Sarah Ashton, US transgender, came to Ukraine as the volunteer at the beginning of russian full scale invasion. Became a soldier of Ukraine’s Defense Forces, was participating in frontline combats as a paramedic and fighter, got wounded. Later became spokesperson for Territorial Defense Forces. Now Sarah works in AFU Center of Research. Here below interview with Sarah.
-How long you are here in Ukraine?
- Originally, I was only planning to come for 2 weeks. And I was too discussing to cover the refugee crisis. I went from the west of Ukraine to Kharkiv at the beginning of the full-scale invasion. Less than a month after the full-scale invasion I was embedded in Kharkiv.
And during my 6,5-7 months in Kharkiv as a journalist and as a director of outreach for Zolochiv territorial district, which is on the Russian boarder, I understood what Russian terrorism was and I understood what Russian more crimes were. I was seeing it every day, I was seeing it in the attacks on the civilians of Zolochiv, I was seeing it on the missile strikes in the center of Kharkiv. I lived in north Saltivka, I saw it in my neighbourhood in north Saltivka.
And then by September of 2022 I thought when I spent multiple days watching the bodies of the civilians in Izum, be taking out of the ground, be exhumed. And with that I understood I had to do more and that’s when I asked to enlist in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Did I probably stay too long in Kharkiv and north Saltivka? Of course, it changes a person. That’s why I’m in serving in ZSU now. I stayed because of what I witnessed. And by that time, I realized that I had stayed too long. My only choice was to go to victory.
-You have been injured, during one of the battle can you tell about this?
-Sure. We were fighting in the woods north of Kreminna. So, it was very cold at that time. We would be between -15 -18 degrees. The Russians were very close, it was our trench, we resoline of contact. So, our trench, some flat land, it snow, a few hundred meters. I would say 6-7 hundred meters. And then the Russians. And we fought all the time. And we would stay out there for 3-4 days at the time, and then we would rotate out and come back maybe 36 hours later. They had so much artillery, they had so much ammunition, they would be able to shoot at us basically non-stop 24 hours a day. And so being out there with my captain, being out there with the other guys who were holding the RPGs, we were fighting with RPGs, I have an AK-74. And I was always about 10 to 15 meters back as the senior combat medic, my role was to cover fire and my role was also to move up if there is case of any injuries. My role was to grab weapons, start fighting from the front if I needed to, evacuate somebody back. I would say this it is not about being safe its about being lucky or unlucky. And on that day, I was both the luckiest person and I’m very unlucky.
I was unlucky because I was the one that was hit. I was lucky, because it took out a lot of nerves and flash and meat muscle from my hand, I don’t have feeling, but a little bit higher on missing fingers I had some shell fragment go through my face, a little bit higher I lose my eye, so that’s why I say I’m very lucky.
-Maybe your way of life, your decision that you were made about your gender now make prolongation, it was to stay here and fight for Ukraine, because freedom is very important for you.
-I’ve done a lot of interviews. What you just ask me is the question that I think about all the time, and I appreciate you’re asking this. Here’s the reality. Going through the transition is like dying and being reborn. It’s what allowed me to be in a war zone for so long after never having being in war. It’s allowed me to fight at the front without fear, it’s allowed to laugh at the Russians when they threaten me with death. Because I’ve already died and I’ve been reborn. I’m free. It is that freedom.
I’m so completely free that wether I make it to the next sunrise or I’d live for another 40 years. I understand what life is and I understand what freedom is. And the people who understand what freedom is more than anyone in the world are the Ukrainians, and that’s why we are here all together, as a people, who believe in freedom despite whatever country you are from, in order to stand up against this Russian tyranny. It doesn’t matter what they say about me, it doesn’t matter how they tried to make fun of me or what they tried to attack me with, ultimately it’s because they are scared, they are scared of freedom, they are scared of liberty.
So, when you have an American who has access to wide audience, who is representing freedom, it’s scary to them.
-Maybe this is the most big difference between Ukrainians and Russians, because we have very different attitude for freedom.
-The Russians want to be enslaved by a dictator, they don’t know what freedom is.
Ukrainians don’t just understand freedom, Ukraine is freedom. That’s why after the Orange Revolution, that’s why after the events on the Maidan, people still ready to guarantee themselves this individual liberty. That is why this fight, that I’m taking part in with the Ukrainian people, is so important. Because no one understands freedom like Ukraine does and no one embraces slavery the way the Russian tyranny in fashisty.
I was viewed first as a soldier, second as a medic, third as an American, fourth as a female. And somewhere down on the list was the idea of this transition or any sort of gender or LGBTQ issues. Why? Because we are not fighting for tolerance here, we are not fighting for acceptance, we are fighting for the liberty and liberation of every Ukrainian. It doesn’t play a role in my service and it doesn’t play a role in society.
I have a life show, no script and I don’t have this in the past, any censors.
They said: hey let’s do something that a lot of people don’t do. Let’s do live, no script, some breaking news and let’s show ministry of Defense and let’s show our commanders and ZSU. How we are able to actually still fulfill our obligations as bold soldiers and members of the media. And we found that it works.
The information warfare, the information frontline absolutely exists. And it’s our job to battle on it, it’s our job as military members, it’s our job as civilians to understand what is fact and what is fake. And here, this is the message that I have for your audience. Russia hates the truth. There is no getting around it. In Ukraine we believe in what is reality, we believe in what facts are, based in journalism.
And we believe in the reality of what is truthful or not. And Russia can’t handle that. Our job is to present the truth to the world on informational battlefield, while destroying their supplies, equipment and ability to occupy Ukraine on a physical battlefield. The world understands that Ukraine is the leader in holding back this Russian hate and this Russian lies and this Russian invasion of not just Ukraine, but for sure they were going to the Baltic states, most likely after the Baltic states they would attempt to move on Poland, at least parts of it, because Russia wants colonialism. Russia is imperialism. Russia to be able to make any attempt to destroy European culture, European values and the European understanding over the rule of laws.
We need our partners. Every citizen, every resident of every country that supports freedom. But specifically within the EU since they are our neighbours. Since we have candidacy now. We need them to help fight with us on the front lines of information warfare, which means pushing back against Russian lies, which means pushing back against Russian chaos in the information space and which means carrying out information to the representatives. If you have members of Parliament, if you have different senates, speak to them!
Bundestag, Bundesrat, Deutschland, whether you have a Parliament in Spain. We are pleasantly surprised by any and all of the help that are your neighbours can give us.
Because we realize that the help that’s coming from Europe is coming both from the government, but directly from the people who paid the taxes there. And I want the Europeans who are supporting us, who understand what freedom is to realize that their investment of their tax dollars into Ukraine is the single best investment for freedom since the end of WW2.
Filmed by Alexey Lebedev for OstWestWeek.interview Sarah Ashton