Last week he was a hot air balloon pilot. Now he’s helping defend kyiv as missiles fall from the sky :: WRAL.com

– Rostislav was manning the defensive post outside kyiv’s television tower when a Russian missile hit nearby on Tuesday afternoon. The impact knocked him to the ground. He heard glass shattering, then another explosion. And right after, another. And then one more, he told CNN.

He was scared, he said – everyone was scared.

“One thing is to have soldiers coming towards you, but when there are rockets flying from the sky and you have no control over that, that’s another thing,” he said. -he declares.

Rostislav, or Rostia for short, is not a soldier. Just a week ago, in his pre-invasion life – a life that seems completely foreign right now – he was working as a hot air balloon pilot.

Rostia and her friend Roman were back at their guardhouse on Wednesday, standing outside the TV tower site for hours on end. CNN does not use their full names, for security reasons.

Both men are members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, a branch of the country’s armed forces made up largely of volunteers like them.

They joined on Thursday, just hours after the start of the Russian invasion. Automatic rifles, given to them by Ukrainian authorities last week, dangle from their shoulders.

They are volunteers, and they look like it: neither wears a helmet or, as they freely admit, thermal underwear to keep warm.

Roman is dressed in tracksuit bottoms, sturdy trainers and a camouflage vest over a jacket that doesn’t look thick enough for the freezing weather in Kyiv in recent days.

Rostia, dressed in dark work trousers and a lightly padded casual jacket, pulled her black hood over her head to protect herself from the sleet that had begun to fall.

They admit they are cold, but say they are fine. Sleep is the main problem. Shifts are long and adequate rest is hard to come by in a city under attack. He never seems to calm down long enough. There are always sirens, loud booms and more sirens.

Signs of destruction were everywhere around Rostia and Roman on Wednesday. The road was covered with crushed concrete, a huge piece of metal, grotesquely twisted, lay nearby.

Across the road was a sports hall – its walls scorched and all its windows shattered as a result of the strike. The treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines inside were all covered in a thick layer of dust, and smoke was still rising from the building.

Five people were killed in Tuesday’s attack, according to Ukrainian authorities. Their blood was still clearly visible in the street on Wednesday.

They died near the site of another massacre. The TV tower stands in the Babyn Yar district of kyiv. Between 1941 and 1943, the Nazis slaughtered tens of thousands of people here, including nearly all of kyiv’s Jewish population, according to the memorial’s official website. The entire area is now considered a sacred place, according to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial.

When asked if they ever thought they would be in this situation, Rostia and Roman both smile a little and shake their heads.

“But any guy who can handle a gun should be here now,” Rostia said.

Like many men in kyiv, Roman and Rostia sent their families away from the Ukrainian capital when the invasion began.

“I have three beautiful sons. They are 11, 6 and 3½ and they are very energetic,” Roman said. “The older one understands what’s going on. The two younger ones don’t,” he said, adding that his boys, like him and his wife, love to fish.

His wife, he says, is like every other woman in Ukraine right now: “She’s scared but she understands that I have to be here.”

Rostia and his wife decided that she and their 10-year-old daughter would try to seek safety in Poland, but he said that when they arrived at the border, the line of cars waiting to cross was over 30 kilometers long ( approximately 18.6 miles) long. . So they changed their plans — on Wednesday they were trying to flee to Slovakia instead.

“I told my daughter that I will stay and protect the land,” Rostia said.

Nearly 40,000 volunteers joined the Territorial Defense Forces in the first two days after the start of the invasion, according to the armed forces chief of staff. In fact, so many people tried to enlist that some had to be turned away – a joke has been circulating in Kyiv that only those with connections can now enlist.

Tens of thousands more support volunteers like Roman and Rostia. Locals brought them food and hot drinks, preparing Molotov cocktails for the guards. At one point, a man driving a car filled to the brim with cigarettes pulls up offering them as many cartridges as they want.

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