Southern Ukraine: He’s a commander of a battery of Grad rockets, she’s a first aider in his unit. Andriy and Tetiana have been deployed together in Ukraine, where soldiers say many families have several members serving the war effort.
Near the frontline in southern Ukraine, Andriy Dolgopolov, 35, and his battery of BM-21 Grads await a Russian target.
His wife Tetiana Dolgopolova, 26, prepares coffee on a portable hob placed on the grass.
The couple met almost three years ago on duty in the eastern Donbas region, where there was fighting well before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
Andriy and Tetiana have been side-by-side ever since.
“My heart is full — with love for my wife, and love for” the Grads, the commander nicknamed “Demon” tells AFP. “The key thing is that they’re not jealous of each other.”
Artillery fire has been decisive in the battles on the southern front, where the Ukrainian army has been reaping success in recent days.
Three years together
As soon as they locate a Russian target, they act quickly.
“Demon” jumps into his small car, Tetiana at his side, hot on the heels of the heavy six-wheeled Grad.
Once in the firing zone, Andriy gives coordinates to the target, and his unit fires a rocket with a hellish blast, before taking cover under trees, away from Russian drones.
“It will soon be three years and every day has been like a romantic date, three years without ever separating: at war, at home,” says the soldier with a crew cut.
Tetiana, who wears a brown beanie over her long blond hair, says she admires Andriy “as a man and as a commander”.
Both agree that an advantage of going to war together is that when bombardments occur, they always know where the other one is.
Neither would dream of having it any other way, even in peacetime.
“My husband is here, as are my comrades-in-arms for years now. Leaving would make no sense,” says Tetiana.
They say that they know three couples with both partners mobilised, and many other families have several members — typically brothers — serving during the war.
Tetiana’s sister is also a soldier.
The Ukrainian army press officer who facilitated the meeting for AFP, Viktor Zalevskyi, arrived with his daughter, also in uniform.
Zhana, 22, was a masseuse before the war.
In a country which had around 40 million inhabitants in 2020, according to official data, the UN refugee agency says 7.6 million are now refugees in Europe.
According to Defence Minister Oleksey Reznikov, the security forces comprise one million members.
“In every Ukrainian family, there is probably someone on the front line,” claims Oksana Kobets, a military spokeswoman.
Kobets’s husband is also a soldier, she says, while her eldest daughter is finishing military school, and her youngest could follow.