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Some 20 Finns fought against Ukraine in Donbas, facing no consequences in Finland – media

Johan Bäckman’s advertisement of the opportunity to travel to Ukraine’s east for joining the Russian-hybrid forces, published in his blog in 2015. Petri Viljakainen is pictured. Photo: Screenshot of Johan Bäckman’s blog, image processing: YLE
Finland’s national public broadcasting company YLE reported that an estimated twenty Finns used to fight in Russian-hybrid forces against Ukrainians in the unproclaimed war in Ukraine’s east, yet the Finnish authorities don’t investigate their activities in the warzone.

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.”

Under Finnish legislation, taking part in foreign wars isn’t punishable by itself, but participation in war crimes is.

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 Backman says that he continues to help Finns who have gone to Eastern Ukraine to fight. He does not feel responsible for the people he recruits.” Photo: Screenshot from Janus Putkonen’s YouTube channel via YLE.

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).

Finnish citizen Petri Viljakainen fights against Ukrainian government forces in the Donbas. Photo: Screenshot of Johan Bäckman’s YouTube channel via YLE

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.

Janus Putkonen (left), others are (left to right) Finns Ari Laitanen and Petri Viljakainen, Russell Bentley from the United States, and the Finn with his face covered who goes under the pseudonyms “Igor” and “Ivan”. Photo: Screenshot of Janus Putkonen’s YouTube channel via YLE.

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.

The authors of the YLE article wrote that talking to Finnish authorities gave them an impression that no one has been investigating whether Finnish foreign fighters might have participated in war crimes or any other illegal activities in the warzone in the east of Ukraine. Meanwhile, a few other European countries investigate and try their nationals who partook in hostilities in Ukraine.

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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