Maksym Nelipa: "It is an axiom for front-line soldiers to lend a shoulder to a comrade-in-arms"

For the first time the newspaper "Kyiv Polytechnic" mentioned Maksym Nelipa, the captain of the capital's team of funny and clever (KVN) "Cowboys of Polytechnic", a sophomore at the time of the Instrumentation Faculty of KPI, in early May 1994. At that time, the Molodist-94 festival ended at the Center for Culture and Arts of our university, and Nelipa was recognized as the best captain among Ukrainian student teams of cheerful and clever people. Maxim had no equal in the wit competitions. He was a kind of entertainer, singer, reciter, and comedian all in one. It was on the pages of KP that the words first appeared: "...who knows, maybe this fragile guy should try his hand at theater. The future instrument-maker's talent for art is undeniable." As it turned out, the bold predictions of the newspaper reporters were later confirmed. The TV presenter and actor Maksym Nelipa, who, by the way, never worked as an engineer, has participated in many entertainment TV programs, played comedy roles in TV series, toured many sketch shows, performed in a comedy project by Diesel Studio, and more. Jokes, miniatures, poems, improvisations solo and in collaboration with colleagues in the funny shop eventually led to popular recognition. The phrase "popular showman" stuck with Maksym Volodymyrovych for a long time.

However, with the start of Russia's full-scale aggression, the Captain (a nickname he received as a student - ed.) went to the front. From our conversation on Facebook, I realized that the now senior lieutenant of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Maksym Volodymyrovych Nelipa has never regretted going to the district military commissariat voluntarily in the first days of the next stage of the ruscist aggression. Corresponding late at night on social media, my now pen pal apologized for the interruptions in the dialog: he needed to check his posts   

The first question concerned his bold army choice and the disturbing everyday life at war.

At the beginning, M. Nelipa warned that he was under a contract not to disclose official secrets, and therefore asked not to ask questions about military strategy and tactics.  He said: "I will not disclose any specific details." 

- "What made you decide to connect your life with the war?" Maksym Volodymyrovych asks me again. "It was, if you will, a non-alternative response to the situation in which the whole of Ukraine, my relatives, friends, and my children, my son and daughter, found themselves. That's when I can say with certainty that I said goodbye to the creative worries of a showman for an indefinite period of time. As for the engineering skills acquired in the classrooms of my alma mater, the opposite is true. I remembered in time that I knew how to program, how to use a soldering iron, and that I had shot well at targets at a shooting range back in high school.

When my brother called me on the night of February 24 (he was near Kyiv at the time) and told me that missiles were flying towards the capital, my first thought was: what can I do, how can I be useful in the army? I didn't think much about the possibility of injury or more serious consequences, because this is war, and it is clear that anything is possible. It was unbearable to realize that this could happen to my loved ones, to those Ukrainians who cannot defend themselves against a wild invasion with weapons in their hands. After receiving a draft notice, and before that - going to various military enlistment offices, standing in lines for hours to pass a military medical examination, trying to get to any of the territorial defense units as quickly as possible, I put on a military uniform. News from the frontlines, explosions in many areas of the capital region, and enemy sabotage in peaceful neighborhoods of the capital convinced me of one thing: I was on the right track. By the way, even then I noticed that I was recognized in the queues to the draft commissions.  At first, the unfamiliar, stern faces of the recruits showed a touching surprise. In short conversations, my supporters sincerely confessed things like: "Since you are the one who joined the army, I will not be left behind."

- How long have you been at the front? Was it difficult to master the military specialty of a scout? 

- On March 2, 2022, it was my turn, and I passed the relevant commissions. The next day, at six in the morning, I received a phone call: "Time to pack..." The necessary things were already packed in my backpack, and I became a private in the N- military unit. Protection and defense of objects - this, in short, was the task of our unit. I was on guard at checkpoints, sat in "secrets" (secret surveillance of the area - ed.), went on patrols. Just like an ordinary ordinary soldier. It is clear that in those days it was difficult to adjust to the extraordinary conditions: a different schedule and lifestyle. A common barracks, cleaning orders, lining up at any time of the day, the inability to go home for even a short time... It was also difficult to keep in mind everything that needed to be learned from military instructions. We are talking about aspects of the relevant training, the secrets of tactical techniques, and the acquisition of first aid skills in combat conditions. Since then, I remember with gratitude the perseverance and patience of senior officers and instructors. Believe me, I'm not just telling you about the experienced teachers of the military department of our university, who, although a long time ago, laid the foundations of military science in my mind. By the way, the learning process continues to this day, because together with my comrades we are practicing the skills of fighting the insidious enemy, who makes it impossible to fall into deadly traps all the time. 

Military paths take unpredictable routes. Eventually, he was transferred to another combat unit. He was appointed a platoon commander and promoted to senior lieutenant. And now his main tasks include the protection and defense of strategic facilities, intelligence, counterintelligence and counter-sabotage activities. While at the beginning of the war the geography of the service was limited to Kyiv and the region, over time it has expanded to the regions bordering the line of contact with the enemy.

 - I ask every soldier who is currently at the front to answer the following question. What do you think is the meaning behind the phrase "frontline brotherhood"?   

- Front-line brotherhood is certainly not an empty phrase. I have repeatedly witnessed the guys sharing everything they have: food, clothes. When one of their colleagues was sent to the front line, those who remained in the reserve gave their own bulletproof vests, thermal imagers, etc. You can't do without it on the front line. No one thinks about the price of such things, because a warrior's life is in the balance, and it is priceless. Excessive selfishness disappears here. When you are diligently digging a trench or setting up a dugout, you realize that you may be doing it not only for yourself, but also for one of your comrades. When you are standing guard, you realize that your comrades-in-arms are resting behind you, and you are entrusted with their lives. And now, for me, as an officer, the phrase "frontline brotherhood" hides a huge responsibility for every soldier who serves in my unit. Lending a shoulder in time is an axiom for us, frontline soldiers.

