In civil life Mike is (or basically was) a project manager in construction but he also has a vast military experience acquired during his 6 years of service in the Swedish Army and the National Guard as well as participation in military sports championships.
He is a recon sniper who has been fighting in Ukraine as well as training new inexperienced recruits.
During his short leave to Kyiv Mikael talked to Censor.NET about various things: the qualities of Ukrainian soldiers, what the Ukrainian generals are lacking, who is Ukraine fighting with, and the main thing - what made him come and fight for its freedom.
And that is what we'll start with. Mike says that all his relatives and friends back home approved or at least agreed to his choice and did not try to talk him out of a trip to Kyiv.
- My mom is used to me doing "stupid" things. And she knows I am not bad, I can handle myself. You can have bad luck, of course and far better men than me died because of it. But in a normal situation I usually land on my feet. I may be hurt but I always seem to make it.
My friends are also used to me doing "stupid" things. All the guys were, like "come home, when you're done."
Mikael Skillt. Photo (c) Aleksey Perkin, Censor.NET
- What brings you here? Why Ukraine?
- I haven't thought about going to Ukraine or something like that but I heard good things about it before. And then I saw all this rioting in Kyiv and it naturally captured my interest because I was a political activist back in Sweden. So I figured out quite quickly that Yanukovych was the biggest bastard in Ukraine. I followed the news. In the beginning it was not that bad. Basically rioting. People get beat up but you see that every day. But then it started to get really ugly. People were kidnapped, beaten to death and something woke up in me - maybe I can do something…
---THE POLICE STOMPED ME BREAKING MY KNEES AND RIBS---
But I still had a girlfriend, a house, a job. Basically I have my whole life and it was going pretty good. But when they started shooting and I see that it could be 10, 15, 20 dead guys in one day, in one street sometimes, I decided - I'm going to do something about it. Because the guys had heart but basically no military training and they were facing if not regular then at least tactically trained police. So, I talked to my boss, my girlfriend, sold my contract on the house, quit my job, left my girlfriend and arrived …4 days too late.
Photo @Mikael Skillt
- You came without knowing anybody here? Just like that?
- I met up with a bunch of young guys that work together with Sovoboda, it's called Sich. They did a lot of fighting (including at the Maidan) even though they were young. They had a will to fight corruption. So I thought - why not? I stayed in Ukraine, we trained a little bit in military tactics because I have some experience in that from the army and the National Guard.
During that time it started to get a little rough in the East. Same again - it was not very bad, just basically some beatings. And we talked long and hard and we decided - let's go and at least do something. It turned out otherwise (laughs a little). The police did a little something instead.
In Poltava on the way to Kharkiv they kicked our ass. They had a block post. They stopped every car that looked suspicious. When they stopped us there were no questions. Just 30 guys from Sokil with AKs straight in our faces. There weren't many questions. They just beat us, just f#@ked us up bad. They were a bit nicer to me because they see my Swedish passport. They know if they kill a foreigner they know they are going to have some - may be not much - but some trouble. So, an officer - I don't know the uniform - comes and says "Come with me." He says "Listen, we are you only friends here. Either you speak to us or we give you back to those guys." I said I am not sure because my friends don't normally beat me.
And they stomped both my knees so they cracked and some ribs, too. At that moment it felt ok because you have a lot of adrenaline. I go into the police bus and one guy from regular Poltava police comes by and he looks really sad. He says "Guys, I really hope we go to Poltava. Otherwise you'll just vanish." And it got me thinking - Hey, this is going to end up somewhere in the woods. But they took us to Poltava. One of the deputies connected to Pravyy Sektor (the Right Sector)made some calls and they decided it would be less troublesome to give us to Poltava.
This assault was the work of that bastard mayor of Kharkiv (Kernes). He is a real bastard.
AZOV WAS WELL TRAINED PHYSICALLY. BUT MILITARILY - NOTHING
- So next step was joining the self-defense battalion. Why Azov?
- I was thinking about it long and hard. I had some options. It was a little problem because I'm not a Ukrainian citizen. And according to law (smiles knowingly) I cannot fight. So we had to pull some strings, try to work around some of the laws. And I heard some stuff about Azov battalion. Not much because they had been fighting in small fights with sticks and stones in Kharkiv and so on. But I have seen it and I thought to myself - these are good guys. Not very well trained. Physically - well trained, but militarily - nothing. I had a friend of a friend set up a meeting with their recruiter in Kyiv and it all turned out good. We agreed on everything.
