Military jeep covered with camouflage. The driver keeps on the back seat of the machine, cartridges and grenades. The passage is guarded by a young soldier in a t-shirt that says “No Knife — No Life” (“Without a knife will not live” — approx. ed.) and with Kalashnikov on the shoulder. He raises the barrier, a soldier driving in silence shifts, and we go dark with the base of the “Right sector” in the direction of the front.
The driver’s name is Hera. He is 43 years old. He is a former professional soldier, retired, who went back to serve after Ukraine launched a war. But the armed forces already have taken. So he was in the “Right quadrant” (an extremist organization banned in Russia — approx. ed.). Gera does not complain. As a volunteer, he gets no pay, but food, weapons and everything you need they provide donors or the organization itself. Along with the Hero now serve and his former fellow soldiers.
About an hour we’re on the frontline hushed villages that with every mile becoming more abandoned and ruined. Then in the small village we were met by an Italian. It’s a nickname he got, as they say, because he comes from Naples. In the garden of the garbage lying around, and everywhere weapons: hand grenades, anti-tank shells, machine guns and body armor. Surreal atmosphere exacerbate the screaming women on the TV show the brutal fight in the cage. Men go outside and open the garage. It is littered with ammunition, and my driver charges the store a Kalashnikov. We can continue the path to the front.
I never found out where the Italian took hundreds of pounds of ammunition for machine guns and grenade launchers. Remained unknown, and how the ammunition got to his garage. Perhaps they are from the black market or military depots, and, perhaps, was stolen or became a prize of war.
Where the road ends and the war begins
Marinka — one of the most troubled towns in the frontal area. It is located on a strategic road to Donetsk, so it is constantly shelled and bombarded. The city was protected by three thousand soldiers of the Ukrainian army and some fighters of “Right sector”, which is his command. In fact, the “Right sector”, the private army that wants to liberate Ukraine from Russian aggression on their own and at any price.
We arrive at twilight, when the artillery of both sides start to shoot more often. Marinka resembles a Ghost town from a horror movie: in the streets not a soul around cold and wet, the gray, depressing fog, a ruined house. On a paved road broken by the treads of heavy equipment, we go right to the front where the sounds of automatic and machine gun fire. In a few minutes over high-rises, and we wyesham in the suburbs with private houses and gardens. They are all destroyed by mortar fire and missiles “Grad”.
We stop, because to go further is madness: it’s the whistle of a stray bullet, and a hundred meters from city road, as they say, turns into a minefield in the crossfire from both sides.
We are waiting for the fighter “Right sector”, and together with the driver, removing the gun from the guard, he accompanies me to the front of the front post. This bombed-out house and an improvised barricade fortified with embrasures nowhere. It is covered with a rotting red linoleum, and right after it starts minefield. The soldiers did not allow me to photograph their faces, and with the barricades, I can only remove to the district. One of them cynically says: “Unable to run in, the foreigner, however, this will be the last photo in your life.”
From city breathes hopelessness. The soldiers speak softly, take my cigarette and asked the driver when the food came. “Soon all will be,” says Hera, and when mortar rounds at the place where we stand, increase in frequency, we quickly go back where you came from. I am given to understand that the dead are a foreign reporter is a large and also extra problem.
In an abandoned city
In the town near the centre, very close to the flats, is the operational base of the “Right sector”. We come back, when it’s almost dark, and mortar rounds and gunfire rang out from the far streets, because of the fog sound with a vengeance.
The post is a soldier whose arm is hanging Orthodox cross — protection. In the same hand he had a Kalashnikov (a second protection element in case the first fail). The neighborhood seemed alcoholic in the dirty clothes. Living in the frontline, he had lost the alertness and doesn’t think it can hurt by shrapnel near the explosion, so goes the broad street unprotected and sent to us. It stops only the gesture of my guards, who silently directs the machine to the side of his stomach. The homeless man then changes direction and goes.
Abandoned building damaged by bombing. Its inhabitants are curiously watching the newcomers. This Georgian Mamuka and young angel who seems to have taken drugs. On both sides of the front of drug use it is common.
