Battleground: Ukraine

A history podcast that explores the narratives, turning points and characters that shape conflicts, encompassing a blend of social and military history. Following on from the series on the Falklands War, best-selling military historians Patrick Bishop, and Saul David turn their attention to the war in Ukraine.

Goalhanger Podcasts

Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

27. The People's Fight

27. The People's Fight

Fri, 10 Feb 2023 01:00

This week we spoke to the brilliant documentary filmmaker Olly Lambert, who discusses his experiences and takeaways from filming the incredible on-the-ground documentary - Ukraine: The People's Fight. Patrick and Saul also delve into the latest news and developments, and answer listeners questions.

If you have any thoughts or questions, you can send them to -

Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

Listen to Episode

Copyright © Goalhanger Podcasts

Read Episode Transcript

What's one of the most common motives at the heart of crime stories? The desire for money and a lot of it. From the Museum of Natural History Heist in New York to the Antwerp Diamond Heist, the History Channel's new original series, History's greatest heists with Pierce Brosnan, delves into eight elaborate high stakes attempts to secure the riches of a lifetime. Pierce Brosnan will step from behind the big screen and into time's past to detail the intricately laid plans of the audacious criminal masterminds behind these headline-making heists. It's better than a movie. This is Real Life, Tune in Tuesday, February 7th at 10-9 Central, only on the History Channel, and stream next day on the History Channel app. Hello and welcome to the Battleground Ukraine podcast with me, Patrick Bishop, and Saul David. The main news this week is that Russia continues to make small gains across the front line in eastern Ukraine, which raises the question, has the much anticipated Russian offensive already begun. Or is this just an attempt to keep the Ukrainians guessing and constantly off balance until the main effort is launched in the coming weeks? We're also going to consider the relationship between the Kremlin and the Wagner group, and we're also hearing that President Zelensky is making a surprise visit to the UK today, his first since the Russian invasion. I guess this week is filmmaker Oli Lambert, who spent a number of months in Ukraine last year filming the excellent BBC documentary Ukraine, The People's Fight, which is still available on iPlayer. Oli risked his life to bring back some extraordinary footage from the front line in the Kesson at last, and we'll be giving us an insight into why Ukraine's mobilisation of ordinary people is proving so effective. But first let's drill down a little more deeply into Russia's strategy. Its forces are continuing to make small gains in an Iran-Bachmutin Donetsk, northeast of Kopiansk and west of the Svatolvay Kremlin, that line both in Luhansk. But let's be honest, we're all operating in the dark here, really, aren't we? There's a lot of muskidov gas deception coming from both sides. Ukrainian officials warning that things are about to kick off and that the offensive we've been talking about so much, this decisive big push in eastern Ukraine could start as early as mid to late February. And they're making quite a lot of play about the anniversary, and the significance that this will have for the Russians. This is the message we got from the Ukrainian Defence Minister Alexei Reznikov. We said this week the attack will begin on February the 24th, which of course is the first anniversary of the invasion. I personally would have thought that this was a date they'd want to forget rather than draw attention to. And then on the other hand we've got an unnamed adviser from the Ukrainian military telling the financial time that it could begin even before that. So around February the 15th, so many days soon, the idea being that the Russians want to hit Ukraine hard before the arrival of these main battle tanks from Europe and the US. So what do you think is going on there, so? Well, the question we've posed is has the counteroffensive or has the big Russian offensive already begun? No, I don't think it has. I think it is more likely that they're trying to keep the Ukrainians off balance. We'll discuss in a moment what the Ukrainians are likely to be doing. But as far as the Russians are concerned, I do think anniversaries, it's always been a big thing in Russian history actually. They may well be trying to write the wrongs of last year by forcing the issue now. And of course time is of the essence because as we know, a lot of Western support will discuss the arrival of Zelensky in the UK. It's significant, of course, Patrick, insofar as it affirms the UK's support for Ukraine. But nothing really in terms of tanks and possible fighter jets and anything else that we can get to Ukraine is going to make that much difference to the coming Russian offensive, which is why obviously it's time sensitive. And I think they're probably right. It is going to happen sooner rather than later. It's interesting. I've been spotting that ultra-nationalist Russian mill bloggers, particularly those with affiliation to the Wagner group, continue to express skepticism about Russia's ability to launch a successful offensive later than mid-February. So they're putting pressure on Suner rather than later. And their argument is that general Valerie Gressimov, of course, the chief of staff who's also now commanding Russian forces in Ukraine has a limited time window to launch an offensive before muddy weather and Western military aid reaches critical mass. Yeah, but the weather thing's interesting, isn't it? Because before we were always talking about the winter, that actually doesn't seem to have had a huge effect. But the muddy, muddy weather, I think spring, snow melt, rains and all the rest of it is more of an issue, isn't it? A funny way than the winter is. But talking about Gressimov, he seems to have got a grip on things, doesn't he? Particularly in this aspect of the power struggle, I suppose you'd call it between the conventional army and the Wagner group, there's a bit of interesting news coming out of Moscow about a court decision relating to Evgeny Prigotian, which finds that he is not the legal owner of the Wagner mercenary group. Now this is in response to a legal action that he himself brought against the Russian journalist, which we won't go into here. But the bottom line is that the court's decision is being seen as a Kremlin attempt to reduce Prigotian's influence, the courts of course, being totally subservient, to Putin. So, you know, there's clearly some kind of power struggle going on there, opaque as usual. But again, that's a bit of a feature of Russian history, isn't it? These, behind the Kremlin wars, all sorts of things going on, which we are never really going to get to the bottom of. Yeah, we're constantly speculating on the Patrick on whether or not, you know, a power struggle could topple Putin at some point where we'll see, of course, and the coming offensive may really, you know, be a determining factor. It could be a big factor in whether or not people within Russia believe Putin can win this war. But certainly, the determination of the Russian military, Putin and the Russian regular military to sideline the Wagner group is clear in what's happening actually in the fighting that we've been talking about a lot in back-moot because what seems to have happened