- Do you keep in touch with your comrades-in-arms? What character qualities did you develop, for example, after your first days at the front?

 - Of course, during my service, my circle of acquaintances expanded significantly. And the time for communication is limited. Dialogues are much shorter. "How are you?" and the answer: "Fine. How are you? Take care of yourself. Hang in there..." This kind of communication resembles a regular roll call in a student classroom. Nevertheless, I try to keep in touch with those who have already been demobilized and transferred to other units. We support each other and encourage each other. We promise to meet and celebrate our victory. I am sure that we must send positive messages to our comrades, relatives, friends, and society about our inevitable Victory and encouraging prospects, provided that everyone concentrates their efforts on further development of the country. The occupiers will not be able to eliminate Ukrainian statehood. I and my fellow soldiers on the front line are protecting it thanks to our continuous resistance to the invaders.

Now about the qualities that military service has added. It is difficult for me to give an exhaustive self-assessment. It includes rage, overwhelming hatred of the enemy, love and devotion to the homeland. Restraint, concentration, flexibility in decision-making, an increased level of responsibility for subordinates and one's own actions. And also an understanding of the need for discipline. You can't do without it in the army. 

- Leafing through the Kyiv Polytechnic binder of almost 30 years ago, I noticed that in addition to acting, you also have a talent for writing. The Captain (aka M. Nelipa), in collaboration with Svat (aka S. Kovtun) and Stepashka (aka M. Dybenko), published an interesting ironic story dedicated to student muses. Therefore, the following question is quite appropriate, in my opinion, in the category of literary questions. Erich Maria Remarque, who has been read by more than one generation that has lived through wars, wrote: "Every soldier stays alive only thanks to a thousand accidents." Do you think Remarque was right?

- I am not ready to agree with him, as they say, 100%. Randomness is like a lottery. And in most cases, a risky casino player wins this game with death, no matter how strange this comparison may sound. I mean that success in war depends on the thoughtfulness of every future movement, step, use of cunning, concentration, and caution. This is not a complete list of qualities to win the coveted jackpot, i.e. to save your life. But it is also impossible to exclude chance as a factor in changes and events. For example, I was admitted to a military hospital because of back problems, and was admitted to the pulmonary department for treatment because of my lungs at the time. My roommate turned out to be a scout. It was thanks to his patronage that I was transferred from one active military unit to another. Here, I later became the commander of a reconnaissance platoon. I was promoted, and most importantly, I gained a sense of my own effectiveness as a military man. As for my literary talent. We'll see in time.

- Please mention the benefits of studying at your alma mater. Have the theoretical and practical skills of the now senior lieutenant Maksym Nelipa been useful? 

- I cannot single out any of the teachers. I am grateful to all of them for their teaching. I am also sure that every subject in the student's schedule is important. Knowledge and experience, like every round, will find its place in a combat clip. While working with military maps, you remember the basics of technical drawing, while leading a platoon - lectures on psychology. During the service, I repeatedly remembered my native university with gratitude also because within its walls I learned to pursue my goal despite the objective difficulties of student life. 

As for my university internship as a future instrumentation engineer, I will tell you about the following. At the beginning of my military service, I brought various tools, wires, switches, even a soldering iron and a microscope from home. Everything came in handy: I repaired someone's cell phone charger, made an extension cord... I was even given a proper call sign - "Phase". By now, you have probably realized that electrical engineering knowledge and relevant skills were essential. 

I remember the following situation: I was at my post, guarding the entrance to the barracks, and someone asked me on the office phone, "Do you know anything about electrical engineering? It turned out that my colleagues on the other side of the phone had a problem replacing a light bulb. At that moment I thought: "They are recruiting humanitarians who cannot do an elementary task on their own." We agreed that the "repair" would be carried out on "my" territory. A few minutes later, an armored personnel carrier drove up to the field "research laboratory". The reason is clear: the APC crew cannot fight without a light bulb to illuminate the reticle in the night sight for a large-caliber machine gun. And I have neither the bulb nor the parts for its mounting. The solution was found by using LEDs and a cap for a felt-tip pen. I did the job better than the designers of the manufacturing plant intended. The APC crew thanked me by giving me a tactical flashlight. So, light for light.

- Maksym Volodymyrovych, do you think the front and humor are incompatible concepts?

- Army humor is a special genre, or rather, a way of perceiving the situation. I would add that military humor is a rather situational phenomenon. A wit and a funny anecdote are great for relieving mental tension in difficult moments before a fierce battle. But specific humor is difficult to understand for those who are not in the know. It seems to me that jokes about the military were invented by civilians. After all, the military does not laugh at many "army" funny stories heard from the lips of a "rear-guard", or an ordinary wit. And vice versa. I recall how, during my time as a jury member of entertainment games, I repeatedly caught myself thinking how difficult it is for teams consisting of jokers, satirists and humorists dressed in military uniforms to find common ground with the audience. In addition, the army cannot do without a strong word. This is obviously to make the order of a senior officer sound short and clear.

- Mr. Senior Lieutenant, thanks to our correspondence on Facebook, the following question was formed. What does Maksym Nelipa plan to do after the victory over the occupiers?

- I want to do peaceful things in peace. What kind of work? It is too early to think about this. We need to focus on the counteroffensive. In addition, I remember an aphorism: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans." 

- I wish you and your comrades at the front every success! 

- Thank you, we will win!

 Interview with Viktor Zadvornov