Angel is restless and aggressive. In response to the question, what is it to fight alongside Ukrainian soldiers, he begins to frantically explain that all officers are jerks. “Recently, I told them at the headquarters. We’re dying here without arms and money, you know?! Look at us!” The angel loses control of himself and starts to push me. Interferes with my driver that pulls it in and comforting. Angel laughs and friendly pats me on the shoulder. “Look, this is my son, he shows a photo of the old broken phone. — He’s five months.”
Our conversation breaks new mortar place. So soon after dark near the front starts hell. Hera came down here to the front only for me, but this reason is not enough to die. We have to leave urgently.
The symbols and myths of the Ukrainian war
Together with the volunteer troops “Right sector” and other volunteer units, I spent three weeks, visiting places along the entire front, starting from the Northern border down to the Black sea in the South. I wanted to know how true are the claims by Russian media that there is fighting neo-Nazis.
In fact, the shadow on the history of the “Right sector” left the original sins of its creators. The organization was born during the Ukrainian Maidan in November 2013 when anti-government forces of “Berkut” were made by groups of fighters from the ranks of football hooligans, members of a small racist and neo-Nazi organizations and other radicals.
After the outbreak of war in the East of Ukraine are the most radical group of neo-Nazis left the “Right sector” and have created their own militias, for example, disputed the battalion “Azov”. Subsequently, they became part of the armed forces of the state, radicalized them dead.
“Right sector”, however, remained an independent unit, independent from the state, and quickly became a convenient object of myth and misinformation that is distributed mainly in the Russian media. They first gave messages about fighting groups of “Right sector”, preaching neo-Nazi ideology and accused them of war atrocities. Pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine who are fighting with the “Right sector” on the front, think it the epitome of Ukrainian fascism.
A potential victim of radicals: we know nothing about
This way the “Right sector” supported not only in Russia but and by reputable foreign publications. So, in early 2017, the Washington Post published a story about Nazis from the same division in which I visited. However, the only evidence of Nazism, which was mentioned by the reporter, was the Norwegian Thriller-a neo-Nazi with Nazi tattoos. When I spoke with the soldiers based in Marinka, they remembered him and his “strange political views.” But, according to them, he did not create any problems, and then all went home.
My search for the real ultra-nationalists had not borne fruit even after visiting all of the volunteer groups and interviewing dozens of respondents from other divisions, such as “Azov” and “Donbass”, which are part of the state army.
The only result of the search — worn neo-Nazi sticker in one of the cars of the soldiers and a few stories involving radicals. But such incidents happen in any army in the world. So neither of organized fascism, nor the shock troops of neo-Nazis I have not found. But I saw the shocking conditions of life and felt a greater probability of emergency senseless death from shrapnel or stray bullets.
“The Nazis “Right sector”? Yes, you are crazy. Look at me,” says Joseph Cherkasy, friendly Orthodox Jew with the typical long beard. More recently, he served in the volunteer battalion of the military police “Dnepr-1”, which closely cooperates with all groups, including the “Right sector”. Now instead Kalashnikov Cherkasy portfolio is the city Deputy in the East Ukrainian Dnipropetrovsk. He says that only once has faced in the army with hatred, caused by his Jewish origin. It happened in social networks, and after reporting the incident to army authorities soon found and punished the guilty.
Grigory Pivovarov — another Jew, and he confirms the words of Joseph. Gregory served as a machine gunner in the battalion “Aydar”. Once it was a voluntary group as “Right sector” and “Azov”, and its members are even accused of war crimes investigated by international organization Amnesty international. Later “Aidar” took control of the Ministry of defence, and now he is one of the divisions of the Ukrainian army.
The same experience and the representative of another minority, hated by the radicals, activists of Adam Osmaev. Together with his wife Amina, he is an elite sniper in the Chechen volunteer battalion named Dzhokhar Dudayev. In 2015, Osman participated in the creation of this battalion. He says that here, in Ukraine, fighting for a free Chechnya. “If they lose, then for us it will be the end,” says Osman. Those who are now at war with Russia, he does not consider the radicals. “Radical nationalists can be found worldwide, but now in Ukraine it means not that in Europe or Russia.”
