Lawyer Petro Varyshko: “I don’t really like parades, but I would be happy to walk around Red Square in a box”

Russia's war against Ukraine did not simply divide the lives of 40 million Ukrainians into "before" and "after". Many people now live two lives – one part of which is spent at the front, the other in short breaks in the relatively peaceful part of Ukraine. From the first days of the war, the lawyers of the Kyiv region began to defend our Motherland, changing their ties to automatic rifles and their suits to uniforms. So it is not for nothing that among the members of the Bar Council of the Kyiv region there were increasingly thoughts of starting a project that would tell about the fate and history of lawyers in the war. The first with whom we talked about patriotism, civic consciousness, fears and humanity, ultimately, the legal profession during the war, was the lawyer, member of RAKO Petro Varyshko . He returned from Severodonetsk only a few days ago, but he agreed to answer all questions frankly.

  • Peter Vasyliovych , let's go back to February 24… The first decisions that were made, what were your first actions?

On February 24, I woke up at 03:40 to a noise. My bed was next to a large window, so the hearing was pretty good. And although I live near Zhulyany airport, I immediately understood that it was not the sound of an airplane. As soon as I thought about it, my wife woke up and asked: "What is this?" And as soon as I answered that it seems to be a rocket, after 10-15 seconds there was an explosion. That's how I understood that the war had come to our house. However, I want to note that the war in Ukraine has been going on since 2014. And I could get to the front much earlier. For myself, I made a decision while still in the eighth Afghan "hundred" on the Maidan. But eight years ago, my friends convinced me that at that time I would be more useful not at the front, but as part of the TSK (Temporary Special Commission for the Verification of Judges). So I decided to stay, but as a volunteer I constantly went to Aidar. On February 24, it became finally clear that I had no other choice but to take up arms. It couldn't be, because I lived with it since childhood, my grandfather was repressed, he fought for Ukraine, so the issue of civilizational choice was resolved for me a long time ago. There was an interesting moment in my life, once in 2011 I helped a Polish journalist conduct an interview with Levko Lukyanenko, one of the authors of the Act of Proclamation of Independence of Ukraine. And then, after talking with a prominent Ukrainian, my wife asked him, what should we do, what will happen next? To which Levko Hryhorovych replied that in 1991 independence came to us easily, like a gift. And we will be able to fix it only through blood, which will be a lot of our blood. He was staring into the water…

  • What were your first actions, did you join TrO or ZSU?

First, I came to the Bar Council of the Kyiv region, where we discussed a number of urgent issues. At that time, I even suggested forming a lawyer's unit. But although all RAKO members responded favorably to this idea, its implementation did not work out due to a lack of time and a slight panic that was felt in everything. It was easier to join TrO. Which I did together with some of my friends, joining the ranks of the 204th battalion of the Kyiv Military District.

  • Do you know of many fellow lawyers at the front?

Of course, no one keeps statistics or coordination on this issue. But I personally know dozens of lawyers of the Kyiv region, and not only, who are currently in military service. Moreover, there was a case when I met our lawyer colleague already at the front.

  • We have just (at the time of recording the interview) returned from Luhansk Oblast, Severodonetsk. Did you get there as part of the TrO?

It just so happened that I got to Severodonetsk as part of another military unit. I can't say much, but this is a separate branch of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, which performs other separate tasks. Moreover, when being selected for this unit, what was more important was not so much previous military skills (which I undoubtedly had since Soviet times), but moral qualities and the strength of the nervous system. That is, are you able to withstand a certain type of load, etc. I didn't get there right away, because, as I said before, I was a company sergeant in another battalion, and I was more involved in preparing people for war (after the first acute phase) than participating in battles. Many of my friends were there, doing some work that was highly appreciated. So they were asked to enter a separately created assault unit that would deal with difficult issues. I passed various interviews, including through a polygraph. And in the end I was also taken.

  • How unusual was it to pass the polygraph?

To be honest, I wasn't worried, even though I was going through it for the first time in my life. But why should I worry, I was neither a corruptor nor a traitor. I never even planned to leave Ukraine. I will say even more, my wife and my daughters also went to serve in the TrO from March 2.

  • In your case, moral and psychological qualities played a role in sending you to the front. And yet, how important is military experience now?

