A volunteer sniper embodies the multipurpose army of Ukraine

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Before shooting, Ukrainian sniper Andriy buries his face in a folding mat, breathing slowly and deliberately.

“I need to be completely relaxed, to find a place where I won’t move the gun when I pull the trigger,” he says. ” I do not think about anything. It’s a kind of void.

In a semi-circle around his head are boxes of bullets, printed maps, a sturdy stapler and a roll of duct tape.

Strapped to her wrist is a monitor, which is shaped like a jewelry box. It is a ballistic calculator to take into account the wind and other surrounding conditions. Bees constantly circling its head and litter are ignored.

After a long pause, he utters the word “shot” in Ukrainian.

Crack! A sound similar to that of a starting pistol used at sporting events produces a reflexive jolt in people unaccustomed to war.

Six months ago, the noise might have come as a surprise to Andriy, who had moved to Western Europe to pursue a career in engineering.

His experience resembles that of many Ukrainians who returned home in war, abruptly removed from civilian life to adopt methods of combat – modern but also improvised – that held back the much larger Russian military.

Andriy comes from Bucha, a neighborhood near Kyiv airport that was hammered during the Russian advance. Hundreds of civilians have been killed there, bodies found in mass graves or left where they were shot in what the United Nations describes as potential war crimes.

Tall and fluent in English, the sniper spoke to The Associated Press while practicing alone at an informal shooting range near Kyiv, hoping to fix some issues with his weapon at the hours of trial and error before its next deployment.

He only asks to be identified by his first name and that certain details of his civil life remain confidential.

Andriy returned home, catching a flight to Budapest and arranging a 1,200 kilometer (750 mile) overland itinerary that included paying ‘a large sum of money’ to a driver willing to make a risky trip to is. Within days, he had joined the fierce fighting around Kyiv, adopting the wartime nickname “Samurai”.

He purchased his own equipment and an American-made sniper rifle, and began receiving training from a special forces instructor, connected through friends in the military.

“Early in the morning of February 24, I received a call from my mother. She lives in Bucha and told me the war had started. She could hear helicopters, planes, bombings and explosions. I decided to come back,” he said.

Although not authorized to discuss details of its operational activity, Andriy describes the Ukrainian military as a force that prides itself on flexibility, harnessing a wide range of skills from its personnel to become more versatile in combat.

Snipers, he said, are often used to scout Russian military positions for artillery targeting.

“I also gained experience in tactical medicine, with drones and shooting assault rifles,” he said.

Military specialists are encouraged to learn new skills and even source their own equipment, with Western suppliers still delivering to Ukraine in a private market monitored by the military.

To protect his hearing, Andriy acquired a set of hunter headphones that suppress the sound of his rifle while amplifying voices. “You really need it,” he said.

Russia has more than doubled the territory it controls in Ukraine since launching the invasion in February, to around 20% of the country, but Andriy shares the optimism of many fellow Ukrainians that victory will be possible after the winter.

“I think with the help of our friends in Europe and the United States, we can drive them out of our territory,” he said.

His desire to become a sniper came from a familiarity with shotguns, common in Ukraine, and playing the role of a ranged shooter in video games.

But his goal in the war: “It is to return to my home, to my family,” he says.

“None of us wanted to be a warrior, a shooter, a sniper. It’s just a necessity to be here now and do what we’re doing here.

After a pause, he adds: “I don’t know how to explain this: I don’t like killing people. It’s not something you want to do, but it’s something you have to do. »

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Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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