Words Osmayev explains Professor Alexei Garan from the University of Kiev. He believes that among the volunteers of the nationalist radicals were only in the beginning of the war. Now the country is dominated by a completely different type of nationalism than is common in Europe and Russia. There is inherent racial intolerance. “But we have the usual nationalist interested in which language, Russian or Ukrainian, speaks Ukrainian and loyal what kind of faith, Orthodox or Muslim (as the Crimean Tatars), he preaches”.
As for the “Right sector”, the Professor sighed and said: well, Yes, it is a typical Ukrainian nationalists. But they are not Nazis, and in their case, the problem is that they radicalizing citizens dissatisfied with corruption, inefficient army, poverty and unemployment. They are willing to take a risk and start a new revolution, and for this they have a weapon and combat experience.
What the stories say
One Ukrainian journalist said about his first meeting with members of the “Right sector” in 2014. Then a detachment of the so-called cyborgs defending Donetsk airport during the heaviest fighting, allegedly came to the headquarters of the armed forces of the state almost without arms, and asked him to give. To no avail. Two days later, the members of the unit returned dirty and bloodied, but covered with weapons and military equipment. Shocked officers, they stated that the next position of the enemy is already released — you only need to remove the corpses.
Since then, cyborgs have become the stuff of legend, and the members of “Right sector” earned the reputation of brave patriots in cold blood fascist beasts (depending on which side of the front talking about them).
But the reality of 2017 was much more prosaic. Fighters of “Right sector” were in desperate need, and out of the barracks in the rear, where they rest and prepare to replace their colleagues at the front, blowing depression.
Life on the base
In the barracks of the 1st company of troopers of the fifth battalion of the “Right sector” awfully cold, dark and coughing all the time. We are located a few kilometers from the frontline, on the outskirts of the town of novohrodivka, which is surrounded by fertile fields and coal mines.
The car Park is terribly frayed and thousands of times repaired. Car cuts out every ten kilometers. It seems that mainly on the basis of do not combat training, and repair of weapons and equipment. Sorry look rotten and sprouted potatoes and onions, which are lying in the damp corridors.
Except for repair of equipment, in the evenings, the soldiers engaged in training young recruits, who looked about 16, although their teacher, who in appearance would not give more than the disciples, swears that all of them are at least 18 years old. Young people learn the tactics of battle with guns, then learn to disassemble and assemble a Kalashnikov and a heavy machine gun. At the end of their waiting for a lesson on car repairs.
Weapons are bought on the black market and part with a greater risk of being sent to the front. The other part falls on the base where the weapon infinitely clean and mend. One of the men even confessed that they had stolen from the military Museum of the mortar produced in 1947.
The Ukrainian government and army ignore the volunteer corps “Right sector”, so he is forced to rely on charity and sponsors. Despite a lack of equipment and the need all the time to get out, the fighters of “Right sector” continue to participate in the fierce fighting in key segments of the front. They never want to lose the independence from the official army.
People based in candid conversations. Often, the “Right sector” they came to fight because they did not like the orders in the Ukrainian army, its inefficiency, corruption and hazing. Someone in the army did not accept the condition, due to age or problems with the law. “Right sector” for these people is bring them closer to the community, and some young guys it replaces the family, which, perhaps, in childhood they had.
Here you can see no signs of radical nationalism and intolerance. On the contrary, among the members of the organization are Orthodox Jews, Muslims, including Chechens and Crimean Tatars, as well as people with clearly Asian features. It confirms Craig lang, a former soldier of the us army and a veteran of the Afghan and Iraq wars. In Ukraine he arrived six years ago, and first served in the Ukrainian army, but the war would not let him, but proudly showed it to the media.
Craig gives the impression of a silent and vicious warlord, any “Right” a lot. Politics does not interest him, and he is confident that Russia is an aggressor and a threat not only for Ukraine but also for Europe and the world. Everything else, that is war, for it is only a matter of technology. Of course, he, being a professional, is the one who can solve this technical problem.
With Craig in the “Right sector” are fighting three Americans, one of whom is black. Then there are six Brits, an Austrian, two Germans and an Italian. None of them faced discrimination — on the contrary, they are even respected. Indeed, despite the fact that the local fighters have more combat experience, they don’t know how to treat wounds and give first aid. Professionals from Western armies in this sense irreplaceable.
