Since the beginning of the month, Bulgarian politicians have been traveling around the country in an attempt to convince voters to vote for them in the early elections in two weeks. During this time, one of the candidate deputies did not travel around the country and led a non-standard campaign – from the front line in Ukraine.
Ivan Kalchev, nicknamed “Gligi”, has been part of the foreign legion in Ukraine since the beginning of March and is helping the Ukrainian army in its fight against the Russian occupiers.
Speaking to Free Europe, he did not reveal his location for security reasons, but said his unit was taking part in the Ukrainian counteroffensive that began weeks ago.
“Everything was very well prepared and organized and there is nothing accidental about the successes,” said Kalchev.
He did not imagine that the counter-offensive in Ukraine would coincide with the offensive of hundreds of Bulgarian politicians towards the next National Assembly. Parliamentary elections will be held on October 2, the fourth since 2021. Kalchev is also a candidate.
Before the war
Kalchev was born in Sofia, graduated from the classical high school with honors, and later studied physics and information technology. In the eighth grade, he met Vladimir Yonchev – founder and editor-in-chief of the OffNews website, with whom he remains friends to this day. Even then, according to Yonchev, Kalchev’s peers called him Gligi (from boar – b.a.), because he has “strange” teeth.
Yonchev described the legionnaire to Free Europe as “one of the smartest people he knows.” Apart from studying physics, computer science and politics, in his spare time Kalchev travels around the country by motorbike or works in the forge he built. In 2013, he joined the “Green Movement” party, and today he is part of the leadership of the formation.
Almost half a year ago, he had to quickly acquire skills in a completely unknown field – the military.
How he ends up at the front
A week before he left for Ukraine, Kalchev did not have any military training. Once he realizes that he has overcome his fears, however, he undergoes a short training in which he practices marksmanship and the basics of tactics and field medicine. Arrived at the front in Ukraine in early March.
“Until now, we have realized that if you don’t do it, no one else will,” says Yonchev about how their generation thinks and about Kalchev’s reasons for leaving.
“Nobody tried to dissuade him, we knew he wouldn’t be dissuaded.”
So Kalchev left for Ukraine, and his friend’s website regularly informed Bulgarians about his life at the front.
In his unit, Kalchev cooperates with soldiers of dozens of nationalities, including Poles, people from other Slavic countries, as well as from English-speaking countries – the USA, Great Britain, Canada.
In an interview with OffNews at the end of June, the Bulgarian legionnaire says that he does not deal with shooting, but rather with operational activities or “universal problem solving”.
“You can say that I’m maintenance, you can say that I’m “zavhoz”, as the Ukrainians say, I make sure that “Starlink” works (the only internet provider in Ukraine after the start of the war – b.a.), to have electricity in the base, as well as to solve some problems before they arise”, he adds.
He also had to evacuate the wounded, translate for non-English-speaking Ukrainians and non-Russian-speaking English speakers, and provide uniforms and duty. However, after the transition to the offensive, his tasks changed, and he did not specify what exactly they consist of today.
What’s happening at the front
Kalchev often says that the modern image of wars, which people have created from Hollywood movies, does not match reality, since a large part of the time is spent waiting.
This changed after the start of the counter-offensive, when the regime of the military became much harsher and there were days when they slept for two hours. However, according to him, the offensive was well organized and the unit was well equipped.
“So many tanks and armored personnel carriers (armored personnel carriers – b.a.) I haven’t seen even in a computer game as much as I saw live, and in front of us is a very small part of the front,” adds Kalchev,
Another positive side of this period is the times when the unit passes through liberated villages.
“In all the villages we have liberated, people have taken to the streets, usually there is one main street that runs through the village. They have already come outside, with flags, with balloons, waving the flags, smiling at us and waving at every military vehicle that passes by,” says Kalchev.
“With joy, with pride, with tears in my eyes, I just see how these people are happy to be freed,” he adds.
Certain hazards remain in the liberated territories, such as mines or fallen unexploded ordnance and rockets.
His participation in the campaign
Since the beginning of the election campaign, which started two weeks ago, Kalchev participated with the help of volunteers who maintain his Facebook page.
He has not decided whether to return to Bulgaria for the elections, stressing also that it is not so easy to get out of the war at any time.
Kalchev is present in two lists of the “Democratic Bulgaria” coalition, part of which is “Green Movement”.
“The votes for us will be a test of how important geopolitics is to our voters,” says Kalchev. The coalition has a pro-Western orientation and calls for a more categorical position of Bulgaria in support of Ukraine.
One of Kalchev’s messages about the elections says that “the counter-offensive in Bulgaria begins on October 2. Vote!”.
His political positions are those with which the coalition he represents is most often associated. The leaders of “Democratic Bulgaria” talk about the need for judicial reform. Kalchev has also participated in protests on this topic.
In one of the few “non-military” posts on Facebook, he says that education is his priority. On the day when children in Bulgaria go to school – September 15, Kalchev shares his ideas for changes in education.
“If I had a magic wand, I’d conjure up our entire education system at midnight to disappear, and the next morning we’d start building it clean,” he says.