An exclusive interview with Mykel Hawke, U. S. Army Special Forces Officer, Captain (retired 2011), combat veteran, for the Interfax-Ukraine News Agency and reprinted below.

– Mr. Hawke, as a military officer, how do you assess the course of the Russian-Ukrainian war? Why was a country 27 times larger in area unable to achieve more or less serious successes against Ukraine on the battlefield in 6 months?

– First and foremost prayers for all the people in Ukraine who are fighting and resisting the obvious Russian crime against humanity. And prayers to all the people who are out there helping Ukraine right now.

But the answer to your question why do I think that a small country like Ukraine can stand up against a big country like Russia is very simple. We have such an expression in American English: ‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog’. In my opinion Ukraine has the will to fight, they have a reason to fight, they have been bullied by Russia for a long, long time, even back before the starvation in the 30s.

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The fact is that Russia has already committed two major crimes in Donbas and Crimea, they’ve made it very clear what their intention is, which is to wipe out the Ukrainian people and take their land. That’s obvious to the world.

So for me there are two main reasons why Ukraine has been able to stand up and fight against the Russians. One, the Ukrainians believe in their fight, they know it’s a fight for survival whereas most of the Russians don’t believe in it, don’t support it. It looks to the most of the world like Putin has gone off the rails and is trying to relive some sort of perceived false glory of the old days of the Russian Empire and wanting to make a legacy.

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The reason I say that is because it’s very dangerous. He’s not doing it for any real political reason or economic reason of survival. It’s all his ego. His people are so afraid of him, that they just keep coming. Most of soldiers that go to fight don’t want to be there. That’s pretty obvious by their conduct in everything that we’re seeing.

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It’s clear that they sent in the Wagner group, a bunch of ruthless mercenaries that don’t care for human life, they demonstrated that in Africa, Syria and other places. He sent in the Chechens who are notoriously brutal and awful. I believe most of the war crimes committed have been from those type of people more than the regular Russian soldiers. But I’m praying that the international laws will come and hold them accountable. All know the truth about how Russia has conducted themselves so inhumanely and how the Ukrainians have consistently from the very beginning shown how heroic they are – from the grandmother saying to Russian soldiers :’Take the seeds and put them in your pockets because flowers will grow when you die’ to border guards from Snake Island saying: ‘Russian warship, go fu… yourself’.

The Ukrainians have just been fighting for their survival with honor and integrity, and the Russians have done all the horrible crimes that are the worst kinds of things that humans can do. That’s why I think Ukraine is prevailing against Russia right now.

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– As we know from the media Armed Forces of Ukraine started counteroffensive in the South of Ukraine. What do you think about it? How do you assess the perspectives of Ukraine’s counteroffensive to get back Crimea and Donbas?

– I think the main reason – the Russians had bad intelligence and they underestimated their opponent which is the number one mistake in all military operations. They underestimated the Ukrainian people, they thought they could just walk in and take it, they weren’t expecting of fight, and they bit off more fight than they could chew. They got spanked and they got pushed back. And that’s when they realized this isn’t going to be easy. But because it’s Putin and it’s his ego, he’s not going to stop until he’s stopped, in my opinion.

– What weapon and equipment will Ukraine need to be effective in such counteroffensive and also in medium and long term perspective?

– When it comes to what type of military hardware and weapons systems Ukraine is going to need, it’s important to note that like in all wars there is an evolution. People don’t know what to expect at the beginning. So at first we were very concerned about maybe we should not give too many weapons, it might escalate it too high.

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Putin is sitting on nuclear weapons. The issue here is that Putin and Russia have already threatened everyone in the world with nukes: ‘We’ll nuke anybody’, ‘We’ll take the space station out’, ‘We’ll blow up a nuke and make a tsunami to take out London’. The whole international community is going to have a discussion after this about nuclear powers. Just because someone has a gun and they can hold it to your head doesn’t mean they’re right and we’ll give them that power.

American strategy has been to try to solve the problem at the lowest level without escalating it because no one wants a nuclear war. But the world is starting to realize that Putin has already threatened nukes, he’s already willing to cause potential nuclear disaster with the nuclear plant that they’ve taken over and tried to disconnect. So there are all these things which need to make the leaders of the world realize that he’s got nukes, yes, but so do we. If he’s going to threaten to blow up water and tsunami a people and a city that have nothing to do with the fight, it clearly shows Putin has no respect for humanity or international law.

In my opinion we need to give Ukraine every weapon they need to overcome whatever Russia brings to the battlefield. So if they bring choppers, if they bring planes, we need to give you anti aircraft and choppers and planes. You have shown your capability, your competence, you’ve been brave. The whole world has watched this little country of Ukraine stand up against the giant of Russia and bring it to its knees. In order to end this war we need to give Ukraine every weapon that they need short of nukes to stop Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine.

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– What do you think in general about the situation on the battlefield now and the strategies of Ukraine and Russia? Do you think Ukraine succeeds in expelling the enemy?

