Yuri Biriukov was born on October 23, 1974 in Nikolaev. He attended a Ukrainian-Russian secondary school No.22 in Nikolaev from 1981 to 1991 and then entered the Dnepropetrovsk Medical Institute, but did not complete his studies. He has lived and worked in Kiev since about 1994. He worked in an intensive care unit for many years. He was employed as a development director in a travel agency till February 2014.
On December 1, 2013 he joined Euromaidan as a volunteer doctor. He set up a volunteer group named Wings of Phoenix in March 2014. After the Crimean crisis and with the onset of military confrontation in eastern Ukraine Yuri Biriukov began to provide assistance to the Ukrainian Army. The Wings of Phoenix group purchased radio transmitters, sleeping bags, bulletproof vests, and protective helmets. Biriukov organized his own production of helmets and six weeks later he supplied more than 2,000 helmets to the anti-terrorist operation zone. With the funds raised by the group they restored a transport aircraft An-26 and repaired the headquarters of the 79th airborne brigade’s engineering staff near Nikolaev.
Biriukov was appointed adviser to the president by Ukraine’s President Petr Poroshenko on August 13, 2014. On October 5 he was appointed Assistant Secretary to the Ukrainian Minister of Defense Valery Geletey to take charge of the material security of the armed forces. After Geletey’s resignation he continued with his job under the direction of a new minister Stepan Poltorak. Presently Biriukov is effecting a reform of army procurement and reservist call-up. He believes that contract soldiersthat serve on a voluntary basis should form the greater part of the army.
Yuri has been involved in lots of stories. The FACTS published a story of 80 badly wounded paratroopers’ breakout from encirclement. According to the official line, the Ukrainian soldiers that had been encircled tightly near the village of Maryinka, Donetsk oblast, were saved as a result of a clever command’s action plan. But it was the famous Phoenix’s volunteer, a 39-year-old Kiev resident Yuri Biriukov who managed to let a column of APCs with the wounded soldiers out of the encirclement. Using a satellite map he found a narrow path that was unknown to the enemy. He took along a few snipers and a machine gunner in his pickup truck, deceived the militants and broke through the corridor of death.
The Focus, a popular Ukrainian weekly, published an interview with Yuri in June 2014, when he was still a volunteer and the Wings of Phoenix’s leader. We believe that it can describe a person better than any biographical notes.
I was born in Nikolaev and have lived in Kiev for 20 years. I worked as a development director at a travel agency until February. I spent six weeks in Maidan, but my boss did not appreciate it. I never feel sorry for leaving the job.
I got to Maidan on December 1. First I came there occasionally, then I came more often, and then volunteered as a doctor. I have an incomplete medical education. I worked in an intensive care unit for many years and saw a good deal there.
I have a dread of death like anyone else. I don’t wanna die. But they who came back to Maidan the next day after the 18th of February had no more fear. I felt I was almost cracked on the 21st of February. After you carry out ten dead bodies… My wife took me to the seaside but I didn’t even catch a glimpse of the sea ‘cause I was sitting in my hotel room with my laptop managing the food and drug distribution in Maidan. When we came back the Crimea began to boil up and I was engaged in the army affairs.
My Facebook page was created when I worked in Maidan; the nickname Wings of Phoenix was pickedas a disguise. I began writing about current events, sometimes using obscene languageto rail at every Tom, Dick, and Harry (every functionary – Focus). People began offering their help. Today we have about 30 volunteers helping us.
There is no foundation at all. The Wings of Phoenix is not a legal entity. It is a group of volunteers who untied under my logo. Many people advise me to get a legal entity registered in order to simplify bookkeeping. Probably I should do it. But I don’t feel like wasting my time on it.
The army is ill-provided, so we have to buy everything: radio transmitters, sleeping bags, bulletproof vests, and protective helmets. All except weapons. But we’ll soon buy weapons, too.
We have no segregation of duties:which of us deals with the units or places orders to the factories. Some volunteers help the 72nd brigade, some work with the 25th brigade, and so on. If there is a task that I’d rather not tackle because I’m not competent enough, I ask for help on my Facebook page.
I honestly forewarn the Ministry for Taxes and Levies that if any stranger comes within my eyeshot they will get a warm and hearty welcome from paratroopers, Spetsnazsoldiers, artillerymen, sailors, and pilots that we offer help to. About 4 million hryvnias have passed through my personal credit card; all the records are available on Facebook. Should I fear? Certainly not. Let them come here. I don’t count on the tax administration functionaries to display patriotism. I count on their instinct of self-preservation. I am terribly angry with our government.
There are no two military officials alike. There are colonels that are unable to implement good ideas because of their stupid superiors. Sometimes they come to me with their ideas. I don’t feel like dealing with higher ranking officials.
We are all complicit in what has happened. Every person that gets a backdoor salary; every person that evaded the election or voted just to check the box. It’s not Yanukovych who’s to blame. We are all to blame. We have created him; he is a product of our irresponsibility. We have plundered our country by failing to pay taxes; we have plundered our army.
When servicemen come to thank me and say they are ashamed of accepting help from me, I tell them I am ashamed of the last 23 years. After that we shake hands and never talk of shame anymore.
I am dreaming of throwing my phone away. I receive one hundred thousand calls a day, that is why I don’t publish my phone number on my social network page. I am eager to see all this come to an end and to be able to live a normal life. Volunteering is a duty that I want to do. But I realize that things are unlikely to settle down in the near future.
I’m not gonna get back in the tourism industry. I am an investor; I have projects that I have invested in and that have been bringing an income. I can easily work no more. I feel awkward saying this, but I am a well-off person.
It is the bullets that have been picked out of flak jackets that give me strength to keep on with my volunteer job. I regularly get them as gifts from servicemen. I’ve got about a dozen now.