After a direct question, if he did not face in the volunteer corps with right-wing radicals, Craig thinks for a moment, but soon admits: “They were always foreigners. And as far as I know, they already left.”
A few years ago, Oleg together with his wife was doing business in Western Ukraine. Now firm and children engaged only wife, and profits sends a detachment, commanded by Oleg. What does he mean by nationalism? Freedom. Freedom from Russia, from the corrupt Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs from Europe. “25 years ago I was in Bratislava, — says Oleg. Even then, after the collapse of communism, things have went better than it is now. What do you want from us? The EU, we were interested only because of cheap labor, fertile fields and as a source of resources. Ukraine needs help herself”.
The far-right ideology? “Yes, here, too, we were such. The Nazis, the skinheads are very aggressive, but I treated them with respect. If someone comes to us to defend their country, I’m not interested in, he is a fascist or a Muslim”.
A more serious problem Oleg believes the Ukrainian army. Her generals quickly forgot about the merits of the “Right sector” in the first weeks of the war and now openly harm by blocking the delivery of weapons. “Officially, we’ve got weapons illegally, — Oleg sighs. At the front we need them, and on the way there they detained our people for carrying weapons or even give them drugs that were the basis for the arrest”.
The day stopped trains
Warring volunteers who do not serve in any army, it is the Ukrainian response to hybrid warfare. It unleashed the Russian little green men (often without military uniforms). Volunteer corps were in the legal and political vacuum that only adds to their frustration and sense of hopelessness of the situation.
The mark of the Nazis on them — the exaggeration and invention of Russian propaganda, which presents the Ukrainian conflict as an ideological continuation of the war with Nazi Germany. However, this does not mean that the radicals no, and that they are not dangerous even for Ukraine. Their importance in the war today is zero, but they often can arrange civil protests and demonstrations with violence, polarise society.
The consequences of their actions visible to the naked eye. Organizations like “Right sector”, pushing the government to more radical steps. An example is the recent blockade and blocking the transportation of goods from Donetsk. In March 2017 the group of armed men, including members of the “Right sector” blocked the path of trains on which famous Ukrainian oligarch Akhmetov took out the coal from their mines on the territory of the separatists, to then send it on its steel mills on the Ukrainian side.
Under the pressure of protests and blockades Ukrainian government has imposed a formal embargo on the Donetsk coal. As a result, Ukrainian factories are experiencing a shortage of coal, and what’s worse, the Donetsk government nationalized factories and businesses in its territory. So Russian got access to tools and resources, which they have not done before.
In response to a direct question by one of the commanders of the “Right sector” admitted that the blockade was an attempt to stop the flow of funds to Donetsk and separatist armies to the separatists could no longer purchase on the Ukrainian money and weapons to kill Ukrainian soldiers. To the objection that this coal depend more and tens of thousands of Ukrainian factory workers, the commander waved his hand. They say, it is important to press the separatists, and then finish them. Everything else is secondary.
That’s what he thinks the Professor.: “the”Right sector” and similar groups are easy prey for Russian interests and pressure. They are being manipulated because they are extremely predictable. The slightest provocation, and “Right sector” will react exactly as expected by the enemy. In Ukraine, the dire economic situation and corruption is rampant, and we did not want destabilization, mass protests and a political crisis. But it lead to action “Right sector”. The Russians must be rubbing their hands with satisfaction”.
Thus, after the revolutionary days of Maidan “Right sector” turns into a typical anti-systemic radical movement on the model of those which are common to the democratic West. But unlike them the “Right sector” is the real fighting force, not controlled by government, and trained soldiers, ready for anything. Desperation makes people with guns are a danger to others now.
For example not far to seek. When I came into contact with one of the groups (a battalion of “Aratta”), I was faced with a situation where the speaker of the battalion Tatiana Cherkashina made my assistant to open your profile in a social network “for security checks”. When the speaker learned that the parents of my attendants live in Moscow (the majority of Ukrainians have relatives in Russia), then called it a potential spy and threatened him.
Got me, although I, as a foreign reporter, had official accreditation from the government of Ukraine. Cherkashin said that if I appear on the territory of their units, I was seriously hurt or killed, and my body is thrown far away and will claim that I was an unknown volunteer. Supposedly it will be easier for everyone.