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Sweden War in Ukraine

I Couldn’t Just Sit and Watch - Caroline Nordengrip, Ukrainian Army Sergeant

A former Swedish member of parliament is the first foreign woman to enlist as a regular soldier in the Ukrainian armed forces.

May. 3, 2023

In an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, Caroline Nordengrip, a former Swedish member of parliament who has been involved in the training of the Ukrainian military since October 2022, officially enlisted into the Ukrainian army recently. Caroline described her motivation and talked about her service in Ukraine and her impressions. She seems convinced that the war will end this year and that Ukraine will obtain victory.

I know you have been helping with Ukrainian military training for a while. Why did you decided to officially enlist in the Ukrainian army? What was your motivation?

I had full information [relating to the war] since I was a member of the defense committee in the Swedish parliament. I could not just sit and watch. I felt I had to do something. And since I was already helping to train soldiers, I thought that I needed to go one step further.

I have one technical question. How do you communicate with your comrades? Do they speak to you in English?

I usually have a translator when I’m doing the training, but I'm trying [to learn the language]. I have been involved in training Ukrainian soldiers for 270 days, so I understand quite a lot of Ukrainian, but unfortunately, I still don't speak it as well as I understand it.

I know you previously served with the Swedish armed forces. Is it different to serve in Ukraine?

Of course, it's slightly different here because it's wartime. We were training in peacetime in Sweden. So, you don't have all the equipment you would like to have all the time.

What is your impression of the Ukrainian military?

It’s actually very good. The volunteers that we are training are highly motivated, of course. The women that we are training, really try to do their best, they are focused and motivated to make sure that Ukraine stays free and independent.

Usually, foreign volunteers join the International Legion. So why did you decide to enlist as a regular soldier in Ukraine’s 47 brigade?

I was given the possibility of joining the regular army, which I preferred to do. I'm very glad that I had the opportunity to do that.

You are first international woman to join the Ukrainian army. How does your unit treat you?

I'm treated very well. I had served with the 47 brigade since the beginning of October and I’ve never had any problems with any of the guys or anything else. So, I'm very happy here. It's a very good, nice brigade.

How many women are serving with you?

Two more women for the training, one that's focusing on tactical training and the other on medical. I don’t know how many there are in total [in the brigade].

Have you got friends?

Yes, a lot of them.

What do you think about the Ukrainian people serving here?

I love them. I love the sense of humor and the dedication they show for what they do. I'm very happy to be here. And what can I say? I love my job.

What assignments do you have? What are your duties at the moment?

Right now, I'm training soldiers. But right now we're having a lunch break.

What is most challenging aspect of your work, in the training?

The biggest challenge is to try to get everything done, to pass across as much knowledge as you can in the limited amount of time that you have. I’d say that is the biggest challenge.

What do you think about Russia's war here in Ukraine? What will be the development of the conflict? Do you think Ukraine will obtain victory?

Yes, I think we’ll win.

Why are you so sure? The Russians are still quite strong.

I think Ukrainians have shown pretty well what they are able and capable of doing, and they will not stop until the Russians are on their side of the border.

Maybe you can tell us what is it about the situation that has impressed you the most in Ukraine?

We get a lot of impressions all the time about the people that we meet, if they are on buses or just sitting down, chatting with soldiers about their feelings and their families and loved ones. So, there are so many different destinies in this war. You learn so much about what this war does to people.

Maybe there was a story that touched you the most?

I think the incident that touched me most was when I was taking a bus heading east. There was a little girl traveling with her mother on that bus. She had lost her father in the war, and they were now going home for the first time because they lived in the east. She made me a little protective angel out of some quilting and gave it to me and prayed that I should stay safe. I think that is the moment that touched me the most.

What about the conditions of your stay? Is it comfortable for you right now?

Let’s put it this way, last week it was not very warm outside. But for me, it's fine. If I can have a shower at least once a week, then I’m happy.

Do you have a real bed?

 Not really. I don't think that's bad. That's normal in the military.

After the news that you joined the Ukrainian army got out, you became famous in Ukraine. How do you feel about it?

It's only been a week, but yes, I can see that. People take pictures of me when they think I’m not looking and, of course, soldiers ask me, about my name, because I use another name here. But they ask me “Are you, Caroline?” - Yeah, I am.

This training that you are responsible for, how long does it take?

It can last for months or weeks. I usually have volunteers for one week [for my subjects], then they have further, different types of training with different instructors. During this week, we usually see a lot of improvement. As I said before, they're really trying hard. And, of course, if you are trying hard, then you will always improve. I see big steps forward.

You've been here quite a long time. Do you miss Sweden? Will you visit Sweden soon?

Right now, as I said, I have a contract, so I cannot go. Yeah, I'm miss spring in Sweden, of course, but I really like Ukraine.

Do you think this war will last much longer? We hear different opinions: people in the trenches say that the war will last a long time, while the Ukrainian commanders say it will finish this year. What do think?

I think that, probably, it will end this year.

That's very optimistic. Let's hope so. Thanks for your time.

My pleasure.