there is that the army has now taken control. So, it's allowed a Wagner to expend a lot of lives. And now it wants the, you know, the victory as it were in its own hands. So, that is all part of the power struggle. Another interesting development this week in line with the peace I wrote for the Daily Mail about the Battle of Kursk in 1943. Now, the relevance of the Battle of Kursk is, as you know, Patrick, a huge tank battle between, of course, Nazi Germany and Russia and a great victory for the Russian. So, this is one of their, sort of, you know, their hallowed battlefields. It's actually just inside Russia, generally considered to be fighting in and around Ukraine. So, you can see the comparisons. And, of course, what the announcement for sending leopard tanks to Ukraine has prompted in Russia is Putin commenting, well, of course, this is just classic. This is more, you know, proof that the Nazis are coming again with their German battle tanks with the Black Cross is painted on the side. Well, Olaf Scholz, of course, who's made the decision to send the tanks, has hit back by saying that Putin's comments are part of a series of the streus historical comparisons that he uses to justify his attack on Ukraine. And here's the interesting bit, Patrick, in fact, said Schultz, the West and Ukraine have a consensus that Ukrainian forces will only use Western-provided weapons to liberate its territories from Russian occupation. We've heard this before, but it's interesting, of course, in a broader sense. This is Germany and NATO still saying we're sending weapons for defensive purposes and not for offensive. Yeah, I see that Jeremy Corbyn has waded in and was backing the Russian narrative, saying that these Western weapons could be used to actually cross the border and go into Russia, which actually brings me back some remarks I made last week about Boris Johnson, rather unflaturing ones. And I just want to say that Boris, for all his faults, he means well. So I didn't want to suggest in any way that there was any moral equivalence between him and Vladimir Putin, just wanted to clear that up. And of course, this visit today is very much part of the Johnson legacy he got in there first, very vocal and very practical support given from the get-go. So, you know, Qdos to Boris for that. On the subject of the visit, Patrick, one of the interesting elements because we've already had an announcement by the UK Prime Minister, Ritchie Sunak, he reaffirms his support in the broadest sense. But he also talks about training fighter pilots, jet fighter pilots for Ukraine. And this is quite significant, of course, because it implies that in the not-too-distant future, Ukraine is going to be getting Western jets, which is another of the elements that we've sort of, you know, kept back from the Ukrainians. We've been drip feeding them all this kit to, you know, allow them to keep fighting, but not actually to decisively defeat Russia. The argument being as we've already pointed out, you know, they could be used to escalate the war by actually attacking Russia itself. But it does look like jets are going to be on their way in the not-too-distant future. Do you think that's significant? Yeah, it is, it is, but I think we've got the wrong end of the stick about what these jets are going to be used for. A very interesting piece by Justin Brom in the spectator, which goes into some detail, a lot of technical detail about what the actual air situation is and what these fast jets will be used for. Now, we've been assuming they'll be used in support of a ground offensive, a classic combination ground attack. And he's saying, no, the truth of the matter is that the Russians, for all their incompetence, are actually very, very good at ground-to-air defense. So they also have been considerable depth. So any of these new jets being used in an offensive role would run into huge dangers from the sophisticated ground to Russian defenses. And I think the one of the things holding the West back has been that if they were used in this way, they'd very quickly get knocked down. Where they do have value and considerable value is actually in a defensive role. So shooting down incoming Russian missiles and also defending Ukrainian airspace against Russian fast jets. So I think that clarified matters quite a lot, definitely worth having a look at. In that case, it sort of makes more sense. It does sort of provide an explanation for why there's been this reluctance on the part of all most of the West. I mean, Poland's been more positive than others in providing these Western fast jets. Now another interesting bit of news Patrick is the announcement. And it's the first for a while of another senior Russian commander in this particular case, a character called Major General Dmitry Ulyanov, former commander, apparently of the elite 98th Guards Airborne Division, so a paratrooper. And Ulyanov had actually retired, returned to active service at the beginning of the campaign. And reports I've been reading this morning have said that he was a volunteer. So he's commanding not a division, but a regiment, which is obviously a smaller formation from Tata Stan. This is one of the stands that we're talking about Central Asia now well away from the heartlands of Russia. And he was killed according to news reports in a firefight with the Ukrainian sabotage group. So is that implying special forces, partisan, we don't know. Other reports say he was killed in and around back moot. So it could have been in that entirely sort of conventional capacity. But let's just go with the sabotage thing for a second, Patrick. I mean, did they target him and do these type of sabotage assassination attacks actually cause more trouble than good? Well, it does put what in mind of the notorious attempt to kill a rommel in back in 1990. And if I remember, I think it was 1941 when a commando outfit was put ashore in what's now Libya to attack what they thought was Rommel's headquarters. It was led by very young left hand and colonel, 24-year-old Jeffrey Keys. It was one of these black fast things everything went wrong from the outset. So it turned out that the building they thought was Rommel's headquarters was in fact a storeroom. Rommel wasn't even there. The guard who surprised him managed to get off a few rounds which alerted the rest of the garrison, poor old Jeffrey Keys, was shot. And everyone was rounded up and captured. Nonetheless, Jeffrey Keys got a VC for this, which actually makes one wonder slightly about VCs. And the whole thing was a catastrophe, which was turned into a propaganda boys into a display of British daring, doom and gallantry. So yeah, I mean, a complete waste of time really and lives and resources. We could say the same about you remember the old creepy general creepy story where Paddy Lee firmer and some of his comrades captured that German general in Crete and I think it was a spring of 1944, wasn't it? Yeah, 1944 the creepy story is much more tragic, of course, than Rommel. I mean, generally speaking, the kind of theory goes that the war fought in the desert was a relatively gentlemanly war if you if war can ever be described as that. But Crete, a different proposition. Of course, it was a behind the lines, SOE operation Paddy Lee firmer, as you as you say, with the assistance of the Crete and resistance. And the Germans did not react well to it. Apparently the original target was a character called Mulla who was a really nasty bit of work. And the really sad thing about the cry per case is that