«I wanted to be called Lion because I am from Lviv.» This is how Ukrainian soldiers choose their call signs

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Who chooses call signs for our soldiers, why many had them before entering the service, and may a call sign be unrelated to the war? Lviv Now tells the stories of the battle names by which our defenders are called while serving the people of Ukraine.

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When starting military service, Ukrainian soldiers not only gave up civilian life, but also partially became other people in a different reality, with other problems, as well as with call signs or nicknames. So, why give up the name given almost from birth?

If you don’t name yourself, you will be helped

Candidate of philological sciences Lyudmyla Kravchenko, associate professor of Kyiv National University named after T. Shevchenko, conducted a linguistic study on Ukrainian call signs in cooperation with her colleagues. Last year, it was presented at the «Veterana Hub» in Lviv.

«The issue of call signs arose from the very beginning of the Russian aggression in 2014. But its roots go back to antiquity, to the times of the Cossacks and the formation of their own names. This class of names immediately acquired specifics and differed from the names, surnames and nicknames that existed before that in the Ukrainian language,» – the researcher explains.

First of all, pseudonyms are taken in order to hide one’s name, as well as to speed up communication between the military. Calling each other by their first and last names will not only take time, but also cause confusion: who knows how many persons with the name Andrii, Ivan, Iryna or Olena can serve in one unit. How to distinguish who exactly they are addressing?

It is worth noting that there cannot be two fighters with the same callsigns in one unit. Ukrainians have never lacked creativity, and if suddenly someone has problems with how to name themselves, their brothers and sisters are always ready to help. The results of the study show that almost half of the soldiers choose call signs themselves, and the same number receive it from their comrades in arms. In the second case, they can come up with something that will be both funny and sinful, but they will have to serve with it.

«A call sign can be invented based on one’s personal features. Did, Staryi (Grandfather, Old) – because he is an older military man. Or, on the contrary, Molodyi (Young) – but this is for the one who is the oldest in the battalion. Or Syvyi (Gray), because the fighter has gray hair, but Hnom (Dwarf) – is for someone of almost two meters tall. The call sign is also chosen according to the person’s habits: Okun (Perch) is a vegetarian, Tanysor (Dancer) is because he likes to dance, – the scientist continues. – You can get a pseudo because of the peculiarities of speech: Trischitka – speaks quickly and a lot, Nezhurys – because he encourages everyone. There are also pseudonyms that testify to the military’s place of origin and residence, their faith, outlook, creativity, even life situations and occasions that happened to them.»

And now let’s move from theory to practice: let’s talk about our defenders, most of whom are from Lviv, and how they got their callsigns.

From hacker to military

He is well known in civilian life as a developer of educational, simulation games, a traveler, and a journalist. Now he is a military instructor, a veteran of the ATO (stage of the Russian-Ukrainian war from 2014 to the beginning of 2022), who has returned to service as the commander of the special operations forces group and the operator of the UAV. Military colleagues and beyond know him by the nickname «Condor».

«It should be understood that nicknames, which are now called «call signs», did not arise from the beginning of the war. They were used in patriotic organizations, camps, and schools – this is an allusion to the fact that the Ukrainians had pseudonyms in order not to reveal their real names. Also, pseudonyms as nicknames were very popular among people who were fond of computer games or worked in areas related to IT. And even in any youth subculture, from time to time there is a need to create pseudonyms. This applies to purely psychological aspects, in particular for initiation rites,» – he claims.

Read also: «I could stay at home, but I’m here» – a professor of Computer Sciences who went to the front

Condor’s experience shows that pseudonym is not a military topic at all. In the army, however, call signs are chosen only by those who did not have them in civilian life.

«My nickname came about when I was getting my first higher education – computer engineering. At that time, I was interested in the reliability of systems. We coded on Assembler, tried to break the Novell network and, accordingly, admired those people who were called hackers, – the military explains. – Therefore, my call sign is the pseudonym of one of the very famous American hackers. This is Kevin Mitnick, you can learn a lot about him from the Internet. I chose his pseudonym because I liked his story. But it has nothing to do with military topics.»

From a past life

This man is a political scientist by profession. For more than 15 years, he has been engaged in military-patriotic education of youth. Under the call sign «Viy» [a character from Mykola Gogol’s story], he went as a volunteer to defend his native country from the beginning of the war. And now, he has returned to service as a soldier of the Territorial Defence forces of Ukraine.

«The history of assigning callsigns to the military in the Russian-Ukrainian war goes back to the traditions of the Ukrainian insurgent army. At that time, pseudonyms were chosen by the insurgents for the purpose of security, conspiracy and ease of communication in the unit, – he says. – In fact, the same reasons became the basis for the restoration of the system of pseudo-callsigns in the modern Ukrainian army. In 2014, they were totally used by volunteer units formed by nationalist organizations. Over time, this tradition was adopted by all other units of the Armed Forces.»

Read also: Vice-rector, scout, and marketing specialist. Stories of those who joined the territorial defence in Lviv

Pavlo Danylchuk explains that the call sign will be chosen in different ways: independently as a soldier, from a past military life, jokingly or seriously by comrades. Over time, it actually becomes a second name. Often, in addition to the main one, the military uses spare call signs – for special combat missions. It is functionally important that these call names are short and easy to remember, such as Hrab (Hornbeam), Dub (Oak), Thor, Vyun (Eel), Voron (Raven), Siryi (Gray), etc.

