Who’s fighting in the Donbas: 10 portraits of rebels


The identity of the separatists in eastern Ukraine is a curious subject. Ukrainian and Western accusations that Russian regular armed forces personnel are operating in the conflict zones have tended to obscure the reality that many of the insurgents are, in fact, volunteers from a variety of backgrounds – extreme rightists, liberals, unemployed males with nothing to do, and others. Undoubtedly, many of those who have gone to join the insurgency in eastern Ukraine have done so in the earnest belief that Russia was about to be invaded by fascists and Nazis.

Below is a brief profile of ten such volunteers from the Glavpost website, translated from Russian, including information about their possible motives for joining a fight against the citizens of a historically fraternal country. It is a strange mix, often sad and usually brutal, and some of the photographs are gruesome. Readers should proceed with caution…

Who is fighting in the Donbas: 10 portraits of the insurgents

13 February 2015 ~ Glavpost

Who is fighting in the Donbas insurgency? Where did these people come from? Below are ten volunteer insurgents, their photos, family, and views on life. Some of them are no longer alive, some are still fighting, and some have returned to Russia. You can think of these ten people (a whole platoon) as a sociological slice: who in Russia is really ready to go to war, and for what.

At the same time, to an extent the goals of people who are going off to war are at odds with the goals of those who started the war and are supplying the weapons. The former (volunteers) are fighting “for Rus,” and the latter (the Kremlin), are trying in Moscow to rescue their (stolen) capital from the Maidan. And these two vectors are strangely united in the Donbas.

1. Matvei Yefremov, St. Petersburg

Matvei Yefremov

Matvei Yefremov

Political beliefs: monarchist, activist of the Russian Imperial Movement (RID)

From the RID manifesto:

“The top priority tasks of the Russian national authorities, from RID’s point of view, are:

Proclamation, on the territory of the Russian Federation, of the Russian Empire with a monarchical form of government; appointment of a Supreme Ruler (regent, dictator) prior to convening the All-Russian Zemsky Sobor to call the new monarch to the tsardom.”

Matvei Yefremov was killed on 4 July 2014 on the road between Semyonovka and Slovyansk. The minibus with rebels in it was ambushed. Matvei is survived by his wife and three children.

Melnikov is standing, second from left

Melnikov is standing, second from left

2. Oleg Melnikov, St. Petersburg

Political beliefs: liberal.

Defender of the Khimki Forest protests on Bolotnaya on 6 May 2012 against the “re-election” of the dictator Putin.

On 4 July 2014, Oleg Melnikov was riding in the van with the monarchist Matvei Yefremov on the way from Slovyansk in Semenivka. Oleg was lucky. He was only injured.

Melnikov on Bolotnaya

Melnikov on Bolotnaya

3. Aleksei Yurin, Mozhaisk

Alexei is a paratrooper from Russia who served in the 45th Separate Airborne Regiment for Special Tasks (Kubinka, Moscow Region.).

Political beliefs: unknown.

Yurin is on the far right

Yurin is on the far right

Yurin with girlfriend

Yurin with girlfriend

Yurin in an airport in Donetsk, soon after his arrival in Ukraine

Yurin in an airport in Donetsk, soon after arriving in Ukraine

Yurin a few hours later

Yurin a few hours later

Alex Yurin was 21 years old when he died on 26 May 2014.

Alex Yurin was 21 years old when he died on 26 May 2014 in the first battle for Donetsk Airport.

4. Nikolai Leonov, Dnipropetrovsk

A world kickboxing champion, he had finished Poltava Theological Seminary, wrote songs in the style of “Orthodox Christian Rap” (and this happens, it turns out).

Political beliefs: monarchist.

Nikolai Leonov

Nikolai Leonov

Nikolai Leonov in the center of Donetsk, 25 May 2014, when he had one day left to live.

Nikolai Leonov in the center of Donetsk, 25 May 2014, when he had one day left to live.

Leonov with fellow separatists in Donetsk

Leonov with fellow separatists in Donetsk

On 26 May 2014, Nikolai Leonov was killed in the battle for the airport with paratrooper Alex Yurin from Russia. He was buried in his native Dnipropetrovsk.

5. Alexei Lemets, Nizhnaya Krynka, Donetsk Region

Alexei Lemets

Alexei Lemets

He is a miner from the Donbas, 31 years old, and father of three children. His political views are not known. He enlisted in the militia, and was killed on 19 June 2014 near Slovyansk by a direct hit from a mortar. Nothing was left of his body.

Yelena Lemets, widow:

“He wanted to protect his family, his children, and his native land. I dared not, could not dissuade Lyosha, because after all he was a man, and he always made the decisions,” says Lena.

Lemets' widow and three children

Lemets’ widow and three children

Lena received the terrible news at night, when Alexei’s brother came and said bluntly: “You no longer have a husband, nor I a brother.” Together with Lyosha were killed two of his comrades. They buried them there in Slovyansk, in a mass grave.”

The family of miner Alexei Lemets lived in poverty (pictured left: in their house). Now they are left without any means at all.

6. Artur Gasparyan, from Moscow

He came to Moscow to work in 2011 from Armenia. He was a migrant worker.

Political views: unknown.

Artur Gasparyan

Artur Gasparyan

Struck by the events in Odessa on 2 May 2013, he enlisted with the volunteers in the Donbas. He fought for a bit, miraculously survived the meat grinder at the airport on May 26th, and then became disillusioned with the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). He again moved back across the border and returned to Russia. He gave a detailed interview with US Radio Liberty about his trip to the Donbas. First in Moscow there was a meeting with a recruiter, then training camp near Rostov, and then he was flown to Donetsk. He was not promised any money.