having got him off the island, he was taken back to Egypt for interrogation, the Germans then brought back Mulla who had been the commander on the island. And he reacted with typical savagery. And there was a lot of Cretans lost their lives as a result of it. So not a good idea in that particular case. Of course, taking out this Russian paratrooper general, the Ukrainians we see that as entirely justifiable act of war. And probably it was the effect he was really having given that he was commanding a regiment. It is another matter, Patrick. Yeah, good propaganda, I think, above everything else. Okay, well, that's enough from us. We're not going to hear from award-winning documentary filmmaker Oli Lambert, who spent a chunk of last year meeting and filming former Ukrainian civilians, who were helping their country to repel the invader. It's a great, great film. Some of the footage is really outstanding in particular. A sequence when Oli goes on an operation to deploy new heavy mortars against a Russian position, it really is quite sort of hair-raising stuff and extraordinary brave Oli to take those kind of risks in a great cause. It's a fantastic film. We're very much urge you to see it on BBC Eye Player. But the first thing Saul wanted to know when he spoke to Oli was how viewers had reacted to the film. Yeah, I mean, I've been doing this for about, I've been making films for about 20 years and I've never had a response to a film like this. It was genuinely overwhelming. I don't use that word lightly, but I was getting emails and WhatsApp messages and Twitter and Facebook and from people way in my past, but also just complete strangers like, you know, retired nurses in Cornwall and then people abroad. There was nothing, I mean, there was sort of one unifying factor was just that people were moved by it. And I suppose the sense that they suddenly, for a lot of people, I think it made the conflict really sort of flesh and blood and they felt, for many people for the first time, they'd really spent an extended period of time with the people who are at the sharp end of it or who felt their lives or their, their life styles, you know, were sort of on the line. And that these people were responding to a call to fight back. That wasn't because they're being told, it wasn't through you government or call up or being conscripted, they just felt they had to do something. And so the response, a lot of people was to kind of question themselves like, well, what would I do in that situation? Which was a goal of the film, you know, to sort of present that to the viewer as a question like, what would you do? And like, you know, someone emailed me over the weekend, actually, and just said, you know, I doubt that Britain's traffic wardens would respond with quite the same gusto. It's a fair point. And I think that people were a bit sort of shaken by that in that it sort of broke through the glass for a lot of people and made the conflict and the people within the conflict very three-dimensional flesh and blood and that shook people a bit. And as a filmmaker, there's no greater sort of praise actually that you make something abstract and distant into something real and potent. And so it's been very rewarding and very satisfying, yeah, for that. Yeah. Are you mentioned the central theme of the film or you alluded to it is how ordinary Ukrainians have come together to defend their country from this terrible Russian invasion? How did the idea for the film come about in the first place? Well, there wasn't really an idea for the there was an idea to make a film. You know, I've made a lot of documentaries and not all of them, but a lot of them have been in areas of conflict. So, you know, that been to Syria for quite intensively in the Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq and and my take is always to go into areas that are normally covered by news and current affairs, but to treat them with a a very sort of documentary sensibility with characters and unfolding narratives over an extended period of time. And I had just done something for Netflix actually, which was nearly two years work, which is very much, you know, an entertainment model that's about getting bums on seats and making a very entertaining story regardless of the content. And so I was actually really hungry to do something that was sharper, you know, that had a bit more of a contemporary edge. And so while the Netflix project was finishing up, I went to the back to the BBC to a team that I'd worked with before and said, I really feel I've got a hunger actually to be in that conflict. It's, you know, one or if not the biggest conflict of my generation, my maybe my life, you know, be up there with Iraq, 2003, and I should be on a plane, really. And the BBC, the guy I'd worked with before my Redford totally agreed and everything in the same thing. So we quickly formulated a plan, but the idea for the film was not we had a starting point. But the most important thing that I said to them was, let's have a plan, let's have a skeleton plan that may be a bit of access, a character or a location or a street. But what normally happens in this situation, films I look back on that I've made in the past that have had some sort of success, I've got a bit of pride in, have usually been that after a few weeks on the ground, I realised, oh, that's not the much better story is actually over there with that person or in that place or a door opens that you're not expecting. So the plan, we went out with secured access in advance to this guy, Vitaly Kim, who's, I'm sure you're a listener to know about, you know, he's the regional governor of Mickalaya, and got a big online profile, you know, he's big on Telegram and he's quite witty and he's a bit of sort of proto-Zalensky figure. And we thought that maybe by shadowing him, and if I could stick to his co-tales for a bit, that would be an entree into how a nation's responding to the conflict. And actually very quickly on the ground, we realised that that wasn't going to give us the window that we really hoped, but just by being on the ground a few people started popping up and we were meeting lots of people. And the theme quickly developed, I mean from day one, you know, everyone that I was meeting that I was, I found myself interested in and curious about and were not the kind of big honcho military figures, but it was, everyone that you met was sort of doing their bit. And in the first week I met this woman who was a, she was a postwoman. And she was going around delivering pinch at the pinch, literally the cash in the envelope to the old ladies who were stuck in their basements on the outskirts of Mickalaya and couldn't leave. And that was, that was like her war effort, right, that was what she was doing. And then you had the people who were staying in the remote villages who were feeding the pets that'd been abandoned by the people who had fled. And then you met the students who were getting in their clapped out motors and driving out to the nomans land to deliver food to the people who weren't able to leave. And so all the people were left were sort of just like looking at their skillset and go, well, what can I do? And that felt to be really a really interesting and very important part of the conflict that I hadn't really understood fully before. And that was the sort of door that I started knocking on. It was how was an ordinary, I say ordinary, but not in a, you know, the regular people, like civilians, how were they responding to this quite extraordinary