Russian and foreign volunteers in Ukraine: lost idealism and ennui



Article by: by Vladimir Abarinov
Translated by: Christine Chraibi

Photo: ‘Batman’ unit from Saint Petersburg

In February 1999, Aleksandr Borodai, son of a Eurasianist philosopher and Igor Strelkov, veteran of separatist wars in Transnistria, Bosnia and the Caucasus wrote about Russian volunteers in the newspaper ‘Zavtra’. Borodai expressed his ideas idealistically, stating that volunteers fought to restore “the shattered honour of their country”, Strelkov’s words were more prosaic:

“Most of my friends originated from the so-called red zone of Russia, where there is no work, empty factories, where you must either deal or join a violent gang to feed your family. So, what can these guys expect from life? Signing a contract and leaving for Chechnya is a way out. There were quite a lot of fringe groups that enlisted as they simply had nowhere else to go … The war in Transnistria was not the worst as the place was already teeming with criminals; many guys later became professional mercenaries and went off immediately to the Karabakh or Abkhazia.”

I am again reminded of Tolstoy’s character Levin in Anna Karenina who says that “in a nation of eighty million people, there are probably not just hundreds, but tens of thousands of people who have lost touch with society, reckless people who are always ready to join Pugachev’s gang, or go to Khiva, or to Serbia …”

Borodai proclaims that, hardened by combat, the Russian volunteer movement ‘has professional experts’ and a solid social base, but that ‘anti-national forces’ in the country are trying to drive it into ‘the criminal underground’. Strelkov answers: “These people cannot be intimidated. They’ve seen death … and crossed a certain threshold. But, some people are trying to intimidate others, trying to intimidate thousands of potential participants in the national liberation movement.”

(At this point, we should refer to Article 359 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation regarding punishment for mercenary activities. In July 1999, two members of the State Duma from the Liberal Democratic Party tried to introduce an amendment exonerating persons who were financially rewarded in mercenary units, but were fighting for an ideal. The head of the relevant committee stated that such an amendment would not be taken into consideration. Moreover, Article 208 of the Criminal Code 208 stipulated that all persons participating in illegal armed groups outside Russia shall be charged and punished. This article was re-edited in December 2013 – persons participating in illegal armed groups would be charged only if their actions went against the interests of Russia.)

In 2014, both men (Borodai and Strelkov) showed up in the Donbas: Borodai as Prime Minister, and Strelkov as Minister of Defense of the self-proclaimed ‘DNR’. ‘Novorossiya’ was a logical continuation of their talks in the newspaper ‘Zavtra’.

If these two men are ideological militants, what motivates foreigners to join the ranks of the separatists? There are many of them milling around in eastern Ukraine; they come from Serbia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel, and even from Australia, Brazil and the United States. Their presence is noted and glorified by servile Russian media. Aleksandr Borodai compares them with the soldiers of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Alas, it is more logical to apply what Strelkov said about his comrades-in-arms to many of these foreign mercenaries.

Aleksandr Litoy, a freelance journalist from Moscow, met some foreign volunteers in the Donbas. He found out that one Frenchman, Nicolas Perovic had a French passport, but was in fact an ethnic Serb; he did not come to Donetsk to defend his Orthodox brothers from fascists. He had fought with the multinational NATO forces in Afghanistan, and after Donetsk he was planning to go to Syria to fight the Islamists who kill Christians… a fascinating military biography.


French volunteers fighting for Novorossiya

Rafael is from Brazil, born in a family of Hungarian immigrants; he served in the French Foreign Legion and escorted humanitarian convoys in Africa. He hates America and Brazil, as he believes that Brazil is totally under American control, and that the leftist movement is dominated by Trotskyites – instead of defending the rights of ordinary workers, they are standing up for the rights of the transgender community. After the war, Rafael wants to settle in Novorossiya.

Brazilian fighting via VK.com_

Brazilian-born Rafael wants to settle in Novorossiya

The brains of many of these men are impregnated with gunpowder. Like Strelkov, they cannot live a peaceful life; they have too much adrenaline running in their blood. I recently wrote about one of these American Romantics.

31-year-old Eric Matthew Frein is wanted by the FBI for attacking a police officer with a firearm. He was too young to take part in the Bosnian war, but he was in a group of re-enactors, who all wore Serbian military uniforms. I do not know whether Frein eventually got to the Donbas. He is an excellent sniper and an expert on survival in extreme conditions, even better than a professional commando.


War re-enactment

Aleksandr Litoy believes that many foreign volunteers have adopted Aleksandr Dugin’s ideology. No wonder they call the territory controlled by the separatists ‘Duginland’. This is certainly true. Shrill Russian agitprop has spread quickly in Europe and the Western Hemisphere. One agitprop online resource – The European Front – targets a Russian-speaking audience.


European Front: we shall not forget that we are Russians!

The project was designed to collect humanitarian aid for the Donbas population. But for some reason, one of its banners depicts tanks with a hammer and sickle ramming the Statue of Liberty, and a nuclear explosion is pictured behind the statue.

The National Liberation Movement created by Yevgeny Fyodorov, a State Duma deputy, has sites for Canada ( and Germany ( This organization is not only virtual. They have a group that organizes pro-Russian meetings in Ottawa.


Pro-Russian rally on Parliament Hill, Ottawa (Oct.5)

This is just a small picture of Moscow’s information expansionism in the West. I do not rule out that the people responsible for these projects are on the ground, helping brain-washed foreign citizens to enlist in Donetsk volunteer groups and to travel to the actual theater of operations.

According to the BBC, there are foreigners fighting on both sides.

Translated by: Christine Chraibi

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