«I personally have a pseudonym «Viy», which I chose back in the ranks of the Youth Nationalist Congress in 2003. Since those times, it has remained with me: both in 2014, when I was in the ranks of the Azov battalion, and now, when I joined the defense of Ukraine as a part of the Territorial Defence of the Ukrainian Armed Forces,» – he explains.

By the band’s name

In his pre-war life, this man was a doctor traumatologist and the leader of a punk rock band. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, like many Ukrainians, he had to change his occupation. The man received a summons and went to serve... precisely on his wife’s birthday. Now, a paramedic with the call sign «Beton» saves the lives of his brothers and keeps a war diary on social networks #запискидокторажолоба.

«I am a guitar player and vocalist of a band that performs punk rock. Immediately before going to serve, without hesitation, I asked permission of the boys from our band to take «Beton» (Concrete) as my call sign. Now even my ambulance license plates are BETON, he says. – There were already different stories with this call sign. Guys from other brigades even came running to get autographs and take pictures, because they heard «Beton» and immediately said: «I’m listening to this band’s album in the car»! And others answered them: «Here, by the way, the guitarist of «Beton» is serving.»

Read also: Rebirth, or the way from punk rocker to a military doctor

There are many artists, especially musicians, who serve in the army. In particular, a military man known as the bass guitarist of the band «HYCH Orchestra» is standing in defense of the country. Now he is a fighter of territorial defence, who provides fire support under the call sign «Floyd».

«My call sign, or pseudo, as our Banderite grandfathers used to say, is «Floyd». It can be said that this is my middle name. Because even my mother, God bless her, who baptized me and gave me the Christian name Volodymyr, called me Floyd more than once. I have many friends who still don’t know my real name, – he says. – The story of this pseudo is very simple: my parents were rock and roll fans, and since the cradle, I fell asleep to the magical psychedelic sounds of Pink Floyd. Because of this, already in my student years, my cousin and his older friends immediately called me Floyd.»

Read also: «We’ve lost a million dollars because we gave up Russia» – musician Taras Topolia

Gentle and optimistic

We have two stories of female call signs here. One belongs to a psychologist, HR specialist and activist who left her job in the IT field without hesitation. After February 24, she went to the Military Commissariat and signed up for territorial defense. Now she is a senior combat medic of the 103rd brigade of the Military Medical Service of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with the call sign «Sontse» (Sun).

«I chose my nickname based on what many civilian friends call me. At first, it sounded like Taio – «big sun» in Japanese. But this word is difficult and not understood by many, so everyone calls me the Sun. As a call sign, «Sun» took root immediately, so the brothers did not change it,» – she explains.

Because of her call sign, the woman has already got into several funny situations. Her male colleagues recorded her in their telephone contacts as «Ira medic Sontse» – with her name and profession, so that later it would be possible to prove to their wives that the Sun was calling them.

«Most of them call me «Sonechko» (Sunny) or «Our Sonechko», because I do the most important thing for them – I take care of their health. I’m always cheerful, I rarely scream, I constantly say: «The sun is shining, the sun is good, but I’m not good. I won’t feel sorry for the wounded, I’ll treat them,» – the woman continued. – That’s what I do. By the way, we even have a medical evacuation vehicle called «Sonechko». They say about me that Sonechko cannot be replaced. This, of course, is not true, but I love all my fighters very much, and that’s what I’m holding on to here.»

Another defendress before the start of the war was a psychologist and rehabilitator. Now, she is also a soldier of the 103rd Territorial Defence brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with the call sign «Raketa» (Rocket).

«I took the call sign «Raketa» myself. In my youth, my future husband called me that, and everyone did that too. Why? Because I am very fast and active. In general, call signs appear most often by accident. That’s how someone blurts out something – and a call sign appears. Or they are chosen by the profession of a fighter. For example, my brother worked as a journalist in civilian life, that’s why he is a «Journalist» here too,» – says the defender.

Because the chosen call sign is too common

We also had a chance to communicate with a soldier who is in the service, although his closest friends do not know about it, so he asked not to specify his name and surname. In his pre-war life, he was a marketer, but now he is fighting. This is a drone operator with the call sign «John».

«My pseudonym is John, although at first, it was supposed to be «Lev» (Lion), because I am from Lviv. After I realized that there were enough Lions in the ranks, in order not to create duplicates, I «came» to John. If you choose a call sign yourself, without leaving this task to your entourage, you should consider the following signs. It should be short – because time saves lives, bright – because the nickname should be remembered, and personal – in order to convey part of your essence in the war,» – he explains.

From his experience, it’s very common in the army to choose a call sign which continues the pre-war professional history of a person. Thus, doctors become «Docs», employees of the financial service become «Bankers», those who worked on sea cruises become «Ships», and so on. Often, a call sign is taken as a nickname, by which a military person was called before the war. But if it has a common root with the surname, then it is mostly changed.

«And it’s a completely different story when someone doesn’t have a pseudo. Because there will always be a «creative» person in the team, who will reveal that one in a certain guise, based on his appearance or actions, – the defender notes. – For example, the «Kapeliukh» (Hat) is called because of the headdress, Kryvyi «Crooked» – because of the peculiarity of the physique, Psykh «Psycho» – because of feverishness or imbalance. And if such a pseudo «fits» for the majority, the carrier will not «reset» or get rid of it. That’s why it’s always better to have your own vision of your pseudo and choose it yourself.»

Marichka Ilyina, translated by Vitalii Holich

Photos provided by fighters and published with their permission

Full or partial republication of the text without the written consent of the editors is prohibited and considered a violation of copyright.

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