Dozens of Belarusians and Russians are ready to fight for Ukraine's freedom.
New soldiers of the Donbas battalion, which liberated a district in the Donetsk region in early May and took control over the local police, will come to eastern Ukraine to take part in the anti-terror operation.
A correspondent of Ukrainskaya Pravda visited the training camp to learn why people are ready to fight voluntary and what they want to achieve.
The training camp of the Donbas battalion, which became a part of the National Guard after the tragic battle near the village of Karlovka, is located at the base of the Ukrainian internal troops near Kyiv.
Conscripts train together with volunteers, who want to go to the east. A heavily-built man in balaclava with smiling ironic eyes meets us at the gate.
“Well, I am Yarosh's right hand, banderivets Semion Semionchenko. Nice to meet you,” the battalion commander jokes and invites us to come in.
Men, most of them over 35, wearing civilian clothes, fell in line near a written-off helicopter. These are new recruits, who undergo basic training with instructors.
According to Semionchenka, 75% of the battalion are residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk region, “who saw with their own eyes what the 'Russian spring' really is”.
“Its [the Russian spring's] face is lies on TV, terror, abductions, rascals killing people for money, sowing hatred and trying to pit the Russians against the Ukrainians,” Semionchenko says.
The Donbas battalion was founded six weeks ago. Its core consists of commanders of Maidan self-defence groups. The battalion had been an independent group, but later decided to “legalise itself” in the National Guard, Semionchenko says.
“We don't receive money for our work. All of us are volunteers,” the commander says. “We want to create the new army and police. We defend not the mythical 'junta' or the government of Ukraine. We don't like what is going on in the country now. We are struggling for a would-be Ukraine, for our dream.
Let's stop killing one another. Let's begin to listen to one another. Let's throw mercenaries, scoundrels on salary and flows of lies out of the country. Let's discuss the future of the country.”
According to the legend, Semion Semionchenko was a small businessman before the Maidan protests. He is optimistic, but strict. He constantly generates new ideas, or somebody generates them for him. He recently proposed to open the information agency Ukraine Today to cover the anti-terror operation on the analogy of Dmitry Kisilev's agency Russia Today.
He proposed to form the squadron “Kievan Rus”, which will consist of citizens of the post-Soviet countries ready to fight for Ukraine's freedom. He says there are about 60 volunteers from Russia and Belarus, but the National Guard cannot recruit them so far: they have to obtain Ukrainian citizenship or a residence permit.
I stop a young guy wearing a balaclava. He introduces himself as Batman. He's tall and slim, with ivory skin and light eyes. He is from Donetsk, and all people coming from eastern regions hide their faces from journalists in order not to be recognised in the Donbas region.
Batman visited the Maidan camp several times. He met with Semionchenko, who was a commander of a self-defence group. On March 13, he took part in a pro-Ukrainian rally in Donetsk and was in the same bus where activist Dmitry Cherniavsky was killed.
“Why did you decide to fight in your home region? You'll probably have to shoot at the people you may know,” a journalist asks him.
“I want to defend my region. I want to walk in my town and know it is in order,” he answers. “I just want to return home, to my calm and quiet town.”
After the annexation of Crimea, Batman had a quarrel with his brother, who has pro-Russian views: “Well, he will understand he was wrong. Many don't understand they were inciting the war when they were running with flags. The Right Sector didn't kill anyone. But now we have to kill the Chechen people, who came to our land for some reason.”
A group of men older than Batman is passing by us. They carry thick plates used in bulletproof vests.
“Look, we tested them,” One of them tells Semion Semionchenko. “The German plate is normal, but look at the Ukrainian one.” The man shows a big hole in the plate. “Our guys mustn't wear them.”
Among Ukrainian flags in the camp, one can see an Azerbaijani and Georgian flags.
Georgian citizen with the call sign “Doberman” was shown on television many times. He was in the battle of Karlovka and survived. Doberman is an experienced soldier. He says he took part in the Georgia-Ossetia conflict and fought in Iraq.
“Someone should fight, someone should bake bread. I can fight. I am not afraid of wars. I do it for my family, for my land, for free Ukraine. I don't receive money for it, I don't need it. You know, you should stay in the battalion only for the way they treat people,” the Georgian fighter for free Ukraine says.
Donbas soldiers don't have wages. No sources. The state doesn't have enough funds to pay the National Guard and the army. The battalion receives aid from ordinary Ukrainians, who send money for food, clothing and equipment. All soldiers have clothes and footwear, bulletproof vests and new helmets.
Instructors work for free, too. Most of them are former military officers and patriots with combat experience, officers of Alfa special detachment.
We are talking to a middle-aged man from Kyiv, who calls himself Lex. We are sitting on a bench near the firing range, where soldiers have shooting exercises. The target depicts a man of Caucasian appearance.
“Why did you decide to join the battalion as a volunteer?” a journalist asks. “I am surprised why other people don't want to join it,” Lex answers.
Lex runs a big company. He was at the Maidan protests. Like many Kyiv residents, he helped protesters with medicines, food and money. He joined the Donbas battalion after the revolution had ended and the war in the east had begun.
“Business activities stopped after the Maidan. We needed to save the east, so I am here,” Lex says. “In my opinion, we are fighting against mercenaries and criminals, who have always controlled financial flows there. The Party of Regions and the communists are on the top of this. As for people... People just want to live better. They are deceived and misinformed.”
“What is the difference between the Maidan protests and the events in the Donbas region? This is the people's uprising, too,” a journalist from Russia asks.
“There's a big difference,” the soldier answers without confusion. “The Maidan had yellow-blue flags. People were fighting against corruption and for a better life, like in Europe. But here we have Russian flags and the idea to separate the region from Ukraine, to become a part of another state. As far as I know, this is punished by law.”
Semion Semionchenko comes to us again. “Have you heard the most popular joke in the Donbas region? Mr Putin, you said the Right Sector would come and we would have a total mess. Well, we are a total mess now, but where's the Right Sector?”
“I was in Karlovka during the battle,” Lex continues after a laugh. “I talked to guys from the Donbas region. I became convinced that I made the right choice to join the battalion. The east is our land and the guys there are really great.”