Turn on the sound

Mozart, the Art of War

This is Ukraine Calling, the English language podcast by Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, and our today`s guest is Andrew Milburn — the founder of an organization called the Mozart Group

Mozart, the Art of War

Andriy Kulykov: Hello, this is Ukraine Calling, the English language podcast by Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, and today we have a very special guest. His name is Andrew Milburn, but what he does, he will tell in his own words.

Andrew Milburn: Alright, thanks very much for the introduction, and thank you for having me on today. It’s a great privilege to be on this particular show. I want to say hello to all of the listeners and to answer Andriy’s question. As he pointed out, my name is Andy Milburn. I am the founder of an organization called the Mozart Group. And they’re just like the Austrian composer, Mozart. And it was formed the second week in the war, we came together. Essentially, this is it: we are a group of former veterans from 11 different countries. We’re an international organization. We’re all volunteers, and we do essentially two things: we train Ukrainian units near the front line, you know, within artillery range of the Russians.

The reason why we do that is because, as your listeners are probably aware, so many people volunteered to defend their country here, but because of the imminent threat, a lot of them had to be pushed into the front line with little training. Very brave, determined to defend their country, but they need to learn more soldier-type skills, and so that’s what we do. We assist brigade commanders training their guys, prioritize those units that are in the heaviest combat, the brigades that we know are fighting, particularly in Donbas. And we support them in every way; we support them not just with training, but also by treating their casualties. We train their medics, a number of things across the board. So that’s number one, training.

You may also read: Unprecedented Time for Ukraine’s Profile in Canada and Globally: Roman Washchuk

Kulykov: If you say that you train the units which are mostly engaged in combat, do you mean infantry?

Milburn: Infantry, yes. We can train other units, we could bring specialists out. And I’m going to talk a little bit about that in a moment, Andriy. But for the most part, we focus on infantry units, and we focus on basic infantry skills because a lot of these guys, most units, most of them have never fired a weapon before. You know, you remember here, you were in Kyiv during the, you know, March, very dark time, right? But you know that the guys who defended Kyiv, they were students, they were, you know, they were IT workers, they were civilians, right? They were given weapons, they were given very little training. And that’s how we started, we were training guys here in Kyiv.

Kulykov: And still they gave hell to the invaders.

Milburn: They did. And literally, this is what happened, Andriy. We would train them in different parts of Kyiv. We would have to move around a lot because we would take them to a range. We would start shooting and then artillery, the Russians would hear, and they would hit the range with artillery. We would get them five days of training and then at the end, they would get in their cars, and they would drive to Irpin and Bucha to fight the Russians.

Kulykov: And Milburn is our guest today on Ukraine Calling, and I can’t place your accent, Andy.

Milburn: [Laughs] I’m from the UK originally, but I’ve lived in the States for 34 years.

Kulykov: Still, you hadn’t acquired the American to twang.

Milburn: Thank goodness [laughs].

Kulykov: Where originally from the UK?

Milburn: I am from London, actually. I spend most of my time –

Kulykov: Which part of London? London is huge!

Milburn: Well, yeah, so central London, Kensington is where I spend most of my time in London. I went to University of London.

Kulykov: Alright, so you were a veteran of which army?

Milburn: The US Marines. And then I spent 31 years in the US Marines. My last 10 years I was in Marine Special Operations, which is very small.

Kulykov: If it’s not a secret, any tours of duty?

Milburn: Yeah, yeah. So, five. Five in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most recent was in 2016. I led a special operations task force in the fight against the Islamic State. You remember, in 2016, the Islamic State had about a third of Syria and a third of Iraq. And you remember too that the Islamic State was within 30 kilometres of Baghdad when we arrived. So it’s kind of a similar situation, you know, like the Russians here in Kyiv. And so I like to think that we’re good at helping people turn the tide against an invader. What I wanted to though, you know, we talked about training, and we can talk about that too, but the other thing that we do, Andriy, I want to talk about because it really leads into, I think, a discussion about an impending humanitarian crisis in Donbas. What we are doing now in the Mozart Group, the front line towns, for instance, all around Bakhmut, prior to that, Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Soledar, we evacuate civilians from those places under artillery fire, sometimes under direct fire from 30 millimetre, you know, the Russian BMPs. We pull civilians out, but we also bring them food, water, fuel, wood for, you know, for their fires as it gets, it gets cold, anything that they need.