existential threat? And so, and all the stories that I came across, all sort of aligned around that principle. And then that sort of organized everything into quite an interesting take on the conflict. And that was the one that we ended up sort of pursuing, I guess. Yeah, you start the film in in Mika Laiya. There's some incredibly dramatic footage of artillery and rocket strikes in Mika Laiya. I'm guessing, Ollie, I might be wrong here that that was footage that you gathered together rather than footage you took yourself. Yeah, we did this when there was downtime. There was an extraordinary footage of sloshing around on Telegraph. There wasn't really making it onto the, onto the news. And every morning, there'd be some new update that someone's filmed off their, you know, out of their bedroom window of some school getting blown up. And so, I spent quite a long time collecting this footage and then going back to the locations, often of the CCTV cameras that captured it. And I want, I had an idea to kind of play with shooting these areas, you know, from the position of the CCTV camera and then cutting to what was happening, just to make people realize that things might look ordinary on the surface, but it's very dramatic behind the scenes and trying to instill in them the fear that the civilians had. And we ended up using that just as a way of explaining that this is what it looks and feels like to be in a, in an urban centre that's getting hammered. It's not happening all the time, but that's not the point. It's the fact that they've all, all the people there have got experience of it happening very suddenly, often without warning and just, you know, just building, just being taken out. And it's very alarming and it's sent you to a kind of hyper-vigilant mode. And I wanted to put the audience right there off the bat, you know, to make them feel, oh, this could go, this could go south at any moment. But yeah, we just trawled around basically to find all that kind of footage and then used it where we could. You then introduced us to some of the key characters. Can you tell us a little bit about some of them? I mean, the ones I was most struck by, now, of course, you probably used them the most. Yara Slavin, Dorena, who both work in the Intelligence Unit, I think, in Mika Live. You'll put, certainly, straight on that. And then Roman Castenco, who's a fascinating character, is an ex-special forces MP and one of his key men that you, though, then go and spend a bit of time with and the frontline, that's Humber. So can you tell me a little bit about some of these characters? Yeah, I mean, I always say, you know, when you're sort of making a film, I always end up sort of trying to focus on the people that, if you're at a party, who are the people you want to talk to, that you gravitate towards. And that's usually the, that's a scientific thing because it gets really. And you've picked up on all the people that I would naturally gravitate towards and find myself curious about. And so very early on in the filming, we, it was actually Vitaly Kim, the Mika Live Regional Governor. He said, you should come and have a look at this place and it was, it was all a bit secret squirrel and the back of a car and turn your phone off and airplane mode and all that sort of stuff. And we went into this factory and he took me to a place that, yeah, it was like a kind of first blush. It is just like an intelligence center. It's, you know, seen a very similar thing in Afghanistan, it encarboned all this kind of sort of these intel units. You've got everyone behind screens and they're watching everything in real time and it's all, you know, live maps and updates. I was interested in that, but only up to a point because it felt like, well, obviously, any conflict has got this kind of place. What really jumped out was when you started to learn about the people and not just some of them, but all of them were civilian volunteers who, although they're in military uniform, they're all from a civilian background. You had this guy Lexi who is an architect, a really experienced architect. He's got his own practice in key. He does kind of really high-end domestic commercial stuff. And he's now operating strike drones right on the front line. In the room next door to him was this woman. And I met her outside first. You're just sort of having a cigarette outside and we got chatting and she's this very sort of warm-hearted, smiley secondary school teacher from her son. And quite sort of mousey, almost quite shy, you know, and very sweet. And then when we got chatting to her and she, and we won a bit of trust, what she was doing, she was working as a spy handler. I just, how do you go from being a secretary's school teacher to being a spy handler? In the space of basically two and a half months, it was insane, but it was so normal to her. It'd become normal so quickly. And Yaroslav was our boss and similar. He's this very sort of urban, gregarious sort of chatty guy. And yet here he is running this entire operation that's supplying high-end intelligence that goes right up the chain to artillery units, drone units, special forces units. And they're all, so it's all spoke to that theme which I talked about, which was these were ex-sevilleians who were just looking in the mirror and go, well, what can I do? And I would, you know, like with everyone, I'd say to them, you know, why are you doing it? Or, you know, what are you fighting for? Why are you fighting? And the response was very consistently for them to look at me like this is such a stupid question. It's like, it's like me saying, hmm, your house is on fire. What are you trying to put it out? I mean, it was like, it was such a dumb take. And often they respond sort of by saying, well, the question is, why wouldn't I do this? And that, I found that quite arresting and quite in a confrontation in a really interesting way. It's like, that's how serious this is. This isn't a game. So I was interested not so much in what they were doing, but who they were and the sort of the backstory to these people I have ended up. I actually felt there was a whole film to be made just in that intelligence sense. It was a really rich precinct with fascinating people. But the sort of operational security of that was quite complicated because where they've got real-time live intelligence of what was going on. And it was very risky for them just to have me in the room. So they let me film a lot, but it was just, it was very labor intensive for them and there wasn't, it couldn't really sustain. And then by chance, really by chance, we met this guy, Roman, who you mentioned. And I didn't know who Roman was when I first met him. We met in a cafe in Mika Laiyev. And he's just a military guy, a bit larger than life, very confident. And it took about 20 minutes for the pennies to drop quite who I was having a coffee with. And he's a sort of quite legendary special forces soldier. He was in the Alpha Unit. He was part of the kind of that cyborg unit that defended Don Yetzg airport in 2014. He's often on TV speaking on behalf of the military. And he was fascinating because he ejected in being a soldier and on the back of his military experience, he got elected as an MP. And was clearly, I think still finding his feet as a sort of the guy in the suit in Kiev, like making speeches in the House of Parliament. I saw these videos of him. It's not his comfort zone, you can tell, but he was working hard at it. But I mean, literally the hour the war started, he just realized