Of course, such experience is needed, and it helps, that's right. But the fact is that this experience is achieved very quickly, in fact in a matter of days. Because when you are "spanked" 24 hours a day, you either start to accept it, or you don't. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that two things are decisive. The first is how psychologically and morally stable you are. Second, do you really love your homeland and accept this land. And this is not pathos, because love for the native land is not something ephemeral, it is your family, it is your street, it is your friends, neighbors, etc. and you, I repeat, either accept it or not. For example, if you are at the zero point, then you understand whether or not you want the situation with Kyiv region to repeat itself. If you don't want it, you have to understand that you have to do what you have to do and that's it. I do not believe that anyone at the front is not afraid, and I can say that I am also afraid. But you forget about fear when you do your work, then you are afraid again, and so on in a circle. That is why I say that the psychological state is important first of all. It is important, I think, not to be afraid to admit to yourself that you are afraid, but not in the sense of animal fear, but because you are simply afraid, because it is natural, and you do certain things that need to be done, for example, dig a nice trench, make a dugout , really think about what can be done to protect yourself and your fellow citizens.

  • Did you manage to see these "soldiers" from Russia with your own eyes?

This time there were no direct clashes, when we entered the facility and we had a silent mode, we were watching the enemy, they walked past our premises, without armor, without helmets, so imposing… But not for long!

  • In addition to purely psychological pressure, when you first see a tank or "arrival", it is definitely something that either breaks you or , on the contrary , hardens you . And is there any informational noise that interferes, for example, someone is spreading panic, reading too much social networks, etc.?

Perhaps there is such a thing, but it is difficult for me to give a thorough answer to this question. First of all, when we go "to the object", we leave our phones behind, and to be honest, we don't have time for them. But in any case, we are not even talking about social networks, so a short SMS to relatives back home, no more. Secondly, in some places there really is a complete vacuum, and the phones just don't work there. Although for some global, strategic needs, we have the Internet (in our case – through the "Starlink" systems).

  • Then I have another question: does anything personally surprise you now in relatively peaceful Kyiv. For example, what do they write and say about the war and the Armed Forces?

I don't know about my siblings, but since I came back, I have never turned on the TV, and never sat down to read the news like I used to. It's not that I'm not interested, I just don't believe what they write. I understand some things because I know the situation from different angles and what my family or friends told me on the news is different from reality. So I will answer yes. There is information that is presented in a distorted way, and through which they try to manipulate the consciousness of Ukrainians. It's annoying and takes up time I'd rather spend on more important things.

  • Have you had a situation since February 24 when the lawyer profession " did not let go "? Maybe someone wanted legal advice etc?

The profession could not "let go" (smiles), because a lawyer is forever. I also have a claimant – "Advokat", although I don't really like it. In the unit I'm currently in, I've even been told that another group also has a warrior with a similar call sign. But I don't know if he is really a lawyer by profession or only as a plaintiff. Sometimes he participated in the meetings of the Bar Council of the Kyiv region, voting online on certain issues. But, of course, he did not provide consultations. Not to that now.

  • Now you are in Kyiv on rotation. So will you return to a "peaceful" profession or to the service?

I think that in the near future a peaceful life will not shine for me. There is a contract, so there are only a few days to rest, and then it's back to the fight. Actually, we were prepared and formed for this.

  • How did your family perceive your choice, and what words of support do they say? Do you discuss their fears and anxieties?

Undoubtedly, I think they have both fears and a desire for me to stay. But I had no conversation on this topic with my wife or children. I have a wise wife, and she knows that if I make a decision for myself, it will be so. The only thing I told my daughters was that "tomorrow may never come, so please take care of yourself and mind what you are doing." Everyone understood what I meant… I am aware that I may not return. The only thing that makes me happy and happy about this whole situation is that if it happens, I just won't know about it. But I fear captivity more than death, to be honest.

  • There are very patriotic people who remain in Ukraine. And there are those who go abroad. From a professional point of view, what is your attitude to the bills that provide for criminal liability, for example, for late return from abroad, for trying to go abroad using various schemes, etc. Are these effective means of " retaining " those who do not want to fight?