Kulykov: Where do you find the time and skills to be so double-barreled?

Milburn: Well, we have, we have enough guys who can focus on the humanitarian mission. They’re the same people who are doing the training. But at any, any given time, we always have one team in Donbas, and that’s their job to pull civilians out and then to bring food and water and other humanitarian supplies to the ones who don’t want to leave. And this is not me bragging, but this is how we are different, I think, from other humanitarian or volunteer organizations. We are the only organization, Andriy, right now that goes those last few miles under artillery fire. There are many great organizations doing good work in Donbas. Their regulations are such that they cannot put their volunteers in extreme danger. So they will stop at Kramatorsk. We will take their supplies from Kramatorsk, and we will deliver them. And then at the same time as we bring civilians back, we will take them to Kramatorsk, other organizations, and we’ll take them to Dnipro or other places in the country.

You may also read: No «Ukraine fatigue» for Andreas Umland after eight years of war

It is going to be an increasingly acute problem, because as you know, the Russians continue to advance very slowly, very slowly, but they continue to advance in Donbas. And these people, many of whom are elderly, many of whom are disabled, a number of whom are children, they have no means to get water. If they have to walk above ground to places to get water, which is very dangerous, they’re living in cellars, you know, in a typical neighbourhood, all the families will move into one cellar basement where they’re relatively safe, but they’re living in darkness. They, you know, they have to come above ground for it, for all the things they need. Some of them need medical attention, medicine, and we have medics, we have access to medication, we take care of them as best we can. And what we do too, that I can tell you, I think no one else is doing right now, is we return again and again to neighbourhoods to check on people. I’ll give you one example: in eastern Bakhmut now, it’s a part of the town that is under direct fighting between Russians and Ukrainians. When you’re in East Bakhmut, you can hear machine gun fire either side. There is a lady there, a woman, she’s 93 years old. She was a teenager when the Germans invaded her town. She’s blind. She will not leave. We begged her, we have, we want to, we want to kidnap her to take her out of there.

Can you imagine living in total darkness? She, mentally, she’s fine. She, she is funny, she is brave, she chats with us, she hugs us, but she won’t leave, you know, and it’s heartbreaking. And there’s many people like that, you know, they’re afraid. They’re afraid. Where do they go to? They lived in these homes all their lives. They don’t believe the government is going to look after them. They think they will suffer and starve. They know they want to stay in the place that they know.

Kulykov: Andy, I hear a lot of compassion in your voice. Was it compassion or something else that moved you here?

Milburn: I think it was anger. I think, I know, it was anger. It was, here we are in the 21st century, right? Why are guys having to die for such a basic right as freedom? Between two civilized countries. Why? Why are we having to ask guys to do that?

Kulykov: So, quoting Sir Paul McCartney, I would say, I will fight for your right to live in freedom. Was it easy to you to get to Ukraine? Because I have some friends in the US who responded to the call from the Ukrainian embassy to, at least as volunteers, and they never got any response.

Milburn: Yeah. Well, I didn’t leave it to the Ukrainian government to get me here, you know, I didn’t. I just arrived. And so I would say I was a journalist, a freelance journalist, and I wrote four or five articles near the beginning of the war about what was going on. And then I started to run into Ukrainian friends of mine who I knew who are in the military here, mostly special operations, and they said, Andy, why are you writing about the war? You can help us. If you can, if you and your people you know can come over and help train us, and this is going to do far greater good than just writing about our predicament. And they were right. And again, I was in the predicament, too, right? I mean, Kyiv, you remember that, you felt like, we thought Kyiv might fall, didn’t we?

Kulykov: On the very first day of the invasion, I was in a bomb shelter. By the way, we broadcasted then from a studio just 10 or 15 meters from here. But because we rent these studios, the owners of the building told us to go to the shelter all the time. So for the first two days, we spent more time running to and fro than actually broadcasting. From the third day, we dispersed and since then I was broadcasting from my kitchen in my flat. Some people from their verandas in their country houses and all this kind of stuff.

Now we are back. But speaking of the first day, while I was in a bomb shelter, there came a call from Indian television. And the first question they asked was, so now what are you going to do when the capital is in the hands of the enemy? So I had to explain that.

Milburn: That wasn’t your intention.

Kulykov: Yes. Yes.

