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'Demon' is a 19-year-old Ukrainian mortarwoman seeking revenge

She led the team that recovered the bodies of her boyfriend and friends from the battlefield and returned them home to their families.
Posted at 4:03 PM, Feb 18, 2024

In another life, Valentina, 19, would be a student, a big sister, and an aspiring gymnast.

Instead, she volunteered for the Ukrainian army to fight against Russia in a mortar unit. Her team fights in one of the most hotly and bloodily contested areas in all of Ukraine, Bakhmut. Now, in a bunker a few hundred yards from the killing fields, she’s simply known by her fellow soldiers as a "Demon."

Scripps News international correspondent Jason Bellini had rare access to this young soldier. With Russian suicide drones prowling overhead, they met in a bombed-out theater just a few miles from her position on the front line.

When an alert came in that massive Russian glide bombs might be headed in their direction, the building's basement was still intact, making it the only protected area. 

Her mortar unit is constantly targeted, but they are so effective. They recalibrate, reload, fire, and repeat. Mortars protect the tip-of-the-spear infantry fighters. 

“We are supporting them,” Demon tells Bellini. “We stop the enemy's offensive and destroy enemy artillery positions, machine gun positions, and enemy equipment.”

But like so many in this country, where Russia has killed tens of thousands, she fights for another reason: revenge. 

“I’ve been dating a boy, and he had a friend, and we all three were a group of friends, they died because of enemy’s tank,” Demon said. "Many people thought I would quit this job. I would quit defending our country, but I was not that kind of person."

In fact, she would lead the team that recovered the bodies from the battlefield and returned them home to their families.

Scripps News Reports: Ukraine's Women Warriors
Ukraine's Women Warriors

Scripps News Reports: Ukraine's Women Warriors

This special report from Scripps News will feature international correspondent Jason Bellini, reporting live from Kyiv, Ukraine.