that his MP life had to be put on ice for a bit. And he went back down to South Ukraine where he's from and started to work in a sort of improvised way. He was still working with Ukraine's special forces and worked sort of under their chain of command. He's aware of what they're doing. But he began to get bombarded by messages from old friends and complete strangers. People just messaging them on Facebook, just saying, basically, I hear you're putting a gang together. I hear you're doing something. What can I do? I want to do something. I want to fight. And a lot of them, these people were saying, I've not thought before. I've got no military experience. But I can fly a drone. I'm good with maps. I'm a really good driver. I've got some basic weapons training because I used a lot of hunters. There was a big hunting thing in South Ukraine. So a lot of these guys knew how to handle a weapon in some form. And so he began to put these kind of semi-kind of freelance renegade bands together and began taking them straight down to the front. And they were basic training, but they were out there doing it. And he became like a, I mean, he was a commanding officer, but really he was a sort of chaperone to allow this incredible ground swell of basically, you know, trying to find all the best talents and adapting talents to become a frontline fighting force. And there's not a, there wasn't a shortage really of the volunteers he wanted to do this. And that was his role. So it all spoke to that theme of like, you could feel this. It was a phrase that was used to me very early on when I landed that someone said, I can't remember who it was, but someone said, look, you need to understand Ukraine is an army now. I didn't quite understand what that meant at the beginning, but it became more and more clear that the meaning is it's not that everyone's just wearing uniform, but everyone is joining the fight in whatever way they can best serve the fight. And that felt unique to me. I've covered a lot of conflicts. I've never seen that before. It felt more like an insurgency than an organized military operation. Yes, there's an organized military operation going on very much in sort of lockstep and with guidance and support from international partners. But this felt more interesting actually when you've got the postmasters and the, and the, you know, the traffic wardens picking up massive mortar tubes and going out and trying to hammer some baritory, but it's not. Well, it's all great stuff, isn't it? Do join us in part two when we'll hear more from Molly and answer listeners questions. What's one of the most common motives at the heart of crime stories, the desire for money, and a lot of it from the Museum of Natural History Heist in New York to the Antwerp Diamond Heist, the History Channel's new original series, History's greatest heists with Pierce Brosnan, delves into eight elaborate high stakes attempts to secure the riches of a lifetime. Pierce Brosnan will step from behind the big screen and into time's past to detail the intricately laid plans of the audacious criminal masterminds behind these headline making heists. It's better than a movie. This is Real Life, tune in Tuesday, February 7th at 10-9 Central only on the History Channel and stream next day on the History Channel app. Welcome back. We're now going to hear the second part of our interview with Oli Lambert, the award-winning filmmaker who recently spent two months on the frontline filming the BBC documentary Ukraine The People's Fight. This is what he said. Oli, you spent some of the most dramatic footage, apart from that stuff I mentioned at the beginning, but this is footage you yourself have taken, or at least you've knitted together with drone footage, is when you accompany one of Romansman, a guy called Hammer, and his team, a mortar team. It seemed to me to all be being made up a bit on the back of a bag packet. It was incredibly dramatic. You're trying to take out a tank with a relatively heavy mortar, and yet of course the danger is the clock's ticking as soon as that mortar starts firing. You've described it six minutes, and then there's going to be counterfire from the Russians, which indeed does come in. What was that like for you to be part of that? That was pretty dangerous to me. I mean the sound of the artillery rounds coming back. Yeah, it was. The bit that we didn't put in the film, just the context of that, which I suspect you're like, is that I'd only just met Hammer. I'd met him about an hour before, and I've just been introduced to him, and he'd been told, look, this guy with the camera is going to be hanging around with you for a bit. These new 120-millimeter mortar are just to arrive, which they will offer. I'll get back to go off and use. And Hammer said to me, look, obviously you can come with me on missions. I'll take you along, but definitely not this one, because this one's really dangerous, but the next one is fine. And then he was loading up the van, and it suddenly dawned on him, because the whole team was going out. He would have to leave me inside this frontline base. It was an abandoned house that had come undue, and it's well, well within range, and regularly gets hot Hillary fire on my own. So ironically, the safer option was to bring him to take me to this ditch, with a load of heavy mortars, and just sit me under a tree. So it was in filming terms, it was definitely in at the deep end, and I was aware of that. But I must be honest, you know, one's gut instinct in those situations is usually one to listen to carefully, and I immediately trusted Hammer. He was clearly a professional. He, you know, just things like the chin strap on his helmet was done up. He was everything was in place. He clearly commanded respect. Everyone was doing what they were told. Everything was planned. I thought, okay, well, I feel okay about this. This is not this guy knows what he's doing. So I'm going to stick close to him. And frankly, okay, this is a good place to start up. We're going to start filming. So we drove out to this ditch. And before it began, he sat me down. He said, right, this is what's going to happen. About a mile away, my other team, they're firing 82 millimeter mortars. They'll do that for about 15, 20 minutes. When they're finished, we're going to start firing our 120 millimeter mortar, which is here. These are the 12 shells. When we start firing, we've got six minutes. We'll probably be able to get off about five or six in that time. At that point, we need to stop, because they're going to work out where we are. We're going to run over there and hide in that ditch. The Russians will then fire back for about 20 minutes. We'll wait until that's finished. Then we'll come back and we'll carry on firing. I was just thinking, Blimey, you've done this before. I mean, this is this is like clockwork. And you know, it happened, as he said, to the minute, sure enough, the other guy started firing. We could hear it in the distance. That's going on the background. The moment they dropped that first mortar in, they set the timer. He got off, I think five, run out, run out of time, six minutes, and then we went back and we hid in the ditch. And I think he's just going to happen like, and you know, literally within seconds, they start whistling over. What he hadn't expected was that return fire was increasingly close. And the only time I really got scared, actually, was when Hummer looked less than comfortable. You know, and there's a moment where he slightly purses his lips, which