Hector as a drone pilot

Hector in Ukraine

‘I’ve been extremely lucky’

Hector as a drone pilot
Nick →
Ten months now, former UG student Hector has been with the Ukrainian army. There are no regrets, but reality has set in. ‘I’ve seen what the front line does to people and it’s really fucking ugly.’
25 June om 15:23 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 3 July 2024
om 14:19 uur.
June 25 at 15:23 PM.
Last modified on July 3, 2024
at 14:19 PM.
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Door Christien Boomsma

25 June om 15:23 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 3 July 2024
om 14:19 uur.
Avatar photo

By Christien Boomsma

June 25 at 15:23 PM.
Last modified on July 3, 2024
at 14:19 PM.
Avatar photo

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur Volledig bio »
Background coordinator and science editor Full bio »

Hector from Finland quit his studies at the University of Groningen last year to join the Ukrainian army. ‘If by being here, I can save some kids’ mothers, I need to do that’, he told UKrant at the time. How is he doing now? And how is his best friend Nick, who is raising money in the Netherlands for essential supplies? Read Nick’s story here →

A bar of chocolate finally brought it all home for him.

It was part of a package that Hector received last month, at a time when he was really, really tired. ‘I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise myself’, he says. ‘I hadn’t slept for ages and was completely numb. And then there was this chocolate bar from home, something I hadn’t seen in months. I took a bite and it reminded me of home and I just thought… fuck. And I started crying and collapsed on the floor.’

It’s been almost ten months since Finnish-born Hector dropped out of the international relations programme at the University of Groningen to join the Ukrainian army in its fight against Russia. Ten months in which he has been ‘extremely lucky’. He is alive and well and because of some crazy strokes of luck, he hasn’t been sent to the frontlines yet. 

But in the last few months, the reality of his new life has become abundantly clear. ‘You have these grandiose plans and hopes of doing things. But then you come here and the morality is suddenly very different. You look at the people who have seen all those fucked-up things, and you’re like: Yeah, I don’t want to become that.’

There’s guys in his unit that have been fighting since 2014. Guys with really bad PTSD, some of them are on strong painkillers. ‘There was this sniper I was paired up with, and he had the worst nightmares, screaming and crying in his sleep. Really disturbing.’

Reconnaissance school

At this moment, Hector’s unit is doing border patrols near Belarus. It’s quiet, he says. He’s on quarter guard duty and sees the sky turn orange at night because of the air defence systems that protect the planes flying over his head to Kiev. Planes filled with missiles and drones the West has sent to support Ukraine.

You come here and the morality is suddenly very different

Still, every moment now, the situation might change. Summer has come and with that a new Ukrainian offensive for which every able-bodied soldier available will be needed, including the thinned-out battalion that Hector is a part of. And no, he is not looking forward to that. 

But maybe he won’t have to go after all, because in the past months his career in the army has taken an unexpected turn. 

Instead of immediately being deployed to the frontlines in January, as expected, Hector and his team were sent to a reconnaissance school for extra training. ‘There were some very good instructors from different NATO countries’, he says. ‘One guy, who had been in Afghanistan, had been on the Ukrainian front for a year. It was amazing to learn from him.’

Drone flying

As a trained army medic, he was also sent to a field hospital in Kharkiv for a couple of weeks, to relieve the nurses. Then he returned to the school, where he met a cyber security expert who was now training drone pilots. 

The two started chatting on the bus, and the instructor asked Hector to try his luck on the simulator. And it soon became apparent that Hector had a knack for it. ‘Maybe because of the gaming I did back home.’

One thing led to another. Hector started practising drone flying every night, after his regular training. ‘I would go to the simulator room and fly for seven hours’, he says. ‘I didn’t sleep much. Maybe two or three hours a night.’

His efforts paid out though, because the instructor wrote a letter of recommendation to the director to train Hector as a drone pilot. And so he first received additional training as a reconnaissance drone pilot in Kiev and was then sent to Central Ukraine to learn to fly offensive drones. 

Different role

Now, he’s a qualified drone pilot and the paperwork for his official transfer to another unit is being processed right now. But he doesn’t know how long that will take. ‘So if we are rotated next week, which we might, I am still part of this reconnaissance group.’

When I was in university, I was more stressed about exams

It might very well be a question of life and death – since a drone pilot is stationed behind the lines – but he is not even that stressed about the situation. ‘When I was in university, I was more stressed about exams’, he says. ‘Here you don’t have time to think. You constantly do things.’

He has been thinking about the different role he has as a drone pilot. As a medic, he would be saving lives, while a drone pilot takes them. But he has come to terms with that. 

It’s about efficiency, he says. Being where he is most effective and working the job he can do best. 

And it’s also about surviving. ‘I’ve seen what the front line does to people and it’s really fucking ugly. It’s not that I wasn’t prepared for it, but I think there’s a better way of being here for me.’


If there is one thing he has learned in the last few months, it’s the importance of luck. ‘No matter who you are or where you are, or how good you are. If the rocket hits you, it’s bad luck. If you step on a mine, it’s bad luck. The shrapnel, the artillery? They don’t choose.’

I’ve learned these amazing skills that I couldn’t have learned as a civilian

It was good luck his commander was close friends with the leader of the military reconnaissance school, which meant he was able to get his people trained there. It was luck that the drone teacher sat next to Hector on the bus. ‘I know people who got their legs shot off because they were unlucky. And me… I speak very good Ukrainian now. I’ve learned these amazing skills that I couldn’t have learned as a civilian and all I am is just tired.’

He doesn’t regret his choices. He did know what to expect. But there are some new international soldiers in his company that are very different from him. Men with this burning passion in their eyes, that really want to do this. 

He came to defend his values and democracy, and he stands by that. ‘But you see shit, and what it does to people, and you start to wonder: is it really worth it? Sometimes I’m not sure if my reasoning to be here will carry me all the way. And I think that the drones, doing a more effective job, will carry me further.’


And now he’s also looking forward to seeing his friend Nick, who has been fundraising in Groningen to get supplies to him and his team. ‘It’s so amazing what these guys have done. Some medicine he has been able to forward to hospitals. We were able to buy night goggles and bandages used to train new medics.’

However, most important might be the fact that Nick is coming in person, because Hector has had trouble connecting to people from his previous life. ‘Like the time when our battalion was on the move and we thought we were being rotated to the front. I was talking to this female friend and suddenly she said: sorry, I’m going to sleep now, I have an early lecture tomorrow. And I was like: this might be the last time we get to talk and you’re worried about a lecture in the morning.’ 

It’s her reality, he gets that. ‘But that reality and mine don’t work together.’  

So the fact that Nick and his friends are doing all this speaks volumes to him. ‘I’ve been so alone for months now, so seeing him again…’ He is quiet for a bit. ‘Well, it’s like that bar of chocolate, I guess.’ 

You can donate money for Hector via this fundraiser page.