I joined in May on the same day they sent the first 60 fighters. They went to Mariupol and stayed in the city airport and then found some Yanukovych's (or one of his cronies') vacation home and used it as a base.
Photo @Mikael Skillt
- Did you train the guys in Azov?
- Yeah, I trained them for a month and a half.
- What was your fight or a battle as Azov soldier?
- See, when it started out I was bored as f@#k. Because we trained and nothing else. We only did spearhead operations together with SBU or local police. Arresting people. Just go and grab someone. Not much shooting, almost no shooting at all.
- So more of a policing function than military?
- Yes. That was the point of the battalion in the beginning. But it was a good way to start because when we got to our first fight, which was Mariupol I could see that the guys I had been training together, ad we had operations together, they were really good. Otherwise I think it would have been a clusterf#@k.
Photo @Mikael Skillt
- When did you come back to Kyiv this time? When was your last leave?
- I came back three days ago. I'm actually one of the few idiots who never took any vacation since I joined. I had been fighting with them for about 5 and half months. I really wanted to take a vacation but then I would think - there was always some guys from my team or guys I consider friends there. So I was thinking - if I leave and they go on some mission and end up in some crap… It just didn't feel ok. Because if I'm there - at least I can do something. May be I cannot save all the lives but at least, even the odds a little.
I HAVE THE HIGHEST RESPECT FOR 51st BRIGADE AND MARIUPOL BORDER GUARDS
- But you know, you do need to reboot…
- What's good with the Azov battalion is that we are mostly used in spearhead operations, as I mentioned. So we go and fight may be 6-10 days. They are hard fights, no doubt. We've been in some of the worst hot spots in this war. But then we go back. And during that time you can kind of reboot. It's not like vacation of course because you don't whether you'll go tomorrow or in two days, or if you are going on some small shit mission, destruction of enemy's IEDs things like that. But you get a little time off. Because when you are in the field for 10 days it feels like you've been working 24/7 for a month.
Photo @Mikael Skillt
- So what do you think about Ukrainians soldiers? The ones you are fighting alongside with? Other units?
- I've seen both good and bad. The 51st brigade, for example. I have the highest respect for them. Because they actually live at the front. Every f#@king day. May be not fight every day but they live at the front. I would go to battle with them any day of the week. Now there are not so many left of them, though but the guys that are left - no problem. They could call me 24/7 and I would go with them. Same with Mariupol border guards. They must be the craziest and bravest men that exist in Ukraine.
- And what about your commanders?
- None are too bad. Normally you have one or two who are complete idiots but somehow Azov battalion avoided that.
- And what about other leaders? Do you deal with any officials? I mean you conduct operations together with…
- … the army. We cooperate with generals and so on but it's little like autonomous state. They can say: "We want you to take this town." And our commander will say "Yeah. We will do it but we will do it our way." And that's it. And so far it worked perfectly.
Photo @Mikael Skillt
And as to Anton Biletskyy (Azov commander), I met many interesting people in my life, all kinds of men, from various political movements, various leaders. He is one of a kind. I heard he went into the People's Front party. I think if he is half as good a politician as he is a commander, Ukraine is very lucky to have him.
SEPARATISTS COULDN'T FIGHT FOR SHIT. THEY JUST FIRE SEVERAL SHOTS AND F#@K OFF.
- What is your opinion about the professionalism of our troops? Are they learning?
- Yeah, they are adopting. Of course they don't have much training. Some are just reserves. They had just a month of training. But they are learning. They have to learn, of course, otherwise they die. But they do it because they love their country and it means that they are more willing to learn than, may be Russian soldiers or if they were doing it for money.
- That brings us to my next question - what do you think about this DPR, LPR , Russian soldiers, Russian mercenaries?
- It was a funny thing, actually. Because I've been fighting in a lot of places, 7 or 8 different locations, some hotter than others, and, for example when we took Mariupol the first time we didn't fight soldiers we fought some … I don't know, you have a great word for them - "Dolboyob" (Dickhead). Some super idiots.
They couldn't fight for shit. They just fire several shots and f#@k off.