– Without a doubt, the fact that Russia can’t do what they want, already shows that Ukraine has succeeded so far. You look at all the things that Putin is trying to do and getting rid of his generals and firing his staff and bringing in mercenaries and giving bonuses to try to recruit more soldiers. He has a large problem. In my opinion, he has already lost, he will never win this. Even if you stop today you showed him that he can’t take what he wants. He’s a failure, he’s lost. Now it’s just a matter of how long will his people tolerate him doing what he’s doing.

What I think about the current situation on the battlefield in Ukraine is that Ukrainians are holding on well, they’re striking everywhere that they can, they’re penetrating into what Russia thought were safe areas.

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I’m a Special Forces officer, 25 years combat veteran, I studied guerrilla warfare, and we an expression that whoever believes longest and strongest will always win. That is absolutely every man, woman and child in Ukraine, they believe in what they’re doing, they will fight every way, everywhere possible. Ukraine is doing a great job of holding Russia back, of defeating them frequently and humbling them. Their current attempts to try to strike deeper and make Russia withdraw its ships, withdraw its aircraft are all very successful strategies by the part of your military and all your people who aren’t military but are still fighting for their country.

– From your professional point of view what are the current needs of Ukrainian Armed Forces in weapon on the battlefield? Does Ukraine need systems with ranges beyond 80 kilometers?

– I personally believe that Ukraine needs the most powerful weapons that we can give them to end this quickly. The sooner we end this the sooner we stop the starvation of people around the world, we stop the fuel crisis, stop evil and we show the world that we will not tolerate this kind of evil.

We need to give you the aircraft, the weaponry, the training, the support, because clearly, your people are competent and capable and great fighters. All they need are the tools and I do believe that our leaders need to give those tools to Ukraine, including aircraft. (and training)

– To your mind, why still no aircrafts were given to Ukraine or no trainings of Ukrainian military pilots are being held?

– Because right now the war has primarily been a land battle, a little bit of sea battle. Once you take it to the air it escalates significantly because aircraft can go all way to the other side of the country, they can reach into the capital and start striking civilian targets and get out pretty quickly. By going to aircraft it will escalate the war. However we do know that Putin really hasn’t pulled those cards out of his deck yet to start using them. But he will, he is going to do everything he can before he accepts that he’s already failed and been defeated. That’s the main reason why we haven’t given aircraft, we’ve been worried about escalating it due to his threat of nukes, however he is going to bring the aircraft in and we should be giving you the fighter helicopters, the fighter planes, the support and all anti-aircraft we can give you so that they don’t get a chance to even get across your border before you take them down.

The real question for the Ukrainian army is how far do you push. I think everyone would agree with Ukraine taking back everything that belongs to them but not going into Russian territory. However as a guerrilla you can’t let them just go to that line and say: ‘Ok. we’re safe now, you have to respect that’. But if they stay amassed on your border you have to push them back, you have to show them that you can hit them in their country just like they hit you in your country until they stop. That’s what I believe is going to be the only strategy that can work moving forward.

– What do you think about the role of NATO as an organization in supporting Ukraine? Shouldn’t Alliance do more to help our country and how specifically?

– Yes, I very much believe that NATO should and could do more. That’s a very delicate topic, because obviously, it’s one of the things that Putin said he didn’t want and he failed because now he has more people joining NATO than ever before. So good job, Putin.

But the other thing is that NATO wants to make sure that they do a legitimate process for vetting the people that come into NATO. All politics aside. You have to make sure that all the members are meeting the same standards. That’s been an issue. And of course, NATO is concerned: ‘If we allow Ukraine in then Russia will say that gives them an excuse for their fight’ because that’s been their concern all the time, but that’s more of propaganda and lies. Putin lies about everything. There’s nothing he says that is true.

In my opinion NATO needs to allow Ukraine to join NATO and then to say Putin: ‘It’s NATO now, you stop and go home or we all come and we bring the spank and we hold you accountable and you will fail’. I believe NATO needs to let Ukraine in and they need to support Ukraine and stand up against Putin and I’m hoping that would be enough of an escalation, that he would stop.

– What about the fears of NATO about possibility of getting into war with Russia? Do you believe that Ukraine can become a member of NATO even though there’s a war in our country?

– I believe so. Absolutely. We’ve all listened to Putin’s threats, we’ve all listened to Putin’s lies, he’s a liar, he’s already there, he’s already causing a global problem with fuel and food, he does not care. So NATO has to stop the old thinking that the old Putin would respect international law. He’s going to die, he doesn’t care, he wants a legacy, no matter what. He doesn’t care how many Russians he kills or how many other citizens of Ukraine he kills or even other countries. So NATO needs to recognize this is a threat to the world now, they need to stop him now.

– What do American citizens think about Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine and how do they feel about the allocation of aid to Ukraine by the United States?

– I’m a very straight shooter, so I’ll just lay it out. I think there are may be 20-25% of Americans, most of them very right wing, sort of GOP Republican, Trump people who support Russia still because Trump supported Russia and we all know why, we have our opinions on that (maybe the law will find out soon enough). But because of Trump’s support of Putin there’s a percentage of people in America that support Russia, believe it or not, despite everything that they’ve seen.

