Meet Oleksandr Shamshur. The 41-year-old Ukrainian hairdresser and citizen soldier is one of tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have picked up arms to help repel the almost year-long Russian invasion of their sovereign nation. Before the war, he was an Army Reservist. Shortly after Putin initiated his “special military operation” in Ukraine, Shamshur learned that his military base had been destroyed. He joined the territorial defense force and immediately began distributing food to civilians and helping to evacuate them from dangerous areas.

Regarding his sudden switch to military life, Shamshur said,

“I wanted to defend people, and it is not because it is a duty; it is because I want to do it. What else could I do? It did not even occur to me to run away or hide somewhere. No.” 

Oleksandr keeps the conversation light when working with clients in his salon. He wants to keep them happy and take their minds off the war. Screenshot from YouTube and Reuters.

With over 300 days of practice under their belts, Ukrainian armed forces keep getting better and better and bringing down Russian missiles and drones. His Kyiv-based unit counts among their members a lawyer and a few businessmen. Ordinary people. Using sophisticated thermal cameras and rangefinders, they track Iranian Shahed-136 drones, doing their best to down them restored with World War II-era machine guns. Oleksandr recalled how during one night watch in December of last year, his unit shot down two drones from a rooftop in Kyiv.

He has absolutely no doubts about his service. “If needed, I will sacrifice my life,” he said. “I will not think twice about it.” 

Keeping close watch of the skies over Kyiv. Screenshot from YouTube and Reuters.

One evening, as Oleksandr was scanning the night sky over Kyiv with his thermal camera, he was asked about his current situation. He quickly replied,

“I am a very happy person. Why? Because I am defending my country. I am defending our Ukrainian people, but at the same time, I can come to the beauty salon and work with the people…do the work I know, cut hair, and talk to clients.”

As he said this, one of his comrades was fiddling with the barrels of their OD green Soviet-made Maxim machine gun.

“Who you gonna call?” Patches on Shamshur’s kit. The patch to the left reads “Ronin,” the name of a Japanese feudal warrior. He has taken that name as his nom de guerre. Screenshot from YouTube and Reuters.

Although he has seen a brutal year of war and death, Shamshur still has dreams. He dreams of the end of the war. “But only if we win,” he says. “The war can end only on our terms. There can be no negotiations because the enemy is sly, and if we start negotiating, they will use the time to build up their forces, to boost troops, gather more rockets, and soon, the same thing will happen again.” 

Despite his desire for peace, Shamshur remains a realist. One can only hope that before long, he can put down the rangefinder and return to his salon full time

** I would like to acknowledge Margaryta Chornokodratenko and Yiming Woo of Reuters for providing the source material for this story.