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By Chris Steyn
One of Ukraine’s bravest snipers in its war with Russia is a 40-year-old mother of four young children. She is Tatiana Kebkalo (40) who is also an instructor in weapons handling, including anti-tank weapons, UAV training and military demolition.
She agreed to this Q & A with BizNews after 15 exhausting months of war.
Chris Steyn: What did you do before you became a sniper?
Tatiana Kebkalo: I’m a lawyer. When I joined Omega Consulting Group in 2011, I eventually had to merge my legal practice and a new profession – military.
What made you decide to become one?
Kebkalo: The art of precision rifle isn’t new to me. My husband is a sniper, so I was always curious about it. I adore maths and sniping is a very precise art in terms of calculations. In sniping you can’t guess, you have to rely on precise figures. I’m also making my own cartridges and again, this is all about precision. Milligram of gunpowder more or milligram less will affect bullets speed and trajectory. To me, a sniper rifle it’s like a scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon. I’ve been practising precise shooting for 10 years.
What kind of training did you have to undergo?
Kebkalo: Complete sniper training according to US FM 3-05.222 (Special Forces Sniper Training and Employment) only except aerial platform operations because we don’t have any. A lot of land navigation, walking, walking and walking. Day and night. Tracking and countertracking. Camouflage, cover and concealment. Ballistics (internal, external and terminal) and of course a lot of practical shooting. Additionally, a lot of reading; John Plaster “The Absolute Sniper”, Tony Boyer “The Book of Rifle Accuracy”, Jim Owens “Reading the Wind”, Nicholas Irving “Precision Rifle B.I.B.L.E – Ballistics In Battlefield Learned Environments). Now I can shoot anything from .308 to .50 but my favourite calibres so far are .300 Win Mag and .338 LM because of the capabilities of these weapon systems. .50 is too heavy for me.
How do you manage to juggle motherhood with war?
Kebkalo: I have no choice. We’re at war with Russia and if we stop resisting there will be nothing to juggle. There will be no Ukraine. Russians, they don’t want just a certain piece of land from Ukraine, or waterways or anything of that kind. They just don’t want Ukraine to remain on the map. And they will not give up fighting and they will not give up war as long as we remain alive. They say we must be dead. And we say we want to be alive. Between life and death, I don’t know of a compromise. And that’s why we have no choice.
What is a typical day in your life like now?
Kebkalo: It’s a mixture of everything. Kids, court hearings, training, preparation of future company projects, business development because war destroyed literally all our projects, etc.
What is family life like in your home with your children during this time of war?
Kebkalo: It’s relatively ok but tension remains. We’re only 7 km from Belarus and even if Russians don’t now have the capacity to launch another wave of attack from Belarus, reconnaissance and sabotage groups are active in the area and obviously it keeps my mind in great tension. Also, when Russians are launching their Shahed-136 kamikaze drones from Belarus, they’re flying over our house and producing very irritating noise due to their two-cycle engine. It sounds like a flying moped. Shaheds are flying only at night and obviously I have to wake up the kids and send them to the basement, then soldiers are trying to down the drones and everyone enjoys cannonade. Such is life.
What sacrifices have you had to make because of your commitment to defend Ukraine against the invasion from Russia?
Kebkalo: Children… I could leave Ukraine with them and settle somewhere in Europe, instead, I decided to stay because it’s my country, my town, my land. I have to be here. Unfortunately, children have experienced cold winters, absence of electricity, food shortage, gunshots and the most terrible thing – occupation. After the long siege and heavy fighting, our town fell. Soldiers fled into the forest and a Russian military column entered our town. Tanks, APCs, personnel. They started endless searches, from house to house. We prepared for our final battle with a very predictable end. We already said goodbye to each other. But we were lucky and Russians didn’t reach our house, even now I have no idea how. My youngest girl was only 2 years old at that time. It’s terrible.
Your husband is the founder of the Omega Consulting Group. Are you also involved in the company’s training of volunteers for clandestine missions?
Kebkalo: Yes, of course. My responsibility is weapons handling including anti-tank weapons, UAV training and military demolition. I also run navigation and fire adjustment classes.
Have you been shot at or wounded since the start of the war?
Kebkalo: No, but it was close. When Russians were attacking our city, I occurred under 120 mm mortar shelling and tank fire.
Where do you get the courage and the mental strength to do this?
Kebkalo: I’m sympathetic to Winston Churchill and in particular, I really like two of his famous quotes: “If you’re going through hell, keep going” and “Never, never, never give up”. These quotes are very relevant these days.
What do you do when you have a few moments to yourself? Do you read books? Do you cook?
Kebkalo: At the moment, free time for myself is only my dream. 95% of company employees and contractors are fighting in the south-east but company assets have not gone away. I have to replace all of them. I’m an accountant, lawyer, business development, instructor and so on. I even have to fix the company’s off-road vehicles.
What were your days like before the war?
Kebkalo: I was always busy. Family is big, work in Omega is very demanding and requires constant attention.
What do you miss most about living in a state of relative peace?
Kebkalo: The inner peace. When you wake up in the morning and you know that nothing bad is happening, just the sun’s rays make their way through the window. Kids are still sleeping. You make coffee and enjoy fresh forest air.
You are also a Judo World Champion. Are you still practising this martial art too?
Kebkalo: Of course, I do, and actually I’m getting ready now for the Judo Veterans Championship in December 2023.
Have you ever had to use hand-to-hand combat against an enemy in a war situation?
What other military – and martial arts skills have you mastered?
Kebkalo: I’m a certified UAV pilot with capability to fly in the areas where the enemy is using ECM (Electronic Counter-Measures). Other specialties are; Military demolition, anti-tank weapons (FGM-148 Javelin and NLAW) and land navigation. As for martial arts, I play Thai-boxing but I’m only a beginner.
What are your dreams for the future?
Kebkalo: To live in peace obviously, but even if Ukrainian resistance will prevail, there is a next important chapter of our life ahead of us – recovery. End of war doesn’t mean for us that everything is over. The massive physical and natural infrastructure damage caused by the Russian attacks will require significant planning and investments. Simultaneously, we will have to deal somehow with several million or more refugees and return them home. The next challenge relates to caring for the physical and mental trauma caused by the Russian invasion. Post-traumatic stress is a terrible outcome of war, and the challenge of making the population feel safe and secure given the attack from their next-door neighbour is significant, and extraordinarily important. Thousands of Ukrainians of all ages have been killed, leaving many more survivors in mourning. And the last task, we need a very strong military, so Russians will not even think about coming back. When all these tasks will be completed, my dream will come true. Life in peace.
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