Most Americans absolutely support Ukraine, love Ukraine, are proud of you, guys, we’re praying for you. The reason I bring all that up is because that trickles into our politics, which then trickles into the money and aid that we can give because there’s still 20-25% that are complaining about giving money to Ukraine. They don’t realize that Ukraine is fighting for the entire world, for the entire balance of good and evil, and that it’s a fight that Americans believe in and that’s what we were raised on. So most Americans believe and support you but there’s that percent that pushes back so it makes hard for political people to continue to help. We keep doing it because President Biden 100% believe in you. We all watched what Trump did to Ukraine for his political advantage and we saw how wrong it was. But Biden is supporting Ukraine just because it’s the right thing.

The global economy has economic issues with fuel, and with food because of Putin. It does make it even more painful when we do send aid, for that small but loud and vocal, small percentage to complain. That’s the issue that we have. You also have some right wing extremists, that’s ok, we know that, that’s a part of having a fairly free nation as long as they don’t hurt other people, that’s when we draw the line. You have some extremists, we have some extremists, it’s a little bit of a political dance to keep the aid going. But the good is that President Biden is 100% committed to Ukraine in seeing you prevailing this war and I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

– Can this big support of Ukrainians by Americans change with the change of a government?

– We are going through an unprecedented political turmoil in the States, the likes of which I’ve never seen in my lifetime. I never imagined after being in 9 different wars, that I would see this kind of rhetoric and talks amongst American people. In my opinion the sad part is that the Right is playing very dirty, they’re lying, they’re cheating, they’re stealing and they have a lot of money. So they have a chance to get into the next political cycle. If they do, I do believe that they will stop or severely reduce the support for Ukraine. That is a real concern for all of us here at home. We’re doing our best. But yes, you are right, that could change in the next political cycle.

– How do you think this war is going to evolve in the nearest future and how can change the aid of West because of some fatigue and discussions on the need of talks with Russia?

– First and foremost the war is going to continue as long as Putin is alive. He will never stop until he’s dead. Even if you stop him I think he’ll fight dirty, that’s the way we’ve seen him do with assassins and killing people.

The war is going in Ukraine’s favor right now. I know that Putin’s is going to keep trying to do dirty tricks and cheat to try to win. I believe that the Ukrainians are still going to prevail no matter what he tries. Then the concern is how dirty is he willing to go: will he blow up the nuclear plant and then withdraw and say that you did it, and that he had to withdraw to save his troops and be the hero? I can easily see something like that because he’s so dirty and he’s such a liar. But I do believe without a doubt that Ukraine is going to prevail. There’s a quote that I live by as a Green Beret and a guerrilla warfare fighter, that’s from the Shakespeare’s story Henry V: “When lenity and cruelty vie for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.” In short, what he’s saying is that when two powers like Ukraine and Russia are fighting for power the one who is the good one, the kind one, is the one that’s going to win. And in this case in my opinion that’s absolutely Ukraine. You’re going to win.

– Mr. Hawke, do you plan to visit Ukraine and maybe make some film or TV story about the war in Ukraine? Can you also please tell a little bit more about the help you are providing to Ukraine now?

– I’ve been in nine different wars and this is the first war that I really believed in, that I haven’t been able to go to. Part of it is because of my work, it’s a very good work helping a greater cause, but mainly for my family, my wife has said: ‘Please, no more wars’, and I said: ‘Ok, sweetie, I love you, I will stay out’. But I will do everything I can from home to help. So I’ve helped get doctors in, I’ve helped get medical supplies in, I’ve helped get special ops trainers and I’ve helped get some other supplies in and I’ve helped other women and children who are stuck on the battlefield get out by getting other special ops guys to go in and help them get out. So that’s just a tiny little part that I’ve been doing, other than my messaging to the world, like letting them know what’s going on and keeping them informed. I try not to get into politics too much. But when I see something so very wrong I feel it’s my duty and my obligation to speak up and keep Americans aware of what’s going on over there. That’s the stuff that I’ve been doing behind the scenes.

I did have the wonderful opportunity to work over in Ukraine around 2008-2009 as a Special Forces officer for a little while. I loved the country, I loved the people, they looked to me like Americans with an accent, hardworking, good people, very industrious. Yes, I absolutely would love to come back to Ukraine to do some help, to do some filming. We actually had a plan to make a little film over there a couple of years ago before things started to get a little bit tetchy. Yes, I 100% love Ukraine and definitely want to go back and would love to do some other work there supporting you.

Hopefully soon this war will be over, you can start getting back to your life and then I think you’ll see a lot of people coming from around the world and saying how proud they are of you for what you’ve endured and how well you endured it. The heroism that we’ve seen from the Ukrainian people across all walks of life has been amazing and inspiring to the world. I hope they understand that.

Text: Nataliia Pushkaruk       

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