The ex-Russian soldier and British citizen taking a stand against Putin’s forces

The ex-Russian soldier and British citizen taking a stand against Putin’s forces
Arkadi fought for the Soviet Union during the Afghan war and later moved to London to start a new life. Now, as a proud resident of Kyiv, he is doing what he can to support his adopted country of Ukraine

Arkadi has grappled with the horrors of war before. For nearly two years he fought beneath the hot sun of Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of Soviets died in a Cold War conflict many Russians neither understand or cared about.

Now, more than 30 years on, Arkadi – or ‘Archie’ as he’s known – finds himself once again caught in the crosshairs. Except, this time, his allegiances have switched. A proud resident of Kyiv, Archie is preparing to resist his fellow Russians and doing what he can to support a city being pummelled by Vladimir Putin’s war machine.

“The advancing Russians do not realise that they will be shot at from every single window, from every single corner. It will be hell for them,” says Archie. “But there is no panic among us. Everyone is in high spirits and clear minds. We are staying calm. We are ready.”

Originally born in Russia, Archie has spent many years in Kyiv. He moved here as a teenager, to study foreign languages, and after being drafted to fight in the Soviet-Afghan war towards the end of the 80s, later returned to finish his studies.

He relocated to London in 1990, arriving just before Christmas. “Imagine me, a young boy from the Soviet Union, coming to London, at Christmas time,” he says. “It was just like ‘bang!’” As an avid music fan, he still remembers his first visit to the HMV shop on Oxford Street.

“It just blew my mind. It was so difficult in the Soviet Union to buy a simple tape. There were no western vinyls. My ex-wife knew I loved music so took me there. I walked in and just said: ‘Bloody hell!’”

By 1994, Archie had secured a British passport as a naturalised citizen. He had a wife, son, and new life in London. Later, after an amicable separation, he went on to live in many cities across the world – in Europe, North America and Southeast Asia – before eventually returning to Kyiv in 2009, where he’s remained ever since.

Archie has seen the city evolve from its Soviet Union days – “Not a different world, but a different galaxy from London in the 80s and 90s” – into what it is today: a thriving, cosmopolitan metropolis that fuses its Slavic past with the influences of its central European neighbours.

<p>Kyiv has been turned into a war zone under the Russians’ constant bombings</p>

Kyiv has been turned into a war zone under the Russians’ constant bombings

But as the symbolic heart of Ukraine, Kyiv is now in mortal danger. “My friends and I, we’ve lived here always understanding that war [with Russia] is possible, but no-one ever thought that they would start bombarding the city, the residential areas, killing civilians,” says Archie.

He is speaking from his flat on the 14th floor of a high-rise block close to the centre of the capital. Just days before, a similar-sized apartment building, close to Kyiv’s Zhuliany airport, was struck by a Russian missile, ripping a hole in several homes.

The bombing in Kyiv, and other major cities, has since intensified as Putin ramps up his efforts to break the resistance of the Ukrainian people. On Tuesday, two rockets struck the capital’s TV tower, knocking out some access to news and broadcasts. This was followed by reports of explosions in the city’s residential neighbourhoods.

These fusillades are attempting to soften Kyiv in advance of the 40 mile-long convoy of Russian armoured vehicles that is now just 15 miles north of the city. The conflict and suffering of the past week has been catastrophic – more than 2,000 civilians have died across Ukraine – but there are fears that this is only the beginning.

Even so, Archie is refusing to flee. Instead, he intends to move to the city’s outskirts, to avoid the indiscriminate shelling. “I’m not trying to sound brave, but I’ve seen it before,” he sys. “I don’t intend to leave because I believe I’m a lot more help here, rather than just sitting and writing posts on Facebook in London or somewhere else.”

He has gone above and beyond in his services to his local community, in which he’s helped to co-ordinate the collection of money for the Ukrainian army, alongside food and clothing for those residents struggling to access supplies.

In recent days, rather than take up space in the nearby shelters, which have been full with women and children, Archie has taken refuge in the corridor outside his flat, away from the windows and any potential explosions that could rock the outside of the building. “I’ve slept quite comfortably,” he laughs.

He has also been volunteering at a children’s heart surgery centre, which was moved underground to a bomb shelter once the missiles started raining down on the capital. “It is a 24/7 operation because they cannot run up and down with the kids on drips.”

<p>Hospital staff’s children are having to live in the underground surgery centre because their parents have to be on duty 24/7</p>

Hospital staff’s children are having to live in the underground surgery centre because their parents have to be on duty 24/7

The former Russian soldier, a man who witnessed and experienced the savagery of the Soviet-Afghan war, has been driving around the empty streets of Kyiv, moving from one supermarket to another in search of nappies, wet wipes, disposables sheets and water. “They need bottled water to make the feeding mixes for the kids, because the majority are basically new-born – so that’s what I’m doing,” he adds.

Drawing from his experience as an infantry reconnaissance in Afghanistan, Archie has shared some words of wisdom with the young Ukrainians who have been sent to the front lines to repel the invading Russian troops. He is reluctant to go into details, but gives up one small tip: “I told them not to light a cigarette at night, because it may well be your last one, as the snipers will get them.”

Swap the sand of the Afghan deserts for the snow and mud of Ukraine and, in many ways, there are parallels between the war that Archie fought, and the one engulfing his adopted country.

Then, as with now, Russian troops were force fed a diet of lies and propaganda that convinced them the invasion of Afghanistan was just.

“When I was drafted, at that point I thought we were fighting the right cause,” says Archie. “But then at the end of it, you realise what war is all about. You become disillusioned with it. Nine out of 10 boys who were there feel exactly the same – or felt, as many of them are now gone.”

His words will no doubt resonate with those Russian soldiers who have been thrust into a conflict they cannot fully comprehend. This is not a war of liberation and reunification, as the young men from Moscow, St Petersburg and beyond have been told; it is one of suppression and aggression, a war that many did not sign up for.

<p>The places Ukrainian refugees are seeking shelter</p>

The places Ukrainian refugees are seeking shelter

“It will be bloody and rough,” says Archie. “But I don’t think Ukrainians will surrender. The locals are absolutely up to it. And even if the regular Russian troops move into Kyiv or some major cities, they will definitely feel not just uncomfortable, they will feel threatened all the time. Any time a Russian soldier walks out on the street, he will be in the crosshairs.”

If the worst comes to worse, Archie may well be forced to arm himself, break the bonds of nationhood and take aim at the Russian soldiers stalking the streets of Kyiv. He desperately hopes that it will not come to this, that Putin’s troops will lay down their guns and return to their lives in Russia.

But there is no knowing what comes next in this war, he concedes. “Putin is beyond any limits. He is a schizophrenic,” says Archie. “He sincerely believes in what he says and what he does, because he lives in a completely different world from ours. But we are the ones paying the price.”

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here.