The volunteer sharpshooter is a symbol of the adaptability of the Ukrainian armed forces.
The Ukrainian sniper Andriy takes a deep breath and covers his face with a foldout mat before firing.
To successfully squeeze the trigger, he explains, “I need to be absolutely relaxed, to find a location where I will not move the gun.” The truth is, I don’t give any of that any thought. I guess you could call it a vacuum.
Boxes of ammunition, printed charts, a large stapler, and a roll of tape form a semicircle around his head. A monitor in the form of a watch box is strapped to his wrist. This is a ballistics calculator that takes environmental factors like wind into account. Bees buzzing about his head and scope, but he pays them no mind.
After a prolonged delay, he finally utters the Ukrainian word for “shot.” Crack! Those unfamiliar to the sounds of combat are jolted into action by a noise reminiscent to a starting gun used in sporting events. Andriy, who recently relocated to Western Europe from Ukraine in search of engineering opportunities, may have been surprised by the cacophony six months ago.
His story is much unlike that of the numerous Ukrainians who have come home to the war after living abroad, been yanked out of their comfortable routines and forced to adopt the innovative, if improvised, tactics that have stalled the much bigger Russian army.
Andriy is originally from Bucha, a neighborhood in Kyiv that took a lot of damage when the Russians invaded. In what the United Nations has called possible war crimes, hundreds of civilians were killed, with their remains dumped in mass graves or left where they had been shot.
The sniper, who is both tall and fluent in English, was alone at a makeshift firing range outside of Kyiv when he spoke to the AP; he was expecting to work out some kinks in his rifle through trial and error in the hours leading up to his next deployment.
He preferred to go by his first name alone, and he requested that certain aspects of his civilian life be kept secret.
Andriy hurried back to his home, flying to Budapest before arranging a 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) overland route, which included paying a “huge sum of money” to a driver ready to do the perilous trip eastward. Within a matter of days, he had joined the fierce battle around Kyiv, earning the moniker “Samurai” among the fighting men.
Through military connections, he was able to purchase his own equipment, including a sniper rifle built in the United States, and begin training with a special forces instructor.
While he can’t provide any specifics about his operations, Andriy says the Ukrainian military takes great pleasure in its adaptability and uses a wide variety of personnel abilities to increase its combat versatility.
Since initiating the invasion in February, Russia has more than doubled the land it controls in Ukraine, to nearly 20% of the country. However, Andriy shares the hope of many fellow Ukrainians that triumph is achievable after the winter.
The prevalence of hunting guns in Ukraine and his enjoyment of taking on the role of a sniper in video games both contributed to his decision to pursue a career in sniping.