Taming the Phobia, Evacuating Cargo 200, Love: How Service in the Armed Forces Changed the Life of a Plast Member

Maksym Potapchuk, a public figure, head of the Kramatorsk branch of Plast, and founder of the Trava UA social business, known not only in Donetsk oblast but also in Ukraine and abroad, is currently defending the country.

When Maksym Potapchuk’s post about his decision to join the Armed Forces appeared on Facebook a year ago, it was a total shock to all his friends and acquaintances. After all, he was an intelligent, peace-loving man, who worked with children, successfully implemented public projects, and embodied the universal good. He got almost 300 comments then, and most of them were as follows:

«You will do 100 times more for Ukraine in civilian life than in the army. Don’t be stupid. The army is not for you. I will call our people in the ministry and you will be sent back. We need you here!».

He read the comments and comforted his friends. He scolded those who actually tried to call high offices, called them «cholera» but then forgave everyone, «I know you love me and always try to help)) My caring demons)» They tried to talk him out of this for a long time; it lasted more than a month but he took the oath, and everyone finally accepted the fact.

We also were surprised by Maksym’s decision, as he seemed to be the least suitable for military service among all public figures in Donetsk oblast. But this man has dispelled all the doubts and has been serving in the assault troops for a year. Today he is guarding his native region in the «hot spot» of Donetsk oblast. And all those who tried to talk him out are now supporting and helping his unit.

«Vchasno» met with Maksym to find out how the service in the Armed Forces had changed his life.

He had made his way to the Armed Forces, though the medics were against

— Max, which challenges did you face after having decided to serve in the Armed Forces?

- I could not serve due to my health condition. During the events on the Maidan, my back was injured, and after a gunshot wound to the head, I had to have surgery. The blood vessels were sutured together by doctors of the Donetsk regional traumatology. The story about this surgery aired in the news; that’s how my parents found out about the injuries. A neighbor, who was the first to see the news on TV, told my parents everything. So, with all of my diagnoses, it was impossible to get into the Armed Forces. Thus, I decided to get rid of them and went to the medical commission. I was taken aback by the attitudes of local doctors. They asked, «Maksym, why do you want to kill people?» The elderly nurse took me by the hand and, like a fortune teller, began to run a finger over my palm, then she said, «I can see for sure that you mustn’t serve.» I was shocked by all of this. But I thought, if I started arguing, they wouldn’t put a needed signature. That’s why I waited till the document was signed and then had a discussion with them. I had to raise my voice. The doctor tried to provoke me to get into a fight, but I pulled myself together because I really wanted to join the Armed Forces.

I thought about girls while skydiving

— Many people thought you could be useful if you served, for example, somewhere in the headquarters or worked with documents. Which troops did you join?

- When I decided to join the Armed Forces, I started looking for a combat brigade. I wanted to be with Plast members that were on the front line. Almost 500 Plast members are currently serving in the Armed Forces. I was offered training for officers but decided to start from the very beginning as an ordinary soldier to link this experience to an officer’s career later. So, I chose a team with my friends in it. And it was a brigade of paratroopers. They said, «Okay, but you have to go skydiving.» And I replied, «No problems», though I had never jumped before, and I got dizzy even at a small height. Well, I thought it was about time to overcome the phobia.

— How was your first parachute jump? Did you manage to tame the phobia immediately or in a while?

- We were brought to the training area at five in the morning; a helicopter was already waiting. I had one condition — not to be pushed before the jump. After all, many people needed a push the first time. I jumped myself. I wondered what my reaction would be to the first jump. And here I am — skydiving and thinking about the girls — which of my acquaintances to call first to share my emotions and tell that I did it, and I’m alive and well. So, I’m flying and going through the list of girls in my head. I even wanted to call my ex, and then I thought she would reply, «Potapchuk! What the heck? I’ve been through hell in the war since 2014, and here you are with your parachute!» I decided not to call. I didn’t think about the parachute ring as much as I did about girls" (laughs).

So, I keep flying till I notice a flower field under my feet, there I saw thyme. Before the war, I was in the herbal tea business. It’s incredible, but nature was with me at that moment. I landed and walked across the field, and I was so happy as if I was in Turkey on vacation. I called my business colleagues and shared these emotions with them. And I’ve never thought of my phobia since.

I had smoked for the first time in my life when I started dealing with cargo 200

— Your current service is held in one of the hottest spots on the front line of Donetsk oblast. Your positions are under constant fire every day. Which direction are you responsible for?

- When I first got to the front, I was sent to the trenches right away. After a while, I was transferred to deal with cargo 200 and the missing. I learned to work on the spot. My brother-in-arms, who had relevant experience, explained what to do. We find the body and take a photo of it, documents, and chevrons. Our first task is to understand who it is, to establish identity. Then we send the bodies to the morgue. We also collect information about the missing.

— This is emotionally hard, not everyone can work with it. How do you handle everything?

- It is really hard. Some people refuse to do this. After all, you must look at bodies without heads, arms, legs, or with some terrible injuries. But I did not have any physical rejection. We do what we need to do, and then we sit down and smoke. I smoked for the first time in my life when I started dealing with cargo 200. I held on for a long time, and all my friends were betting about when I would start. Well, this is when I lit a cigarette.

When a hundred people write that they are praying for you, it does not help keep a positive attitude

— You are a very sociable person. And even despite the load, you have time to be active in social media. Who supports you?

- Plastuns from the Kramatorsk center, and also from all over Ukraine and abroad support me a lot. They even came up with a callsign «Char», short for «Magician» in Ukrainian. They send goodies, and drawings, and find the necessary equipment. Everyone is very friendly. On May 9, we received fresh Easter cakes from the Vasylkiv Plast members. The guys were very grateful. There are a lot of supportive comments in messages and under the posts.

— What kind of support do the boys from the front line need the most?

- Support is very important. But not everything gives strength and positivity. I even made a list of what is better not to write to guys on the front line. Don’t ask when the war is over. No one knows when this will happen. And when a hundred people write that they are praying for you, it does not help keep a positive attitude; it drives you crazy. Or some constantly ask whether it’s time to leave Donetsk, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and other cities. And when upon getting holiday greetings, you come across postcards written in Russian — this is also not supportive. And you need to understand that there is not always time to reply to all the messages. If you write something, it is better to either send some hearts or write something funny, but I think it is even better to call once and simply have a talk.

I proposed to the girl, which surprised her

— Max, which changes in your life have become the most important for you? What do you plan to do after the war?

- The most important thing is that I have recently proposed to a girl. It is Olena Rozvadovska from the 49th Separate Infantry Battalion. We met on the Maidan, then became friends and wrote to each other. I value freedom, will, intelligence and independence in women. All of this is about her. So, a couple of weeks ago I decided to propose. I ordered a necklace and bought flowers online. Plastuns from Kyiv were my messengers; they delivered a gift and flowers to Olena’s home. She was very surprised. But the most important thing for me was her answer «Yes».

I am very happy! We are planning a wedding in June. We will get married in our brigade on the front line. We are well aware that afterward, we will be together for a few days and then will be apart again.

I don’t know how much longer the war will last, but I really want a family, children, and coziness. Let all this be at a distance for now, but it will surely happen!

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