runs out of people capable of fighting, capable of holding weapons in their hands, Russia will use that bridgehead to continue its offensive.

It’s naive to think that when Putin reaches the borders, God forbid, Lviv, he will stop and say: no, Poland or Lithuania do not interest me. After obtaining the largest country in Europe with five nuclear power plants, hundreds of factories, millions of people, after receiving such a resource. It’s naive to think that the NATO umbrella will protect against swarms of Russian drones.

The Russians now objectively have a many times greater advantage in drones and robotic systems, both air and ground, and of course also in missiles and artillery systems, and in aviation. They are dropping hundreds of KABs on us every day, levelling everything to the ground with multi-tonne bombs. So what are we talking about?

More than 3 million people are working in the defence industry in Russia; their economy has been switched to military production, and it is said that Europe should also do this. But for now, there’s no more than talk.

I hope the Polish politicians will understand the level of responsibility and use this time, which Ukrainian soldiers are now winning with the lives and health of hundreds of human beings for the whole of Europe every day, to prepare for this.

Reality has shown that a large proportion of Western weapons do not work. The real war is the biggest training ground and is showing real results.

I can responsibly say that some Western weapons work badly and are ineffective in conditions of Russian electronic warfare, in conditions of air superiority, in conditions of densely mined territory, etc.

This is a major illusion. Taxpayers’ money is being put into weapons and people think that these weapons will protect them, but they only bring results somewhere on training grounds in Germany near Munich in peacetime. In a real war, many weapons proved to be ineffective.

Aid to Ukraine is currently under discussion; it is declining because of various political arrangements and interests. Will Ukraine manage to become a self-sufficient country, at least in some specific military area?

Ukraine is primarily already a self-sufficient country because we have far fewer resources and are still stopping one of the most powerful armies in the world, which is fed by components, ammunition and other resources of the military and industrial complex of China, North Korea, Belarus, Iran and many other – let’s call them – terrorist forces.

We are doing a lot of work for the whole of Europe and we will do even more, but we need resources, we need to bring in weapons from the whole world. Together, this is how we can stop Russia from moving further into Europe.

I frequently have a problem with how to talk about the war outside Ukraine. We initially had an image of a fighting country that we wanted to help because it was surviving, but now this support is no longer so clear. Should another disaster take place to wake the world up again?

My advice to Western politicians: sleep on, you will wake up when a Russian officer knocks on your door.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.



Krystyna Garbicz

Jest dziennikarką, reporterką, „ambasadorką” Ukrainy w Polsce. Ukończyła studia dziennikarskie na Uniwersytecie Jagiellońskim. Pisała na portalu dla Ukraińców w Krakowie — UAinKraków.pl oraz do charkowskiego Gwara Media.