I'd already begun to understand meant this is probably very bad. And yet it was getting close. And the dilemma that you see Hummer in was that there were drones overhead a lot. The all-an is what they're most scared of. That can be in the air for 16 hours. It's noisy. So if you go quiet, you can hear it's little engine. But we weren't sure if there wasn't all-an-over- Us. So if we broke cover, they could see potentially where we broke cover too. But I think by the third or fourth return, as a shell, it was a tank. We knew it was a tank and it was bloody close. It set fire to the field that our van was parked in. And so Hummer made the call, which was actually better to get to a deeper ditch than and maybe get seen than stay here. And so luckily I don't speak Russian or Ukrainian. So I wasn't acutely aware, exactly aware of how dicey it was. And in that situation, what I do is, I mean, it's convenient for me that I can just get well behind the camera and just think about the exposure and the shot and story. And that's my job. And look at it just through lens. And that really helps. There was a part of me, I'll be really honest. I mean, any journalist or filmmaker in that situation, they'd be lying if they weren't there and thinking, and then said, there's not a part of them going, this is pretty good scene actually. It's showing what they're doing. It's not just hearing about it second hand. This is really seeing what they're doing at the sharpen and seeing the risk they're taking, the decisions they're making, how they're making them, it accounts for two hours of interview, just these 10 minutes. So it felt in terms of risk reward, it felt worth it. You know, there were other times where it wasn't, but that was where it was definitely in my favor, I think. Now watching the film, you get a very strong sense of how determined ordinary Ukrainians are and how convinced they are that they're ultimately going to win this war. But there was also another facet that, you know, a little bit more concerning, but maybe not surprising. And that's how hardened quite a lot of them have become to the killing. And actually, you know, in a sense, the pleasure that some of them are taking in the body can't. I mean, there's one particularly, I thought quite telling moment when Dorena, who you've spoken about before, as she's talking about hearing of 20 Russians killed in a strike and her response, or at least her her point is the kind of general response would be damn not enough. So did that surprise you a little bit? How tough they've all become. It didn't surprise me. It did surprise her. And it's interesting you pick up on that. A few people have remarked upon that moment. And in a way, that's the most important moment in Dorena's interview where she acknowledges, in quite a long interview, so I sat with her for an hour and a half. And I don't think she had sat down for that amount of time with a sort of third party and been asked questions that invite her to really reflect upon what she's doing. Everyone in that room that she's working in is playing the same game and doing the same thing. So those conversations, I don't think were happening. But here was a sort of an outsider going, what are you doing? Why are you doing it? How does it feel? How's it changing you? What do you think about the future? And this often happens in this line of work where you're inviting people to step into a sort of a thought pattern that they're not done before. So I think, and if you watch the film carefully, if you watch that bit of interview, you can see that she's coming out with ideas that are recurring to her life. This sense that how she ends that interview, she says, yeah, when I hear 20 people are killed, my response is damn not enough. And then she says, I just feel I fundamentally changed. I can't go back to being a schoolteacher. So, you know, I wasn't surprised by that because I think it's inevitable I've seen it before where people get seeped in conflict like a big tea bag and eventually they just absorb it all. I think it was dawning on her. Actually, that was more interesting that her life had just just veered off and gone down a very different road. And I think it's one that she will stay on in some form. I don't know if she'll ever get back to where she was. I think she knows that. But what's interesting about that is obviously it's interesting from, you know, Dorena's point of view. I think it says a lot about the conflict. In fact, there's a part of the film, an interview I didn't use. It's with Yaroslav, who's Dorena's boss. And I ended an interview with him by saying, where do you think this is going? You know, what do you think about whether future's heading a general open ended? And he said, he said what troubles him most is the reconstruction that will be necessary. And he said, I don't mean the reconstruction of the buildings. I mean, the reconstruction of our society. And he gave an example of young people, you know, 17, 18 year olds coming out of college and school. And because of the war, suddenly going straight into a very intense conflict lifestyle and learning skills that are very useful to them, but are very useful in a conflict. They're learning to kill, they're becoming inured to the killing. They're wanting to kill. They're wanting to kill, but they're wanting to be effective in pushing Russia back. And he said his concern was, which is when I share, many people in Ukraine share, is how is this kind of morphing a number of generations into a sort of militarized, quite hard, quite sharp mentality that is comfortable with extreme levels of violence. Right. Now that is a very, that's a much harder thing to rebuild than an office block. And I was with Yaroslav on that. I thought that's a very interesting and very wise take. And I think that's something that we'll be looking at for decades to come. And I saw it like in Guards. If you go to Guards, I spent a lot of time there. You see seven, six, seven, eight year old kids walking around there. Their playtime for a lot of kids is guns shooting around corners. I saw kids in Guards that the game was holding a hostage and leaving aside all the kind of the politics of that, the way conflict shaped generations is one of the most profound things that a lot of journalists come back from those conflict areas and feel most shaken by. It's the games they play and what is playful, what is fun and how that's shaped is a very troubling thing to witness. For me, far more than explosions. Okay. Final question, Oli. The film ends on a high, I suppose at least as far as the Ukrainians are concerned. Yeah. They enter into Kesson. Hummers going in there. You've also got Roman returning to his home village, which is quite close by. The next stage of course is unfolding as we speak. Do you personally have plans to go back and revisit some of these characters to tell a new story about the war? I mean, I would love to. And I'm constantly getting messages from Roman Hummer going, we're waiting, you know, the coffee zone. I was the last message I got from Roman the coffee zone and what they're doing now. I can't say too much about it, but bloody hell, it's interesting. I mean, it's really incredible what they're doing in the round zaparigia and it's I would love to go back there. Sorry, Oli. You're obviously not allowed to give us any, you know, to let us into any secrets, but we're covering quite closely the relative movement of the front line and we're very much getting a sense that is Patrick and I on the podcast that things are