As a lawyer and advocate, I believe that these laws are unnecessary. Although in my youth I was much more categorical about such matters, but over time my view has changed. I realized that, firstly, not all people can be heroes. Secondly, the one who talks about his heroism can turn out to be an absolute nobody, a coward. And a person who in a peaceful life does not look very determined and courageous, in fact, can turn out to have an unshakable, solid inner core. Therefore, everyone has to make a decision for himself. But I would make a certain distinction. The first moment. I believe that the responsibility should first of all be borne by those who illegally left the country while holding a state or electoral office. That is, if you are a conditional official and you escaped from Ukraine during the war, you do not need to be deprived of your liberty or subject to other criminal liability. Such people simply need to be deprived of the right to hold public positions once and for all. I don't see the point of criminal responsibility, because what is criminal responsibility for? Because a person is a coward? Is it because the country's leadership has conventionally appointed a person who does not meet the moral or psychological qualities? They knew about it, they just turned a blind eye to it. They understood that these people are not patriots of Ukraine in the full sense of the word. But calling them enemies is also wrong. The second moment, and it is very painful. Not all residents of eastern Ukraine are patriotic. Some of these people openly hate Ukraine. They betray us. Almost every second apartment, where we stayed or entered, has Russian state paraphernalia, Russian rubles, etc., there is nothing Ukrainian in these houses, at all. And they look at you like a wolf. So, regarding this category of our citizens, I will note that we cannot expel them, because it is not constitutional, and we are a state governed by the rule of law. So, if it were up to me what decision to make, I would simply deprive such people of the right to occupy certain positions, I would deprive them of both active and passive voting rights. I would make them citizens with limited status. However, I am not a legislator, but a lawyer. And these are just my personal thoughts.

  • Then let's forget about the "legal aspect". As a citizen, what is your position : is there still a chance under the conditions of military success to socially reintegrate, so to speak, completely "Ukrainize" modern Donetsk region?

I have often answered this question. But conditionally, for myself, I divide such people into two groups. The first includes those who received a passport of a citizen of Ukraine simply because they were territorially located on our land in 1991. By their origin and outlook, they are Russians, and they will never be Ukrainians. The more we try to return them, to do good for them, the more they will sit on our heads, the more they will spit and betray us. At the same time, they will do this, even if they are not only in the conditional Donetsk or Luhansk, but also in Kyiv, in my native Ivano-Frankivsk, and even abroad. But they will never go to Russia, they understand very well that there is simply a bottom there. But due to their Horde, herd consciousness, they will continue to hate Ukraine. So, once again, if the decision were up to me personally, I would do everything possible to create the conditions under which these people would simply leave our country. I don't want to put them behind bars, let alone shoot them, I'm against it. Even after this war, I am glad that I have no "blood lust". When I returned home from the front, I asked myself the question, have I changed, how will I react? Thank God, the psyche turned out to be stronger. Therefore, the only thing I want is to maximally create all the conditions for such citizens to leave Ukraine once and for all. And it's not about people trying to preserve their national identity, I don't see anything wrong with that, the problem is that they just hate the country they live in. Regarding the second group. These citizens are Ukrainians by origin, but the scales of their scales are constantly swaying, because for 30 years the state has ignored its duty to create conditions for the formation of conscious citizens for whom patriotism and love for Ukraine are not empty words. And it's not a matter of whether people wear Vyshyvanka or read Shevchenko, but whether their big and small deeds help Ukraine to develop. If you are a businessman, you should be aware of the importance of paying taxes (the question of where and for what they go is a separate topic), official employment, etc. If you are an official, then you should think globally and understand whether your actions will benefit the country and its citizens in the future. Therefore, there is no need to fight with those who do not perceive Ukraine as a state, are not ready to defend it not only at the front, but in everyday life. Because citizens should be aware of such things, and this is not formed in one day, unfortunately.

  • It is absolutely natural when people are ready to protect their own home, there are no questions here. But at the moment, what do you see as the ultimate military goal? Restore the borders " to the state at the time of February 24 "? Return all territories, including Crimea? And return precisely by military or diplomatic means? Miller

I am convinced that the option of returning the borders only to the state of February 24 is not considered at all, because it is an option of surrender. This may be just my dreams and wishes, but I will honestly say that I am now absolutely consciously and seriously discussing the need for Ukrainian troops to land in Crimea with my friends and comrades. This is the first. Secondly, we are talking about the fact that the Belgorod and Rostov regions of Russia are also ethnic Ukraine, which was taken away, and it must be returned as well. In my opinion, the Sea of Azov should be the internal sea of Ukraine. Point. And as much as it depends on me, I would set only such a task. Or, for example, although I don't really like parades, I would walk around Red Square in a "box" with great pleasure. I would not like us to mercilessly bomb Russian cities, as they are doing to ours. There is a military necessity for some kind of action, but the Rosyns are not interested in it, they are purposefully destroying house after house. I have no pity for the Russians, and I believe that they should all bear responsibility, which should primarily manifest itself in the destruction of Russia as a state, because it should not exist, it is evil. And I am against the return of the borders only to the state until February 24. If we do this, then we will transfer the responsibility to our children and grandchildren, and they will once again prove their right to exist. This issue should be put to an end forever. And of course, I believe in diplomacy and understand that it helps to solve a lot of things in life. But in this case, I perceive our diplomacy only in the sense that they will dictate the terms of Russia's capitulation. I do not perceive anything else and do not want to perceive it.