Next thing we saw was when we were fighting in Marynivka. We saw some military tactics. Not much but some. They made an ambush on our group that was not good but not bad but it was interesting to see that we are now fighting guys who actually have some tactical sense. It turned out to be ex Berkut policemen (infamous disbanded riot police).
Next step was in Ilovaisk and Amvrosiivka and other cities around there. You could see that now they are using good tactics. They copied the Groznyy. They opened the whole city, our guys went in and they closed it. Since I work in a very small group, a sniper team, for me it's not a big problem because unless they have a million men to put a meter away from each other we will always get out.
Then there was Novoazovsk where we fought in Bezimenne. There we could actually see them using good military tactics. They have experts in artillery, you could see them adjusting targeting - one, two, three and then spot on.
We had a small fight with soldiers - we killed a bunch of them - and on them we found weapons that the Ukrainian Army doesn't have and the Russian army doesn't use very much. That was actually one group that used them and those are Kuban Cossacks.
That was when we understood that now there are no separatists. May be a couple of idiots running around drawing markings on the walls but not fighting at all. Digging trenches, loading shells at the most.
- So basically you are now fighting…
… the Russian army.
- Do you think the Russians are going to stop at this?
- No, they are planning to keep what they've stolen and we can do nothing about it if it's a frozen conflict. That means that all my friends died for nothing.
- So you are saying that some political parties have political will to freeze it?
Exactly. And Biletskyy mentioned in some interview that it cannot stop like this. We must take ours back. If that doesn't happen it means that the Ukrainians there, who don't want to live in Russia become political prisoners.
I NEVER GO UNARMED. EVEN IN CIVILIAN LIFE.
- And if the conflict resumes, if the cease fire is broken what's going to happen?
- It's going to be bloody. It's going to be worse than anything we've seen.
- How many kills is your battalion responsible for?
- I don't know about the entire Azov battalion but it's well above several hundred. I know that our little group only in Novoazovsk or Bezimenne more like it killed 80 guys in one sweep.
- So what about that reward for your head from the Russians?
- I heard that the bounty for my head started at 10 thousand. It's silly. You're never going to get the money. You can kill me and they're just gonna say "thank you for the body but go f#@k yourself."
Photo @Mikael Skillt
Though at one point I was thinking and I said to my friends: "I want to raise it, to go higher." So I try to make them angry on my Twitter page. And then I speak to a girl from one of your TV channels and she's like "do you know about the price on your head" and I said "well, 10 thousand, that makes me angry" and she said "No, no, no, it's a million". That made me think that I do a little too good of a job.
- And what do you think about that, do you care?
Ah, f@#k it. It's not going to change anything. So far it ended with many deaths on their side and not on mine. And I'll tell you - I never go unarmed. Even in civilian life.
- What's next for you? When are you planning to go back to Sweden?
- I am definitely staying in Ukraine. There's no use going home. Not yet. I have 10 days off now and I can do what I want. But things can change very quickly. If the Russians decide to break the cease fire, all bets are off. But in case the cease fire holds I have another 4 days of, not a vacation, but at least not fighting. We'll do some training and other stuff near Kyiv.
- You got new recruits?
- Yeah, we got A LOT. And a bunch of recently retired special forces guys from at least 6 different countries - Scandinavian countries, England, France, stuff like that.
- What do you think we need to win?
- What we need to do is for the generals to start using modern tactics. I have seen so many stupid examples of World War I tactics. The generals see a block post. They don't think about flanking it or coming up from behind or just f@#k it, leave it, surround them. No, we go straight on. Like a bull to a red rag. And when they've taken the block post - oh! We have the block post! What do you need it for if you don't advance?
Same with artillery. Normally you have what is called an artillery curtain. All the time it goes in front of the armored vehicles, tanks. And when they are close enough to actually assault the enemy positions, the artillery stops and boom! In Ukraine they do "something like that". But the artillery fires and the tanks stay at a safe distance and then they wait for 2 hours before attacking.
Besides tactics you (we) are lacking education and training. I think trained officers is what Ukraine needs the most. And also military advisers. Maybe from NATO but preferably Georgia since they have good officers with relevant experience.
I am not of the opinion that being part of NATO is so much better than being engulfed by Russia. They both have an agenda. They don't want to save Ukraine and turn it into an utopia. They view it as a buffer zone and they both want to have one. So in this regard advisers from neutral countries would be better.