Ukrainian “Foreign legion”: foreign volunteers and their reasons to fight in Donbas on Ukrainian side

UaPosition starts a new category, where will be published texts about events in Ukraine during last few years through the eyes of witnesses. The information can be sometimes unexpected, shows the subjective points of view of participants, however, it is more honest and truthful than politically correct official news made by politics and diplomats.

Originally posted by “Novoe Vremia”, translated by Anna Walden for UaPosition

There are over a thousand of them – you would not find more accurate figures even in the general Headquarters of AFU [Armed Forces of Ukraine – UaPosition]. They are all very different, sometimes intriguing – Russians, Byelorussians, Georgians, Polish, Swede and Israeli.  They are all fighting in Donbas on the side of Ukraine. All of them are volunteers.

All of them, except of two people, are not Ukrainian citizens. And although President Petro Poroshenko promised to issue Ukrainian passports for all volunteers who are fighting on the side of Ukraine. He did not do it. They carry on fighting regardless, they didn’t get here to receive a passport after all.

Halyna Korba is writing about seven foreign volunteers who are risking their lives for the freedom of another country and what they are getting from it, for Novoe Vremia.

“I will go back to Russia only in a tank”

Oleg Butusin, 45 years old, Russia


photo by magazine “Novoe Vremya”

The biography of Oleg Butusin would ideally suit a fanatic of “Russian world”: a naval reserve officer from Vladivostok, Orthodox traditionalist, a ploughman, a father of ten children, in the past – a member of Russian Kazaks. There are lots of similar people fighting in Donbas – on the side of so called republics. But Butusin can see those people only through the sniper scope: a lot of his acquaintances from the Kazaks are fighting against Ukraine. He made his choice at the beginning of Maidan and took the side of Ukraine.

He was proven right in the summer of 2014 – during the battle of Ilovaisk, organised with the collusion of the Russian armed forces. At the same time as his stay in Kuban, he witnessed Russia supplying Donbas with military personnel, armaments, and ammunition for the “LNR” [Luhansk People’s Republic – UaPosition] and the “DNR” [Donetsk People’s Republic – UaPosition] by air and by rail.

See also: “Grads” and “Buks” in the ATO zone. Infographic.

The official response from Kremlin repeated the same story overhand over again – there are no Russian forces in the east of Ukraine.

“At that moment, I understood I must go to Ukraine. If I did not, I would be ashamed to look my children in the eyes”, – the volunteer confessed.

Butusin scooped his numerous family members, and moved to Ivano-Frankivsk region, where he bought a house. They went into agriculture, and the head of the family became a member of “Right Sector” spending the next two years fighting in the East of Ukraine.

Now he is back in the Carpathian region to help threshing wheat and complete the refurbishment of the new house. After his work is done, he will go back to the frontline.

“Fighting is my passion”, – Butusin confessed.

His passport was destroyed in the fire in the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation, official definition of Donbas war – UaPosition] zone, therefore he was unable to apply for the Ukrainian citizenship. The hero is trying to pursue asylum seeker status now. He does not want to go back to Russia. In any case, he would not be able to do it – the government found out about the Cossack in Right Sector, his relatives were searched.

See also: Right Sector posts photos of its soldiers killed in attack on Butivka mine

His brother is under threat of prosecution for corresponding with the “punisher” [Russian propaganda’s image, “vigilante” who eats children and rapes Russian retiree in Donbas – UaPosition].

“When I crossed the border [from Russia to Ukraine – UaPosition], I had a feeling I came back home: I met so many wonderful people here. Friends I had in Russia for over 40 years, turned out to be fake”, – says Butusin . “I will only go back to Russia in a tank as a part of punitive expedition. I could help to hang Putin”, –  he adds with a mystery smile.

“I came here to fight for the Ukrainian people, not for the chocolate factory “Roshen” [owned by Ukrainian President Poroshenko –UaPosition]

Konrad Kaminsky, 45 years old, Poland


photo by magazine “Novoe Vremya”

Only two years ago, Konrad Kaminsky had been neither in the army nor with Ukraine. He had lived in the USA and the United Kingdom for many years. For the past five years, he owned a wholesale business in London supplying Polish produce.

Everything changed in 2014 when Konrad abandoned his steady routine and went to Ukraine to fight against the Russian aggressor.

“I did have some personal reasons. I am Polish, I was born in Poland. However, my forefathers were conscious Ukrainians: both, my grandfather and great grandfather – members of the OUN [The Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists –UaPosition], so I visited and got to know Ukraine”, – he explained.

When in Kyiv, he contacted a volunteer battalion Donbas. They did not want to accept him at first, he seemed a bit suspicious. Why on earth did a Polish businessman from London want to join the fighting in Ukraine? But eventually they took him in.

See also: Paris Opera singer Vasyl Slipak shot dead by Russian sniper in Donbas

It was a good decision: Kaminsky helped the battalion with his own money, organised donations from Polish and Ukrainian diaspora in the United Kingdom. He did well on the battlefield as well – both, in Donetsk and Luhansk regions over the past two years.