  • We hear a lot about "Western" aid to the Ukrainian army . " Starlink " itself confirms this. And yet, how many people at the front are aware that we are getting everything we need?

It is difficult for me to comment on this, because in this situation I am a "little soldier" who performs his function, and I do not take part in solving such issues. But you need to understand that you have to fight with something, not with your bare hands. Using the example of my unit, I will say that we are completely abandoning the old Soviet weapons, we are switching to weapons according to NATO standards. Even if you take our food rations, and I have something to compare them with, I can rate them at 5 points out of five. So I know that if there is no lendlease and other help, we will not just have a hard time, but a very hard time. We will simply die heroically, but there will be no sense in this.

  • I know more than a dozen lawyers who are not at the front , but are actively engaged in volunteering and try to meet all the needs that the military applies to them as much as possible . Have you felt this kind of support?

I personally did not have to deal with the volunteer work of lawyers, but it, I mean volunteer support in general, is so powerful, great volunteer work that I don't even want to comment, because I am afraid of underestimating it. I am very sorry that the state, the authorities, do not celebrate these people at the level at which it would be necessary. Due to our "closed" specifics, we do not cross paths with volunteers, but we see that parcels are brought to us. I can give such an example. On our first outings, we lost a certain number of cars, but in a short time we had other cars, not new, sometimes old, but they were there! Then the situation happened again, and again people helped us, I think some even just gave away their cars. Our, let's call it that, fleet is 90% full, but I know people who are concerned about this issue. Even the same RAKO is trying to purchase and transfer the car to us.

  • By the way , even earlier, the Council of Advocates of the Kyiv region made decisions to help lawyers whose homes were bombed in Irpen, Buch. At the same time, the Council, as a self-governing body of lawyers, cannot provide charitable assistance, and , relatively speaking, in peacetime, tax officials can come . Does this bother lawyers now, or will we deal with all the problems after the war?

It is difficult to comment. But I know that we at RAKO have done and will continue to do the right things. There is a healthy atmosphere in our Council, we have common sense and a hundred percent sense of each other's elbow. And tomorrow will be what will be tomorrow. If this or that person needs help, we will do it. A person must always come first, especially a person who has everything left. It is our duty to help those lawyers who need it, especially if there is such an opportunity. You know, there is a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them. Now is the time to help. So I personally don't really care about potential tax problems, I'm even ready to take responsibility for it. If we make one individual lawyer even a little bit happy, then everything was done right, nothing else matters. Today is the "C" time for the country, either we will be a nation in the full sense of the word, and a state, or not. History has proven that we are a healthy, adequate, full-fledged nation, and the state, in the person of its institutions, through which it implements its functions, must do everything so that even if formally some violations are found, it is the state that must be the first to get off the path of formalism and bureaucracy. That is, the state must preserve common sense even after the war. People should be sure that under any circumstances the state is ready to help, which means that people will be ready to help and not be afraid of any formal violations of the law.

  • And finally, name two things, from February 24 until now, that have surprised you the most, both in a positive and a negative sense?

On a positive note, perhaps, the fact that political scientists and all conventional experts who talked about the apathy of the country and its people were absolutely wrong about the desire of Ukrainians to defend their own country. On the negative side, it is surprising, but still surprising that our government, the government itself, continues to steal, continues to solve its own personal issues, especially regarding elections and re-elections, etc. I just can't understand it. Is it so difficult, having taken a position, simply to put the interests of one's country above politics and one's own interests during the war? But that's it, let's not go into it.

  • What is the first thing you will do after winning, do you have a dream?

You just want victory, victory in the context of sitting down and understanding that for the nearest historical time the enemy is suppressed, defeated, and your state has the opportunity to move forward and develop. Because we have a wonderful country and wonderful people. And moreover, I am sure, no matter how pathetic it sounds, that God forbid this situation happened to other European countries, they would not stand it.

Sergey Kozlov spoke

Legal news of Ukraine