Milburn: Well, most of the world thought that was going to happen. Most, I mean, everyone, everyone. I thought so, too.

Kulykov: Really?

Milburn: Yeah. Not when I was here, but when I was reading about it in the States. When I got to Kyiv, there was no doubt in my mind it would not fall. You know, because I’m talking to the locals-

Kulykov: And because you were here as well.

Milburn: No, no, no, no. But I, talking to the locals and then seeing the city and so it’s a mixture of, wow, this is a big city and the Russians aren’t that good when it comes to infantry skills, and you’ve got a population that is determined to defend the city. And you remember that, you know what I mean?

Kulykov: How much time does it take to teach people basic skills?

Milburn: Oh, God, that’s such a tough question. Ideally, so to make a proficient soldier, most Western militaries require at least 10 weeks at the very least. Okay, and that’s just basic skills before they go on to specialty skills. All right. So 10 weeks, basic infantry. We take five days. But I tell you what, I tell you what’s on our side. I’ll tell you why we only take five days. That’s all we have. You know, we have commanders going, Andy, I wish I could give you, I wish I could give you this company for 10 weeks and you could work with them, you can make them really good, but I can’t because I need them on the front. You know, I need them right away.

I can give you five days. So in five days, though, and I’m not just saying this because I’m on a Ukrainian show, but the Ukrainian, the Ukrainian soldier is, he learns very, very quickly because he knows his family is behind him, his home is behind him, and he knows that what he is learning may be the difference, will be the difference between life and death. And so from the time they show up for training, they’re asking us question after question. They want to practice and want to do more practice. It means a lot to us to have guys who are this eager to learn.

Kulykov: And Milburn is our guest on Ukraine Calling show, and he belongs to the International Mozart Group of which I am gonna ask soon, but still you keep saying ‘guys’, and you say the Ukrainian soldier ‘he, he, he’—what about she?

Milburn: Oh women, of course. Yeah, I was being just generic. Yeah, the women too. So we train, of course soldiers, we train female soldiers, medics, and very brave. I’ll tell you what, their sense of humour too. I really appreciate it, it’s very, It’s a very distinctive funny sense of humour, and it helps them build their resilience, the way they joke among themselves. There is no doubt in any of their minds that you know, they’re in the right place. They’re all volunteers. But I’ve developed tremendous respect, and you mentioned compassion, affection, for the Ukrainian people from our interactions with them. Both in the east, and the soldiers that we deal with every day.

Kulykov: The language of training, is it mostly English or sign language, or?

Milburn: It’s a really good question. So interpreters are all important. By the way, if you have listeners who want to volunteer to work with us, I do want to add that I said we’re an international organization, but we love having Ukrainians volunteer to work with us either on the evacuation missions or their training missions. So if you have military experience, you’d like to help us, please contact us. If you speak very good English, please, you know, contact us too if you’re interested in working as an interpreter. Our interpreters are critical to the mission. They are not just interpreters, they go through teaching the training so that they understand it themselves, and if we have a six-man team doing training, all right, so six-man team will train a company, we need four interpreters. We almost need as many interpreters as trainers because that communication, that one-on-one communication is critical, especially when you’re teaching a guy how to shoot, and then you’re giving him corrections on his weapon. It’s very important that the dialogue is continuous. So that’s a great question. Interpreters are all important.

Kulykov: Now, a bit more about Mozart Group. You said that on the second day of invasion you got together with some other people and founded this group, and you know say that there are people from 11 countries. How did you find each other?

Milburn: Word of mouth. So you know the thing is, in the military especially, when you are in special operations, what we call the special operations community, there is a global special operations network, Ukrainian military special operations guys are part of that network, and so we talk, we know a lot of people from different armies for special operations. So when the word started to get out on media, CNN did a story on us early in the war, British forces network, so the word got out and people started to contact us saying ‘Hey we’d like to volunteer to join’. My concern was to keep the standard very high. I had to have guys that I could rely on, I could trust 100%, and who are really good, and weren’t afraid, right?

Kulykov: How do you check whether you can trust them?

Milburn: Well, It’s a really good question. So the way we have done it is that almost everyone we bring in is either someone we know, or have worked with, or we know people who have worked with them. Because anyone can write up a resume; the Legion has had a problem with this, right, anyone can pretend. Yeah, Andriy, I was in the US Marines 20 years, and we need to verify everything. It’s very important. And you can see the quality of our guys are great. We’ve got guys now who’ve been with us since the beginning of the war—they’re superb, and they’re motivated for the right reasons.