“We are like gypsies – taking part in the most terrible events. Everyone wears a different uniform, driving unequipped cars, but we fight well! Russians fear us, separatists fear us. This government fears us too. They are doing everything to discredit and to throw us in the mud”, he smiles.

The Polish fighter mentions falsified criminal cases against volunteer fighters with sadness – right now many are accused without verdicts of the judges, they are called crooks, rapists, and paedophiles.

Kyiv is not very kind to Kaminsky either: his citizenship application was declined twice already. But the most frustrating factor for the Polish guy with the Ukrainian roots is that the government did not eliminate the corruption and oligarchs.

“I came here to fight for the Ukrainian people, and not for the chocolate factory ‘’Roshen’’. Petro Poroshenko could be another Bohdan Khmelnytsky, make history. But he chose a different path. And it is different to mine”, – marks Kaminsky.

He is still hoping to get a new Ukrainian passport from the next President of Ukraine.

“It is not enough to replace Putin; the people cannot be replaced”

Yulia Tolopa (call sign Valkyrie), 21 years old, Russia


photo by magazine “Novoe Vremya”

Yulia Tolopa can hardly find time in her schedule for a meeting. She has lots to attend to – a one year old daughter, regular travel to the ATO zone and an active work in a volunteer Ukrainian Centre for Aerial Reconnaissance.

She was born and raised in Russia, studied in Kislovodsk. She only moved to Ukraine two years ago. But despite this, Valkyrie speaks beautiful Ukrainian, it is hard to believe she is Russian.

See also: Hybrid technology of ethnic pressures: instrument of the Russian geostrategy

Back at home, Tolopa took part in military – patriotic clubs, liked to play sport. Up until 18 years old she was a Stormfight “Thunder” champion. Unlike many of her friends she chose to support Ukraine in the conflict.

“At the start of Maidan, all my friends supported Ukraine, saying that the Ukrainians are blood brothers. Then they [members of the patriotic club – UaPosition] were offered money to fight on the side of the DNR, the LNR and they accepted”, – she recollects.

Tolopa took part in the Maidan protests, and after a year on the frontline in a volunteer battalion ‘’Aidar’’. She started off as a sniper, after that – a commander of the infantry fighting vehicle BMP – 2.

“This is a Russian army machine from Rostov, we got it from the battle field”says.

Later Tolopa gave birth to a baby, and this event changed her life – now she is not fighting but helps as a volunteer on the short trips to the Centre for Aerial Reconnaissance.

For her the future lies in Ukraine: she is attempting to receive the citizenship and enrol to one of Kyiv universities. Or to be contracted to the AFU.

She is not planning to return to Russia.

“I like it here, it is my home, – she says about Ukraine. – I am not going to go back to Russia, even if the government is different. It is not enough to substitute Putin; the people cannot be replaced, they will remain as cynical as ever.”

 “We saw changes taking place in Belarus after the Ukrainian Maidan”

Kedr (call sign), 25 years old, Belarus


photo by magazine “Novoe Vremya”

Fighters from Belarus fear publicity even more than their brothers in arms from Russia. A volunteer with the callsign Kedr requests not to be named and agrees to be photographed only in Balaklava. Belarus doesn’t encourage – participation in the East of Ukraine conflict, even as volunteers, it is a criminal offence.

See also: Lukashenko under Kremlin pressure: Russia may prepare for construction of military base in Belarus

He came to Ukraine in the summer of 2014, with several people to fight: joined “Right Sector” as a separate tactical group Belarus. The next two years Kedr spent in fighting – Pisky, Debaltseve, and the zone around the Donetsk airport. The last few months were spent recovering after the shell shock, but he returned to the front in September again.

Kedr will not be getting a Ukrainian passport: by helping Ukraine, he contributes to the transformation of his own country.

“We saw changes taking place in Belarus after the Ukrainian Maidan. It was necessary to get the experience of the fight, to get in touch with patriots who will be able to help in case a war broke out in Belarus”, – the volunteer explains.

He is sure the war is coming home. Even with all the drawbacks, he believes that the government is not totally pro-Russian. Therefore, the Russian tanks are highly likely to bring the “Russian peace” to the Byelorussian city of Mogilev, for example.

The volunteer is hoping that the ideals of Ukrainian Maidan will infect his motherland with the democracy virus.

He does not have any complaints about the official Kyiv: Ukrainian government promised not to deport Byelorussian fighters back home, looking through the fingers at their half legal status here. And it kept the word.

“We can do our duty without fear. That is all I need. I would be disappointed only if we were thrown in the cameras and deport up back to the border with Belarus “, – Kedr says.

 “I have the same vision with Ukrainian people”

Dmitry (Argon), 33 years old, Russia


photo by magazine “Novoe Vremya”

A volunteer from Russia, who asked not to be named. He is undergoing treatment at the military hospital for the last few weeks after an injury, suffered in the ATO. More than a year ago, he fought in a voluntary battalion Aidar, and then as a part of the Harpoon.

Prior to his arrival in Ukraine, Argon lived in St. Petersburg, worked at a meat factory and yet, as he said, “was a fierce Russian nationalist”.

