According to YLE, the security police said that a “relatively small number” of Finns fought in eastern Ukraine; other sources of YLE in security agencies gave an estimation of a total of about twenty such fighters.
YLE sought to interview representatives of several security authorities, yet no party agreed to give their commentaries openly but shared some background information. The security police said that the matter of Finnish foreign fighters cannot be commented on as it has to do with “their privacy.”
In their material, YLE collected the stories of several Finns fighting alongside Russian-hybrid forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region, where the war has been ongoing since the late spring of 2014. Among those are Johan Bäckman, Petri Viljakainen, and Janus Putkonen. All three appeared in Youtube videos multiple times and gave several interviews to the Finnish press.
“The videos repeat the same themes: Finnish people fighting and staying in the area are portrayed as war heroes defending civilians. Instead, Ukrainian forces are portrayed as invaders and war criminals, although international observers say the attacks are being carried out specifically by Russian-led forces, and they are suspected of war crimes” YLE says.
Johan Bäckman is an important central figure for Finnish fighters, who had organized their travel from Finland to the Donbas and engaged them in illegal activities there. Also, he is a representative of the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISS).
Janus Kostia Putkonen arrived in Donbas from Moscow via Rostov, southern Russia, in March 2015. Initially, he worked for the so-called news agency “DOni News,” launched by Russian businessman Andrey Stepanenko for spreading pro-Russian war propaganda against Ukraine.
- Read also: Far right and left, conspiracy theorists among “foreign monitors” at Russia’s sham Donbas elections: Report (2018)
Another Finnish fighter is known under the pseudonym Lauri “Karhu.” He even a book about his participation in battles in Donbas, in which he says he served in 2015-2017 as a volunteer in the military forces of the “Donbas People’s Militia.”
As Bäckman, Viljakainen, and Putkonen most likely still remain in the Russian-occupied Donbas, the whereabouts of “Karhu” are unknown.
- Read also: How Czechia became a leader in convicting ex-mercenaries who fought against Ukraine in the Donbas
According to the UN, since its beginning, the war in eastern Ukraine has claimed the lives of around 3,400 civilians and displaced 1.5 million.
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