Kulykov: How closely Ukrainian special services follow you?

Milburn: Oh, I don’t know. We work with them.

Kulykov: That’s good. [Laughter]

Milburn: No, you know what, early on in the war we have worked with the Ukrainian special service the SBU, and we help train them, we use their range, so we have a good relationship with them.

Kulykov: Andy Milburn, another question which springs up to my mind is, you may have had Russian acquaintances because of this global network of special service people-

Milburn: Yeah, yeah.

Kulykov: -any approaches from them, any contacts with them? I mean, not necessarily initiated by them or by you, whatever.

You may also read: Even during the all-out war, reforms in Ukraine are continuing — Michael Druckman

Milburn: Um, not directly. It’s funny, I’ll show you in a moment but there’s- for instance, there is- this morning- yesterday- yesterday, I was in Bakhmut- or the day before I was in Bakhmut, last week we were evacuating people. Today, on Russian propaganda telegram channel there’s a picture of me in Bakhmut and a thing about me and the Mozart Group saying I’m a mercenary and we’re fighting for Bakhmut, and we are the direct enemy of Wagner, you know, all these things. So, to answer your question, the Russians, yes, do know about us. I think they do consider us a threat because we’ve been on Russian television, in the media, quite a bit. I received warnings early on in the war, from not Ukrainian but another intelligence organization, that the Russians were targeting me in Kyiv but how do you protect yourself, you know? [Laughs.]

It’s- You still have to do what you need to do, right? So, I take different routes to work and everything. Now, not so much. Now, my biggest risk is probably when I am in Donbas, you know, and I don’t think that is specifically targeting me, it’s just Donbas, as you know, is a very dangerous place.

Kulykov: Now that you mentioned Wagner, the name “Mozart” requires a special-

Milburn: Oh yeah!

Kulykov: -significance. Was it named in juxtaposition?

Milburn: Yeah- yeah, it was.

Kulykov: To Wagner?

Milburn: It was. And it wasn’t my idea. So, going back to you know early days of the war I found myself with a group of about 7 or 8 guys, mostly Americans, and we were starting to do training, and someone said, “Hey, we should become an organization.” When it looked as though the Russians were going to be driven back, we thought, “Wow, there’s longevity here, this war is going to last and now maybe we need to gain momentum and form an organization.” So, we were trying to think of the name of an organization, and someone, who I don’t remember, said, “What about “The Mozart Group?” and everyone was like, “That’s awesome!” and before I knew it, that’s what we were called, “The Mozart Group”. There’s one thing I don’t like about it, because we’re nothing like the Wagner Group. We’re nothing like it. Firstly-

Kulykov: Well, Mozart is nothing like Wagner.

Milburn: I know, I know, yeah. By the way, the Austrians- we’ve been contacted by the official Mozart fan club- like the composer, saying- giving us a thumbs up. You know- a thank you for using his name for your group’s…

Kulykov: How do Ukrainians perceive you? Do they think of you- well, as far as you can tell- do they think of you as a foreigner, a British person, a American person, or they don’t care?

Milburn: I don’t think they care. Not really. They’ve been- we have such good friends with the soldiers who go through our training, they become our friends. We give them a patch, we try and stay in contact, several times we’ve visited. They’ve invited us to visit the front line to see how they’re doing. So, I don’t think they care. I’ll tell you something though that really made a difference to me. We were coming back from Lysychansk- it was one day before it fell to the Russians, it was very bad places. We were coming out of the town; we had 22 people in vans and the Russians were closing in on the town and they opened fire on us from- BMPs with 30-millimetre cannon. But we were okay, we got through. Anyway, we got to this checkpoint and this Ukrainian soldier’s like, “Where the hell are you guys coming from?” Because he thought there was only Russians ahead of him, and I said, “We were in Lysychansk.” And he just looked at me and he said, um, “Not every Ukrainian hero is Ukrainian.” And that was the nicest thing, you know, I always remember that. It was such a cool thing to say.

Kulykov: Coming back to what Andy Milburn said at the beginning of our conversation when you mentioned the slow advance by the Russians near Bakhmut and other places in Donbas.

