THE HISTORY OF CROATS IN DEFENSE OF UKRAINE BY CROATIAN VOLUNTEER OF THE "AZOV" REGIMENT DENIS ŠELER (PENA)
As a friendly country, Croatia and Croats from the beginning of events known as the Maidan fully supported the right of the Ukrainian people to decide their own destiny. A group of Croats, mostly veterans of Croatian Homeland War back in February of 2014 held meetings related to the eventual departure to Ukraine, however, it was impossible to get in touch with people in Ukraine.
The establishment of the battalion opened the possibility of going to Ukraine, and several of us sent an application to join "AZOV" to those responsible for the coordination of the foreign fighters. But we did not get an answer and only in autumn we were told that the foreigners were accepted into the ranks of the battalion.
My humble person and Ivo Dumančić decided to take matters into our own hands and head towards Ukraine. We organized a series of meetings in order to collect the funds for the journey, purchase the equipment and gather aid that we intended to bring to Ukraine. For this purpose I sold my car, because the cost of travels, training and equipment was enormous.
Thanks to Olena Semenyaka we got specific information and contacts and made the final decision on the departure.
We arrived in Ukraine in two groups, separated: one group drove in Ivo Dumančić's car, whereas another group traveled in a minibus full of medical supplies and military equipment that we subsequently divided amongst other volunteers of "AZOV."
Ukrainians Vortex and Anton helped us to overcome big problems during crossing the Ukrainian border and showed the direct road to the headquarters of "AZOV" in Kyiv where we were warmly greeted and accepted without asking. Further Mikael Skillt took us under his supervision - the work of the coordinator of the foreign fighters is not easy.
Due to the unfortunate turn of events (death in the family, family problems, blood infection...) only two of us were able to fit in the combat schedule of "AZOV." At first in Shyrokyne was deployed the fellow "Donbas" battalion. Several times we had a big luck in the situations when only fate was on our side.
Soon afterwards in Mariupol was formed a reconnaissance group which we associate today with the "Azov" regiment and which has become known in other battalions that were defending Shyrokyne under the name of the "Big Five."
Respect of the fellow soldiers cannot be bought; it has to be earned. That's why our hearts are filled with pride today - because we proved that we are not mere tourists, but people who came here truly to help.
In May, another group came from Croatia and joined the battle in the sector M till the end of May. For personal reasons, a part of the group had to leave Azov after two months of struggle, but others are still here.
Unfortunately, because of the political intrigue on the part of Ukrainian officials Ivo Dumančić was denied entry to Ukraine after his return from a holiday in Croatia. We thank the command of "AZOV" and personally Andriy Biletsky for everything they did to bring Duma back to Mariupol; however, it is obvious that the volunteers have become a thorn in the eye for some corrupt politicians.
Currently Croatia is ready to send another group of people who wish to participate in the defense of Ukraine as the members of the elite unit "AZOV" and quickly head towards Mariupol after the initial training in Kyiv.
In addition to the participation in the struggle, we are trying to spread the truth about Ukraine in our country and jointly with the volunteers in Croatia collect aid for the soldiers and for the children of the deceased. This summer, thanks to the efforts of Croatian volunteers more than 600 Ukrainian children spent 14 days on vacation in Croatia. Accommodation and food were provided by the Croatian Ukrainians who are the essential part of our humanitarian chain.
Croats will continue assisting Ukraine, either as fighters, or as humanitarian volunteers. Ukrainians see our brothers in action, and we are proud to be a part of the events which one day will be written in the history book in golden letters.
I'm proud to be a part of our "AZOV" brotherhood, proud and loyal to our Azovian brothers and sisters.
In the end I would like to thank people who helped us after our arrival to Ukraine, with whom we became great friends, with whom we still collaborate in the organization of aid delivery from Croatia and who are at our disposal for 24 hours.
THANK YOU: Eugen Karas, Volodymyr Karas, Anton Baranovskiy, Sergey Listopad, Igor Zagrebelnyi, Snjezana Vorona, Valentina Kustov, Anna Garcia, Alla Martyniuk, Elvis Simunovic, Olena Semenyaka, Genia, Dasha, Tetyana Burianova, Inga, Irina Chegrintseva, Inna Litus, and others.
INTERVIEW WITH DENIS ŠELER, NICKNAME PENA
- Hello Denis, tell us a bit about yourself.
- My name is Denis Šeler, I'm 39 years old, born and raised in Zagreb, Croatia. In my youth I was a member of the special units of the Croatian Army, participated in the Croatian war, was one of the leaders of fan groups of FC "Dinamo Zagreb," was the company owner. Divorced, father of 11 year old son. A member of the "Azov" regiment, the scout.
- When and why did you decide to fight on the Ukrainian side?
- I have personally followed the situation in Ukraine before the Maidan, too. Unfortunately, since I ran the company and had the contracted work, I could not come to Ukraine at that time, but I tried to convey real and true information about the developments in Ukraine to the Croatian people. I started the website in support of Ukraine and brought together people who are willing to fight for Ukraine. In May of 2014 I sent a request for admission to "AZOV" to the person who at that time was in charge of the foreign volunteers. As there was no answer, I simply went to Ukraine with a group of people, knocked at the doors of "AZOV," and, well, the rest of the story you know.
- What are your impressions about Ukraine and thoughts about its future?
- First of all, and it may sound strange under current conditions, I am delighted with Ukraine, a beautiful country, very rich in natural resources, and I think that Ukrainian state headed by true and honest people can become very stable, powerful, economically strong and comfortable country. Ukraine does not need the colonialist EU or Russia: Ukraine is large enough to be sovereign, it can and must stay on its own path.
- Share with us your own observations about the war in Ukraine and the role of "AZOV" in it.
I am proud to be a part of "AZOV," a small wheel in a big mechanism, - in one great brotherhood of brave men. I hope that by my work, knowledge, behavior demonstrated in the fighting I made at least a minor contribution to the just struggle of the Ukrainian people.
"AZOV" is growing day by day. "AZOV" heroically fought, held all the lines of defense, kept the strategically important city of Mariupol and achieved the unthinkable. I believe that "AZOV" is well run, has a vision for the future and becomes a serious military unit of the experienced warriors and newcomers who volunteered to become one of the latter.
Transformation into a real military unit is a difficult but necessary process in order to become even more effective, deadly and prepared force on the basis of acquired combat experience, training and education. I think that "AZOV" will become a strike force of the Ukrainian military - very fast, efficient and lethal.
I see my future in the regiment and I am glad that my knowledge and experience can be transmitted to the new, young fellows in order to save their lives and make them maximally effective in action. It is an honor to be here with my Azovian brothers, because "AZOV" is not only troops, "AZOV" is the brotherhood of brave men, brothers and sisters... Sincere patriots.