Bondo Dorovskikh, a Russian businessman, volunteered to go to Ukraine to “fight fascism” and defend “the Russian idea;” but he says he rapidly discovered the situation in the Donbas was not as he had been led to expect and that he had been enrolled “not in an army but in a criminal band.”
His testimony on this point, given in a 3,000-word interview with Radio Liberty, provides both a frightening glimpse into the world of the pro-Moscow statelets in southeastern Ukraine and an encouraging indication that ever more Russians are appalled not only by what officials there are doing but also by what Moscow is saying.
“I really thought,” Dorovskikh said, “that Russia was in danger, that mercenaries were fighting there and trying to seize our country, that the Donbas is Russia’s advance post where we must stand and defend our interests. Only having crossed the border did we see literally within the first five minutes” that this was not the case.
Russian television exerted a powerful influence on him, the former volunteer says. Had it not presented its version of reality, he would never have thought of going to the Donbas to fight. Now, he said, he recognizes how distorted an account it offered and continues to offer about events in Ukraine.
His recruitment to the Donbas cause was simple; indeed, he said he was shocked that there was no more checking about the people who signed up than there was. “More than that, there were cases when someone with a Xerox copy of documents” but not the real ones crossed the border.” Once in the Donbas itself, no one asked more than one’s name.
The organizers handed out guns without any particular checking of the abilities of those to whom they were given, Dorovskikh continued. They handed out the guns only on Ukrainian territory, but the division of volunteers into the various forces, such as “the Specter Brigade,” into which he went, took place in Russia, in Rostov oblast.
In that brigade, he said there were “several Russian cadres officers, but most of the band members were local people, with only ten to 30 percent consisting of volunteers from Russia. Some of the band members sold their weapons for cash; others apparently used them for the same end. But still others seemed very interested in learning how to fight.
Neither the hierarchies of the “DNR” or “LNR” were especially happy with independent battalions like the one he was in nor were the ordinary people in the areas in which they operated. One woman, for example, told Dorovskikh “We don’t need Putin; [and] we don’t want to be in Russia.”
Most of the people in his band, he continued, were indifferent to politics. Many of them had criminal backgrounds; and those that did devoted a great deal of time to searching out for former policemen, perhaps for revenge. In all things, “they were far from politics” and were interested only in having an adventure or engaging in violence.
As far as the future is concerned, he said, “if Russia had not gotten involved, [the self-proclaimed republics] wouldn’t have happened. Russia is inclined to support this movement further and therefore the fighters will hold on for a long time yet.”
Dorovskikh said he “would advise people not to go to the Donbas. This is false patriotism. There is no Russia there. Instead, what is going on is real aggression. More than that, if you go, you will simply become part of a band.” Any volunteer would certainly not have anything to do with “defending the Motherland.”
Russians have been shown on television something that looks like the Great Fatherland War,” he said. But in reality, the conflict in Ukraine is “real aggression. We came to this territory, and the Russian authorities are supporting terror. If we hadn’t gone there, if Russia hadn’t gotten involved, there wouldn’t have been thousands of dead.”
“In general,” he concludes, “there wouldn’t have been any of this” in Ukraine.