Milburn: Yeah.

Kulykov: This is not that very many Ukrainians are aware of.

Milburn: That’s true.

Kulykov: I can read the communique communiqués of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Many civilians cannot do this.

Milburn: Yeah.

Kulykov: Although, when you read attentively you get a very good idea of what is going on.

Milburn: Yeah.

Kulykov: But, generally, are you satisfied with the level of information that you, specifically, get from the Ukrainian side? And the level of information that Ukrainian officials are providing to the population?

Milburn: Ooh. Okay, Andriy, on the second one, I can’t really answer that because I don’t speak Ukrainian so I don’t- on the first part, yes, we’re getting really good information from our Ukrainian partners, mostly at brigade level, and so no complaints and also, every morning as we drive to the front, the guys on the checkpoints- the soldiers- they will give us updates, you know- they will say, “Hey, it’s very bad there today,” or, “Hey, it’s a little quieter,” so, we are always asking these questions and we are always getting information. So, I am satisfied with that. I- Here’s my concern right now: I have no doubt- there’s not a shadow of doubt in my mind that the Ukrainians will win this war. My concern, probably like yours and all of us: just how long and bloody the war is going to be.

So, I look for every way that we can try and influence, not just ourselves but other organizations, to provide things that will enable the Ukrainians to achieve victory quicker, because I see the Russians advancing in Donbas, I know Putin wants to complete the invasion of Donbas before the winter sets in, right? And then he can say to France and Germany, and- “I’m willing to comprise. I’m ready to negotiate.” And winter’s coming, right. And the energy, the energy crisis is growing in Europe. So, you see what I’m saying. We may say we don’t care about Donbas, I mean, we Ukrainians. We may say, “Hey, this doesn’t matter strategically,” but to him it does. And that concerns me a little bit.

Kulykov: Over these months, have you been to the UK or the US and if you were, what did you tell people there? What they asked about?

Milburn: Yeah, I’ve been to both the UK and the US several times. I get asked to talk to different audiences there. To include- it depends, it can- both military and civilian leadership, and my message is this, first of all, just what I told you, that the Ukrainians are going to win the war, that we, we collectively in the West- US, Britain- we need to embrace the prospect of Ukrainian victory. What does that mean? That means stop worrying about Putin escalating and go all-in on providing high-end weapons systems. Alright? I know that’s- weapons alone don’t win the war. But what I’m saying is, to give Ukraine a real edge. I’ll give you an example: HIMARS. Wow. HIMARS rocks, right? Everyone’s like “HIMARS change-.” No, HIMARS, didn’t change the war, it really helped Ukrainians, especially, as I said, planning their offensive in Kherson; it’s a great weapons system, but it’s- there’s too few, and they aren’t capable, they’re not the high-end ATACMS, right, the missiles that can fire 300 kilometers, right? So, it gives them a little bit of an edge, but not enough. The Ukrainians used it very well, they hit Russian logistics, supply lines, ammo- What did the Russians- ammo dumps.

What did the Russians do? They dispersed their logistics; they dispersed their ammo, and their counter-battery fire became very efficient as you know. So, they adapted, and they could adapt because the Ukrainians didn’t have enough weapons or enough missiles, or long-range enough missiles, or long-range drones, to really keep them off balance. Give you an idea- so, that’s just platform. So, what I tell the public, what I tell them is, look, weapons don’t win a war alone, but Ukrainians have the other things that they need. They’ve got the willpower, the resilience, the determination, the skills, you name it. But they need that technological edge. Last thing on this: drones. There is no country on earth that understands the use of drones better than the Ukrainians.

And I think- a lot of that had its roots before the war. You know? There’s a lot of Ukrainian populations, certainly the urban population, is very technologically savvy, extraordinarily so, you know this, right? So, drone warfare came very naturally to them. More naturally than it does to British or Americans.