See also: “Does Ukraine need nationalism” – discussion with Anne Applebaum

He changed his views after Maidan protests in 2014.

“Russia had a tough propaganda politics: portraying people as the right-wing fanatics who attacked police force Berkut with Molotov cocktails. I got there and realised it was all lies. I have the same vision as Ukrainian people”, – Argon recalls.

The fighter found a new home in Ukraine. He found new friends and loved one. He didn’t manage to get an official citizen status yet. He lost all his identity documents during Maidan events. The asylum seeker applications are left unanswered to this date.

The biggest fear is deportation back to Russia. His new life is already known there: police visited his relatives, checked.

“Some individuals were threatening my family with physical violence in social media. Tried to bully me. The usual practice within punitive department when they cannot physically get to you”, – the fighter adds.

Argon would like to go back to the frontline after the rehabilitation and get the documents to stay in Ukraine legally.

“I have a degree. I will be useful for the Ukrainian society be it war or peace”, – he adds modestly.

“I was fully embraced by this land”

Grigory Pivovarov, 35 years old, Israel


photo by magazine “Novoe Vremya”

Grigory Pivovarov had the first hand of a true thrill experience: he served in a special forces unit in Israel, worked in the industrial mountaineering, and took part in the anarchist movement all over the world.

He was born in the Soviet Union, grew up in Israel and lived in Barcelona just before his arrival in Ukraine. He happens to be in Ukraine by a pure accident. He was hitchhiking from Berlin to Moscow and arrived in Kyiv in the middle of Maidan.

As a result, he never got to the Russian capital. Ever since then he stayed in the middle of the campground on the main square in Kyiv. He went to the ATO zone directly from there in 2014, as a part of a volunteer battalion Aidar. From that moment, the Israeli would only take leave from the frontline for short periods of rest.

He moved from a volunteer battalion to the 93rd Mechanized brigade of the AFU in 2015. His unit is defending positions near Mariinka and Dokuchaevsk in the Donetsk region.

Pivovarov is one of very few legionary in the army with the UAF fully legal contract.

See also: Latvia doesn`t allow its citizens to serve in Ukrainian army

He is proud to demonstrate his army ticket, and says he is intending to stay in Ukraine in the future.

“I was fully embraced by this land”. Only here [in Ukraine – UaPosition] one can see the right and the left, Jews and Muslims, unite together putting all the differences aside. Just two years ago we were fighting, and now we support each other side by side and understand, the enemy is in front of us, beyond the line of delimitation”, – the fighter explains.

He also thinks about the future, about setting up a tourism business.

“To open Ukraine to the world”, – Pivovarov explains.

“There is no brotherly nation”

Mikita Makeev (call sign Oddisey), 32 years old, Russia


photo by magazine “Novoe Vremya”

Mikita Makeev was born in St Petersburg. He had a small construction company, a wife and a daughter. He was neither a great supporter of the Russian government nor in the opposition.

He received the news about Maidan protests during the holiday in Thailand. The decision to go to Ukraine arose later. Some of his friends went to the war as contractors to fight for the “DNR” and the “LNR”.

“I understood it was an undeclared war, a direct intervention. We could not fight the regime directly in Russia and therefore I had to help Ukraine.  I arrived here just in a month”, – Makeev said.

Makeev joined the volunteer battalion Azov in reconnaissance squad. He took part in Ilovaisk and Novoazovsk battles. His adventures are already “famous” back at home. His family was interrogated by police at home. After the incident Makeev moved his wife and the child to Ukraine.

The volunteer accepted the loss of his homeland. But there are no regrets. He reckons the people have kind hearts in Ukraine and the life is much safer even having a war on your doorstep. He sent his daughter to the Ukrainian kindergarten. He is also vigorously learning Ukrainian language.

He had applied for Ukrainian citizenship three times already, as well as many other foreign volunteers, but all the applications were declined. Makeev believes it is not fair as ex-President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili and a Russian oppositionist Maria Gaidar received their passports with Tryzub [trident, Ukrainian national emblem – UaPosition] in mere days. This is how people fighting for Ukraine become outlaws. This is amiss not only for the people themselves but for a country as well. It is safer to give such individual a status. It is a way for the government to gather a specific data for a citizen –  a photograph, finger prints.

“Regardless of the crime, you should prosecute the individual according to the law, here, in Ukraine. Do not send people back to Russia to be tortured by the FSB”, – Makeev says.

See also: ”Plastic bags on face, electric shocks”: human rights activists tell of systemic torture of Ukrainians in Russia

He doesn’t pity his countrymen and the motherland he abandoned. He blames the Russian aggression on both – the government and the people.

“Bolotna protests were supported by mere 200 thousand people from 140 million. It is a glitch in a system. Nothing more. There is no brotherly nation. Even if Ukraine wins the war, they need to support the fifth column in Russia”, – he says.

If Ukraine is not going to destabilize Russia, Russia will destabilize Ukraine, Makeev explains.

See also: How Russia has prepared for aggression against Ukraine for 10 years. Instruments of hybrid war: diplomacy, media, culture and religion

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