being planned for the new year, we're now into the new year and that there will be more advances made by the Ukrainians. You're getting the same kind of sense of that too. They haven't divulged any sort of specifics to me on a kind of more on a on a bigger scale and I have to say to a large extent, it's even at Roman's level, there's a limit to how much he knows about the bigger picture. I mean, they have a very closely guarded sort of hierarchy of information. It's very wise, you know, they're loose lips and kinkships and all that. It's very tightly organized and very impressive. So no, I don't have a big take on that. You know, I can say that they're in and around Zaparizia and that feels like there's a lot going on there, not just them, but I think that's a lot going on there. And they're definitely switching into very, very complex, advanced and diverse kind of drone technology. A lot of people have been trained in the last few months and quite advanced drone stuff. They've taken, you know, I think a lot of trainings happened overseas. So that's, that's, I don't know the bigger picture, but I know that they're, yeah, they're certainly getting ready, you know, it's busy. Okay, well, we'll keep an eye on it. Thanks so much, Oli. I'd best of luck if you, as and when you do go back to Ukraine, we'd love to watch more from you. So hopefully there will be some. I'll keep in the loop. Yeah, for sure. It's, and it's a pleasure to be on. So let's stay in touch. Cheers, Oli. Well, that was really fascinating stuff. And there are so many interesting points of discussion Patrick. I mean, you know, it was a real privilege talking to Oli because sometimes you think with documentary filmmakers, the processes, what they're interested in, no, he's interested in the consequences of war. And you know, and the really, really interesting point made towards the end of our discussion where he talks about the difficulty of reconstructing society. I mean, it's obviously something you've had a little bit of an insight in your self-pacture, but the idea that people become inured to the killing and are comfortable with extreme levels of violence. And therefore, you know, almost society becomes militarized. Yes, I think that's absolutely right. What we're going to see is a militarization of Ukrainian society is already happening. It's already happened. And that going forward, everyone will be required to do military service. But more broadly, I think it will lead to a hardening of the national psyche. So the attitude towards Russia, I don't think, will soften for several generations to come. It'll be a very long time before people will be in a mood to look at their neighbors and regard them as being potential friends and treating them with a kind of degree of respect, which they hope will be reciprocated. I think huge long-term damage has been done on both sides. So, you know, who knows how the Russian society will deal with all this as well. Ukrainians have been demonized. That message, I think, would take a long time to wear off. So there are, I think, as Oli makes it clear, you know, there are real deep underlining consequences to all this, which are pretty negative. You could see, actually, in the film, and I mentioned it to Oli how hardened they've already become. The character Dorena, you know, I think she was a former school teacher who was effectively a spy handler. And she got information that, you know, 20 Russians had been killed in an attack. And her comment was not enough. You know, so the toughness and the hardness of just ordinary people who formerly wouldn't have dreamed of talking in this way is pretty grim stuff. Another interesting thing I spotted in the film, actually, is the issue of discipline with a civilian army. You, you know, are professional soldiers are trained to follow orders, but you could clearly see with some of the guys that Oli was filming. You know, they were taking orders, but it was sort of, you know, if things didn't go quite their way, they, there was one in particular occasion where a guy effectively downs tools he'd been the drone operator after being criticized. And that is a bit of a problem, isn't it, Patrick, when you recruit a whole nation to fight, they're not used to discipline. Yeah, they haven't undergone that institutionalization, which you get in a professional army, where you do instinctively follow orders, et cetera. I also found it tremendously uplifting the way that a whole nation had come together. And that, you know, that question that he says people asked themselves, what can I do? Why would I not be on the front? Why would I not be doing my bit? I think that was quite, I found that quite moving. And the way that this extraordinary way, that civil society and the military have meshed, they've come together and they mutually support each other. Do you remember last week when Julius was talking about going up with a body recovery unit and telling us the sad story that one of the members of that team, a guy called Dennis Sosnenko, very soon after Julius had met him, his vehicle ran over a mine and he was killed. And this was a young man, these early 20s. I think he was the Ukrainian or a Ukrainian kickboxing champion. And he belonged to an outfit called Black Tulek, which is exactly one of these civilian organizations, which has sprung up to support the war effort. And their job was doing this remarkable work of collecting bodies, both Ukrainian and Russian. So that's a good example of that. And next week, we're going to be talking to Melania, who is in a similar organization, which is, you know, ostensibly, well, it started off as providing sort of just humanitarian aid to civilians and quickly morphed into a civilian arm of the military procurement program. So there is this sort of extraordinary transformations of society in a positive way as well as this militarization we were talking about before. Yeah, and we should stress again, it's a remarkable film. So if you haven't already seen it, it's still on iPlayer. Please check it out, Ukraine, the people's fight. Right, I think it's now time for listeners questions. We've got the first one from Matthias Brarton, who's in Hagassund in Norway. And he writes, before this war, I had not realized that conventional artillery was that significant in a 21st century war. It seems that most of Russia's territorial gains as well as Ukrainian casualties can be attributed to this arm. What are the most effective ways for Ukraine to counter Russia's rogue artillery warfare? And is it realistic that Russia's advantage in that, in artillery, can be neutralized by Ukraine and weapons provided by the West? What do you think, Patrick? Well, I suppose the classic is way of dealing with artillery is counter artillery, is the counter battery fire, which is the old fashioned way of doing it. I suppose a modern way of doing it is with drones, high Mars, these long range weapons we're talking about coming into theatre now. They would be pretty effective if you couldn't sort about locating the actual target, isn't it? And the Ukrainians seem to be in pretty good and pretty nimble at target identification, selection and destruction. So yeah, I think the Ukrainians got the where with all to do that, and certainly the skill to do that. What do you reckon so? Yeah, and the other element, of course, is you knock out the supply to artillery and they did that very effectively at the latter stages of last year by using high Mars. We've had reports, of course, that the Russians have moved their