So, my point to American, British audiences: take advantage of this. Give them the long-range MQ1s, MQ9s, drones or other similar drones that provide long-range surveillance, long-range strike. Now, the concern is this, I’ve gotta be honest, the concern is, well what if they use these things to strike Russia? Right? Now we are liable and now we’re worried about escalation. And my point is, look, tell them that that is a condition of providing these weapons. NATO already does that. NATO already ties that proviso to weapons systems and Ukraine does not violate that. We all know that. So, you know, why the United States can’t do that, I don’t know. Of course, United States can do that. Here’s your ATACMS, alright, if one hits Russia though, the deal’s off, nothing more. Of course, the Ukrainians would understand that. What it would enable them to do though is hit Crimea and really shape Crimea because that’s- that’s going to be a tough fight. Do you think- now, I’m going to ask you a question; I know you’re interviewing me. Ukrainian victory. What does Ukrainian victory look like? Not just what Zelensky is saying but in your opinion and among the Ukrainians you talk to?

Kulykov: Depends on what you mean by your question. Whether it is about our borders, whether it’s about our unity, whether it’s about our defense capacity?

Milburn: You tell me. When the war- What is a satisfactory end to this war, in your opinion?

Kulykov: Well, the satisfactory end to this war is the restoration of Ukraine’s integrity- territorial integrity and the-

Milburn: To include Crimea and Donbas?

Kulykov: Of course.

Milburn: Every- Right. Every Russian boot off soil-

Kulykov: Sure. Sure. Sure.

Milburn: Okay.

Kulykov: And the buildup over new Ukrainian cohesion on the basis of resilience and all this kind of stuff.

Milburn: Yup. Well, the second part Putin is taking care of. Putin has created a nation here, right? I mean, even if-

Kulykov: Well, I’m always-

Milburn: Skeptical? [Laughs]

Kulykov: -arguing with those people who say that the Ukrainian political nation was formed by Russian invasion, by the Maidan or whatever.

Milburn: Alright, go ahead.

Kulykov: Maidan. And the Russian Invasion were caused by the formation of the Ukrainian political nation.

Milburn: Yeah. That’s a great point. Let me put it this way though, that Putin certainly contributed to a Ukrainian sense of nationalism and unity, right?

Kulykov: I don’t deny this.

Milburn: Yeah. So, even in Donbas, when you talk to the locals there, they’ve got no reason to lie to me, but they’re angry. They’ve had some sympathy before but now they’re angry at Putin.

Kulykov: Andy Milburn, The Mozart Group of international volunteers who both teach, or train, rather, Ukrainian front-line soldiers and help evacuate civilians from the danger zones, is our interviewee on the Ukraine Calling podcast. We are nearing the end but still there are a couple of questions that I want to ask.

One of them is: Given all the Ukrainian resilience, and successes and staunchness and all this kind of stuff, there’s a trend in Ukrainian mass media and official statements to denigrate and lessen the Russian capacity. They are being mocked; they are being pictured as an absolutely non-professional army.

Milburn: Yup, yup.

Kulykov: What’s your opinion on this? Does it help? Or does it make the thing harder for us?

Milburn: Andriy, I think that’s a terrific question. I think that- I think that dehumanizing the enemy becomes quite dangerous, for a number of reasons. One is it leads to violation of law of armed conflict. And you get a- even among civilians, you get a kind of feeling of, well, it doesn’t matter, they’re Russians, right? Screw ‘em, you know. Kill ‘em. Number one. Number two, it causes you to underestimate your enemy, and that is dangerous, alright? So, yes, Russian infantry have not performed well but there are some very good Russian units out there, even infantry units. You can talk to anyone who’s on the front line and they will have had experiences of taking prisoners who were very professional and resisted interrogation. So, we can’t all- we can’t judge the entire Russian army by some of the scenes, you know- the scenes that we’ve seen. Still, infantry’s not their strong point so what do they do? They don’t rely on their infantry. They rely on their artillery and they’re very good with artillery. Of course, we have an expression, you know? “Quantity has a quality all of its own.” They have plenty of- but they’re good.

I mean- they can bring- when we’re near a Ukrainian unit and that Ukrainian unit starts firing, we know we’ve got about four minutes to get away from there before, you know, the next rounds start coming in on the Russian side. We have been targeted, I know, by drones, you know, drones calling in artillery, very, very quickly from the time that we know we’ve been seen. So, they are good at that, they’re very good at electronic warfare. There’s a number of areas where they’re very good. It’s dangerous to underestimate them. It’s dangerous to paint them as buffoons and it’s gonna end up undermining our- and I say our- cause, right? Because NATO is- you know, NATO and the West, if they start dismissing the threat they’re going to think Ukraine doesn’t need help. And on that point, Andriy, I admire a lot of the strategic communication, the information operations, but again, it can go too far.

