Live. Fight. Survive.

“At a time when much of the world’s attention has been diverted, Live. Fight. Survive. serves to remind readers of the intensity and severity of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.” – CHACR reviews Shaun Pinner’s first-hand account of fighting Russian forces.

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TITLE: Live. Fight. Survive.

AUTHOR: Shaun Pinner

REVIEWER: Captain Ben Tomlinson, Visiting Fellow, CHACR

“You’re probably wondering,” writes Shaun Pinner in Live. Fight. Survive. “how a bloke from Watford ended up scrapping with the Ukrainian Marines in the first place” – and the former British soldier isn’t wrong. But although the answer to that particular teaser might be out of the ordinary and the reason why many reach for this book, it is the extraordinary details of the author’s front-line experiences of the fight still raging in Europe’s eastern reaches that will keep most turning its pages.

Initially a private in the 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment, Pinner completed tours of Northern Ireland and Bosnia before seeking adventure elsewhere and, following an excursion to Syria alongside “minimum wage mercs”, found himself training Ukraine’s Azov Battalion. It was while doing so that he fell in love with Mariupol and Larysa, who later became his wife – dual passions that led the author to establishing a new life in Ukraine by transferring to the 36th Marine Brigade, 1st Battalion. In his new role, Pinner found himself at the sharp end of the Ukrainian defence against the Russian invasion and, after weeks of savage fighting, surrounded at the infamous Azovstal Iron and Steel Works. His subsequent capture and incarceration was littered with beatings, stabbings and torture before he was sentenced to death by a Russian-controlled kangaroo court in mid-2022.

Live. Fight. Survive., which owes its title to the last text Pinner received from his wife prior to capture, is a genuinely insightful account of the ongoing Ukrainian struggle against Russia which details the most human experiences of war. Whilst brilliantly describing the fear and anticipation that built before the initial invasion, Pinner also flippantly recalls the resemblance between Russian artillery bombardment and Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight without breaking step. Indeed, Pinner’s colloquial and conversational style is what establishes Live. Fight. Survive. as a valuable edition to the burgeoning genre of ‘first-hand war stories,’ and his descriptions of how his captors, at times, resembled David Brent or the cast of The Inbetweeners deliver a relatable and engaging read.

Unlike other true-life tales of combat and capture, Live. Fight. Survive. capably communicates Pinner’s experiences without taking itself too seriously or presenting too polished an image. By his own admission, Pinner had only limited exposure to SERE [Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape] training prior to his ordeal, which makes his fears, and successes, more recognisable than those accounts of far more experienced operators. His unflinching discussions around how he recognised the onset of depressive bouts or his visceral descriptions of hunger and uncertainty really bring this home to the audience, and I finished this book far sooner than any other I’ve read of a similar vein.

At a time when much of the world’s attention has been diverted, Live. Fight. Survive. serves to remind readers of the intensity and severity of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Fortunately, due to its style and prose, consuming this reminder of an unfolding dark chapter in history is a perversely enjoyable experience.

Published by Penguin Michael Joseph, Hardback, £22, ISBN: 9780241668085.