Jewish commander: When Russian troops invaded my native Donbas, I rushed to the front!


Ukraine, War in Donbas

Article by: Bohdana Kostiuk
Translated by: Christine Chraibi

The so-called “DNR” and “LNR” “special services”, which operate in the occupied regions of Donbas with the support of the Kremlin, are offering a lot of money to anyone willing to destroy a small group of Ukrainian patriots who have banded together in a Jewish Division of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps (founder and commander – Dmytro Yarosh – Ed.). Maksym Khoryn, commander of the Jewish Division, says that most of his men are Jewish, all born in Ukraine, and ready to defend their country.

– I was born in Yenakiyevo, Donetsk Oblast, but I’ve lived in Netishyn, Khmelnytsky Oblast for quite some time. I had a very peaceful job… I worked as a hairderesser. And I was very active in the Jewish Cultural Center. I was particularly interested in Ukrainian-Jewish relations. Then the Maidan started, Russia occupied Crimea, and sent troops into the Donbas… all issues related to Ukrainian-Jewish relations were put on the backburner. At first, it was all about defending Ukraine. It didn’t take long for us to decide… my friends and I gathered our belongings and rushed to defend our region and hometown. Unfortunately, Yenakiyevo is still occupied (Yenakiyevo is one of the villages and cities in eastern Ukraine where the Ukrainian government has no authority-Ed.).

– Have you ever been interested in military affairs?

– I used to be quite interested in the history of the Jews in Ukraine and the history of Ukraine as a whole. I was part of a research team in Khmelnytsky that investigated the battles of the Second World War, and also looked for the remains of those soldiers. We explored ancient Jewish cemeteries and old Jewish graves; there are a lot in Khmelnytsky Oblast. We cleared these old graves and put up tombstones or memorials. Actually, my associates and I tried to do something useful… we felt that our families should be aware of their roots and understand the country we live in.

– How did the Revolution of Dignity and the fighting in eastern Ukraine influence your national or civic consciousness?

– When the Revolution of Dignity began, I watched the protests and riots on television, and found that many of their ideas were closely related to my own. For example, the rule of law and the protection of human dignity and honour. I decided to join the Maidan, and see what was happening with my own eyes. When I stood on the barricades, something clicked inside me. I started seeing things differently. I saw a lot of wonderful people around me; I saw how many ordinary men and kids were willing to die for this country. Previously, you’d look at them and say: “Well, what kind of people are they? We don’t need them…You know, that lingering feeling “ it’s none of my business!” Suddenly, the “none of my business” feeling turned into “I shoot first!” … that’s what we said to ourseves in the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps (Pravy Sector’). We were lucky during our last day on the Maidan – the night of the February 18-19 killings. One of our buses burnt down, so we crowded into the second one and went home. We were with our families when the shootings and killings started. To this day I cannot understand how and why the people responsible for those bloody murders haven’t been punished. After all, a lot of evidence was collected back then!

Those dramatic hours and days on the Maidan had a great impact on me. I changed radically… I realized that I was responsible not only for myself, but also for my country! I was re-born on the Maidan… as a full-fledged citizen!

– But still… how did a peaceful hairdresser become a soldier?

– It all started with the Russian invasion and occupation of Crimea. I was stunned by the Kremlin’s arrogance and our government’s inaction. When the Russians invaded my sacred land, my native Donbas – I could no longer sit still. When I was on the Maidan, my friends and I got to know Pravy Sektor, and as soon as Dmytro Yarosh announced the formation of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps (UVC), we got together, hopped in my car that I’d just paid off, and drove to the Donbas.

As to how a hairdresser became a soldier, I’d say this… in a way, I was a little involved in military affairs. A few years ago, my research group met with people who were interested in historical reenactment. We didn’t just study history, but we also learned about many artifacts or items associated with a particular historical period. I was particularly interested in the World War II period. So, I got a chance to study what we dug up with the remains of soldiers, including weapons and their characteristics. Believe me, the weapon we use in the Donbas are not very different from the old ones. Sometimes our guys use 1940s Maxim machine guns against Russian tanks!

– In other words, the skills you acquired in your field work actually helped you in real fighting?

– Exactly! That, and automatic weapons and grenades and explosives… and I need such knowledge and skills now, for Russia’s war against Ukraine. I can even say that it has saved my life more than once! Incidentally, there are many Ukrainian fighters who used to belong to historical reenactment clubs, and they fight well and hard, with minimal losses. All the members of the Netishyn Four are still alive, but unfortunately another friend from Khmelnytsky, who joined us when we first went east in summer 2014, was killed. It happened at the Hamaliya checkpoint near Ilovaisk, when the Pravy Sektor bus was hit.

– Do you find any historical parallels between the two wars?

– First, I see that Ukraine is once again the scene of a struggle between good and evil, in the global sense. 70 years ago, the events of World War II spread over the whole world, and now Russian aggression against a sovereign Ukraine also impacts world politics, global security, and even ordinary people whose ideas place them on “different sides of the barricades”, so to speak. Second, both then and now Ukrainians of different ethnic origin are ready to defend Ukraine as long as necessary. Of course, we don’t exist officially because we operate as a volunteer military unit, which remained under Dmytro Yarosh after the split in Pravy Sektor.


Translated by: Christine Chraibi

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