  • I think it’s time, sometimes, for the Ukrainians to say, “We need help. We- we’re taking heavy casualties, we need help in these areas specifically,” and sometimes you have to break bad news in order to do that. You know.

Kulykov: Andy, when the time will come when you can say, “I rest my case, I’ve done what I could do, I’m going home?”

Milburn: Well, I think you described it, right? A satisfactory end to the war. I mean, and that means, as you pointed out- that’s why I asked you to articulate it because I can’t speak for the Ukrainian people, but every single Ukrainian- man, women, civilian, military- has said the same thing you just did, alright. That is the satisfactory end to the war. Maybe after that. Although, I think that there will always be a requirement for organizations like ours to help in the reconstruction, training of the new Ukrainian army, reconstruction in Donbas with humanitarian stuff, so, I think we’re going to be here indefinitely.

I don’t- I see The Mozart Group as being kind of permanently here in Ukraine, if that makes sense. As long as were needed and as long as the money lasts. As I said, were dependent on donor funding but we’re also- we’re also branching out to do work- not mercenary stuff, but things like risk mitigation for companies coming in, encouraging companies to come back to Ukraine and assisting them to do that. Assisting getting ships out of our Mykolaiv, down the Dnipro, and out past Odesa. All of these things we’re trying to do. So, it’s not just military, not just humanitarian, economically too, and at the same time, enabling us to be independent economically so were not dependent- because donor funds- donor funding goes up and down, right? And Ukraine- the war here… You know in the West they have a very short attention span and the media the same way, right? So, we are not going to be able to buy all the time-

Kulykov: Our radio, which also depends on donor funding, knows this very well.

Milburn: Yeah, that’s right.

Kulykov: The last question. You said Mykolaiv in Ukrainian way, but you keep calling me “Andrei.”

Milburn: Oh!

Kulykov: In the Russian way.

Milburn: I’m so sorry.

Kulykov: No, you don’t have to be sorry about this because, for instance, practically all my interlocuters from the West call me “Andrei.” But-

Milburn: Tell me how to pronounce it so I can get it right.

Kulykov: Andriy! Andriy!

Milburn: Andriy! Alright, let’s go back and erase all the “Andreis” and put “Andriy.”

Kulykov: No, no, no. But how it is hard or easy for you to grasp and actually accept Ukrainian realities coming from a totally different, at least two, societies?

Milburn: Yeah, you know, it’s really not that difficult for me, Andriy, and I’ll tell you why, I’ll tell you why. Because- remember I said my last ten years were in special operations? So, even- even before that in my marine infantry career, I, in between command, operational command, I was an advisor to foreign militaries. So, I worked with the Afghans, I worked with the Iraqis, I worked with countries all around the world. I worked with Ukrainian naval infantry here in Crimea, in 2004. So, I’m used to reaching across that cultural divide, right, to work with other militaries. And it becomes- I become so used to it that I don’t- I don’t think, honestly, I don’t even think I notice nationalities that much anymore. You know, some would say, you know- I hear so many accents where- where I work and it just all blends into it. And the same thing dealing with Ukrainians, I don’t- I don’t think of them as Ukrainians and me as British. Does that make sense? It’s a- we have a common task, we have a common profession in the military, and that we have more in common, far more in common than divisions of language or culture.

Kulykov: Thank you very much. Andy Milburn of The Mozart International Volunteer Group on Ukraine Calling on Hromadske Radio.

Milburn: Andriy, can I just chime in very quickly at the end? For everyone, for your listeners: please checkout our website, www.themozartgroup.com. And also, follow us if you can on TikTok. Actually, on TikTok, it’s under my name, it’s AndyMilburn8. And then Instagram, you’ll find us under “Mozart.” So please, follow us on social media and like us. And tell your friends about us!

Ukraine Calling – December 7, 2022
Transcribed by Caitilín O’Hare and Leah Wagner
Andrew Milburn

This podcast is produced within the project «EU Emergency Support 4 Civil Society», implemented by ISAR Ednannia with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Hromadske radio and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.


May Be Interesting

20 years in prison for speaking Ukrainian on social media: the story of a kidnapped volunteer from Melitopol

20 years in prison for speaking Ukrainian on social media: the story of a kidnapped volunteer from Melitopol