Pastor trains civilians for war as a volunteer battalion leader

Oleg Magdych

A Ukrainian pastor and father of two is now serving as a volunteer battalion commander for 120 soldiers ranging in ages from 18 to their mid-70s. He shared with CNN they are preparing for deployment to southern Ukraine after fighting on the front lines north of Kyiv.

Oleg Magdych told CNN that most of the soldiers he’s with were civilians before the war and went through a couple of weeks of intense training.

“Eighty percent of my units are people that have never held a gun in their hands in their lives. They’re ordinary truck drivers, lawyers, you name it,” Magdych said. 

He reported no injuries in his battalion in their latest engagement near Kyiv, and said many soldiers were quick to learn once the fighting started.

“For the first few days, they are trying to argue with me and trying to tell why they shouldn’t be doing what I’m telling them to do, like digging trenches,” Magdych said.
“But I’m telling you, after the first shelling, everybody wants to dig trenches.”

Magdych credited his faith for keeping him going and praised his family for the work they are doing for others. His wife is in western Ukraine assisting internally displaced Ukrainians with food and lodging, he said, and is working with women and children to help provide psychological help.

“She is my hero. She didn’t want to go to Europe. She decided to stay in Ukraine and wait for the victory there,” he said.

Their youngest son has joined the Territorial Defense Forces defending western Ukraine and “badly wants to be with me,” Magdych said.

“But I told him that he has a more important task. He has to take care of his mom. So, that’s what he is doing at the moment.”

Some context: Russian forces have withdrawn from the northern parts of Ukraine and are focusing their efforts to the east and south. Ukrainian officials have warned of widespread shelling in eastern Ukraine as they say Russia prepares for an offensive operation.

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