supply dumps further back, which is why these new weapons, the new ground launch bombs, are going to be a game changer. The question is, have they got them yet? Can they use them quickly? The sooner they get there, the better, frankly, Patrick, because what you need to do is knock out, as I say, the supply before it even gets to the guns. Absolutely. Okay, we've got one here from Corey in the States, and he says, I'm wondering if you could share your thoughts and sense of Belarus's moral and practical culpability for their role in the war thus far. It often feels like media routinely lets Belarus off the hook from serious criticism because Lukashenko has resisted joining Russia in combat. I feel that, discussionally, the wonders to some joke about Lukashenko or to how the country is essentially without agency when dealing with Russia and therefore less culpable than otherwise. Well, of course, you know, Lukashenko, and I think we're not talking about Belarus, we're talking about Lukashenko as a dictatorship. He did allow Russian troops to use Belarus as a launch pad for the invasion back in February last year. So, yeah, he obviously has a large degree of responsibility for what's happened, but I don't think you can blame the Belarusian people for that. What do you think, Saul? No, I don't think he has been let off the hook, actually. I think there's been a lot of criticism in the Western press at his attitude. As you say, Patrick, he allowed Russia to use his country as a launch pad might well do so again. There are exercises ongoing. There's a fair of another attack coming from Belarus, but what's interesting is that he hasn't and probably won't allow his troops to fight with the Russians. Why? Because he knows that the Belarus people are against that. So, there is an element of people power influencing a dictatorship action. You kind of hope that something similar might have happened in Russia, or could happen in Russia clearly, it's not going to, but there does seem to be an effect, you know, an anti-war feeling among ordinary people in Belarus that is stopping him from taking that final step. He probably doesn't want to anyway, but he certainly got that as an excuse. Does he deserve any sympathy? No, and I don't think he's getting that much from the Western press to be truthful. That's an interesting point you may, though, Saul. I hadn't thought about it that way around, but back in 2020, when he stole the presidential election, the world mass protests, to the extent that the Russians actually had to go in, send people in to shore up the regime. So, in a way, the people of Belarus have showed more spirit if you want to put it like that. Then the Russians have in these circumstances. So, yeah, I think he's what he knows. He's walking a tightrope, and I'm not sure how much support if he wants to survive. He can give Russia without basically bringing about his own downfall. Okay, we've got an interesting question from Rob in Israel, and he's responding to a certain amount of criticism we've been sending Israel's way about not supporting Ukraine more firmly, although recent attacks in Iran against the drone munitions depots might indicate, and it's a strong indication that that is an Israeli operation, might indicate that the Netanyahu government, which has only been recently reinstalled, is taking a more hawkish and you could say pro-Ukrainian line on this. You could just say it's an anti-Iranian line, but it is complicated the relationship between Israel and Russia. I mean, apparently Russia's been giving the Israeli Air Force a more or less free hand in the skies over Syria, which has allowed it to operate effectively there. Rob makes this point, and without losses. However, he goes on to say it's not unreasonable to believe the providing military equipment to Ukraine is likely to lead to a change in Russia's posture vis-a-vis Israel in Syria. I'm not saying says, Rob, that the IAF couldn't handle Russian military interference, but the potential cost of open conflict between the IAF, Israeli Air Force, and Russian air assets is not trivial, and it's unreasonable to expect Israel to ignore its own substantial security concerns in order to assist Ukraine. And thank you very much for that, Rob, because it does underline Patrick, doesn't it, that a government's decision to support Ukraine can have much further reaching consequences, in the case of Israel, quite serious consequences for its own security? Well, they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They've got a very useful ally, even though it's not a very attractive one in Russia in the Syrian situation. But of course, in the long term, their big existential enemy is Iran. So I think they're going to have to be very subtle in how they play this one, and that seems to be the stance they've taken thus far. Okay, onto Felix in London. He's asking, do you think the narrative regarding the war that is being spun on Russian national television can survive the return home of large numbers of conscripted troops and thinking ahead, could any ceasefire deal, obviously a long way off, and now be a potential inflection point for the Kremlin? Well, I think we've dealt with that last one, it's all about what Putin can afford to give away if he wants to survive. And the answer seems to be not a lot. The first question, I think that is fascinating, isn't it? I mean, this is really uncharted territory. If a nation have been subjected to this sort of bombardment of misinformation for many years now, how long does it take for that narrative to be re-corrected? I think we're looking back at Russian history, 20th century history. I think the answer is rather depressing in that these national stories get embedded in the national consciousness, and they're very hard to eradicate. So, you know, looking at the Second World War, the Russians completely blocked out the first part of the Second World War, where they were effectively allied to the Nazis, and make great play of the Second World War, which was only forced on them, because the erstwhile essential allies decided to invade them. They've turned that into a completely different story there, that completely the heroes of the Second World War, they won the Second World War, I think in material terms they probably did. But I think the idea that they completely were in the right, that they have sort of moral ascendancy in all this, is not true. But that is certainly what most Russians, however educated they are, continue to believe. Okay, well, that's all we have time for this week, before we go, just a quick reminder to send any questions to our email address, that is Battleground Ukraine, all one word at And do join us next week when we'll be talking to Ukrainian activist Melania Podolijak, and we'll be discussing the latest user developments. Goodbye. What's one of the most common motives at the heart of crime stories? The desire for money, and a lot of it. From the Museum of Natural History Heist in New York to the Antwerp Diamond Heist, the History Channel's new original series, History's greatest heists with Pierce Brosnan, delves into eight elaborate heistakes attempts to secure the riches of a lifetime. Pierce Brosnan will step from behind the big screen and into Times past to detail the intricately laid plans of the audacious criminal masterminds behind these headline-making heists. It's better than a movie. This is Real Life, tune in Tuesday, February 7th at 10-9 central only on the History Channel, and stream next day on the History Channel app.