“No per diem or travel expenses, only free meals, uniforms, weapons, and a guarantee that the body would be brought to Rostov and given to relatives, if, of course, it was found…”

On the composition of the militia and local resident-travelers:

“Most [of the rebels] were Russians, Chechens, Ingush, and like me, from Armenia. I talked with the locals, they said what was required of us, and we did it. I said: ‘What do you need?’ They say: “We’ve voted, and the rest depends on you.” The referendum on the self-determination of the Donbas meant we don’t want to fight. One said to me: “I want to receive my salary and drink until the next paycheck.”

Gasparyan with a comrade

Gasparyan with a comrade

About the events in Donetsk Airport on 25 May:

“On the night of 25-26 May, we raised the alarm… We got into civilian buses and drove to the airport. In a detachment of a hundred people, we entered the building and were also joined by Ossetians… Ukrainian military were around the airport. It was all cocked hats, like we’re so cool and all everyone’s afraid of us. But it turned out quite the opposite. At two o’clock, helicopters and airplanes flew in and began to bomb the port.

“We went down to the first floor, and just sat and waited for death. To go out was impossible. Someone called our commander – his nickname was “Spark” – whose subordinate hundred people heard the command to get into the “KamAz” trucks. It was already evening. Machines were inside the terminal. I did not want to get into the “KamAz,” as I understood that it was risky. “Spark” said to me: “If you’re going to debate an order, I’ll shoot you on the spot.

The KamAz truck that became a coffin

The KamAz truck that became a coffin

“We grabbed tents, open cars, chock full of volunteers. Our “KamAZ” left the terminal, and we begin to shoot in all directions… In five hundred meters a grenade hit our car, a shell fell under the driver’s cab, and we turned over. We turned out to be lucky: we flew out and hurt ourselves, but no fractures. The car that was hit first was finished off with machine gun bullets in the crossfire…”

Having miraculously survived Donetsk, Gasparyan became disappointed in the DNR:

“All is futile, disorganized. There are so many commanders… Every third declares himself a commander. Some group organizes its own group. There is no unified command. I thought it would be like in the army: a strict regime, organization, communications, teamwork. There was none of this, so I left.”

7. Kirill Rimkus, St. Petersburg

Rimkus, standing second from left, holds the flag of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR)

Rimkus, second from left, holding the flag of the Lugansk People's Republic (LNR)

Rimkus, second from left, holding the flag of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR)

Political beliefs: Nazi.

Rimkus showing his Nazi pride

Rimkus showing his Nazi pride

Rimkus with a comrade from the "Yarusskii" (I'm Russian) movement

Rimkus with a comrade from the “Yarusskii” (I’m Russian) movement

Rimkus having fun

Rimkus having fun

Rimkus and comrade against the background of the Winter Palace, in the heart of Russia's cultural capital.

Rimkus and comrade at the Winter Palace, in the heart of Russia’s cultural capital

By the way, Kirill Leonidovich Rimkus did not go to fight Ukrainian fascism in the Donbas alone, but with a friend – Alexei Yurievich Milchakov.

8. Aleksei Milchakov, St. Petersburg

Milchakov displaying his Nazi pride

Milchakov displaying his Nazi pride

Political beliefs: Nazi.

Hobbies: sadism and sadistic flaying of animals

Milchakov with puppy

Milchakov with puppy

In 2011, he was made famous throughout the Internet by posting on his vKontakte [Russian imitation of Facebook – Ed.] page a photo of himself slaughtering a puppy in preparation for shish kebab.

Milchakov preparing to slaughter a puppy

Milchakov preparing to slaughter a puppy

Among the Nazis of St. Petersburg, his nickname is “Fritz.”

The Nazi Milchakov's handiwork, as displayed on his vKontakte page

The Nazi Milchakov’s handiwork, as displayed on his vKontakte page

Shortly after the puppy atrocity, it came time for Milchakov to enter the army. The Nazi Flayer named Fritz ended up in the elite Pskov Airborne Division. There is a strict selection process there, and only the most deserving are accepted. There he served in the Emergency 234th Guards of the Order of Kutuzov 3rd Degree Airborne Assault Regiment.

Milchakov the paratrooper

Milchakov the paratrooper

He served, and in June 2014 he went to the Donbas. Ukrainian media in July 2014 published reports that the sadist-guard Fritz was killed there.

Milchakov's corpse (possibly) on right

Milchakov’s corpse (possibly) on right

However, these reports have not been confirmed by independent sources. Anyway, Milchakov’s vKontakte page is regularly updated. (Besides, several Russian TV shows have been released with his participation. – Ed.)

UPDATE: Subsequent to the publication of this post, it has become clear (some might say unfortunately) that Milchakov is very much alive. At the ‘International Russian Conservative Forum’ held in St. Petersburg, Russia on 22 March 2015, Milchakov appeared and spoke with journalists. As readers no doubt know, the forum was sponsored by the Russian ‘Motherland’ party, and the organizers invited representatives from all the best-known European ultra-right-wing parties, such as Hungary’s Jobbik, Greece’s Golden Dawn, France’s National Front and many more. People of Milchakov’s ilk were bound to show up at such an event, and so any rumors of the young neo-nazi’s death are evidently exaggerated.

9. Anton Rayevsky, St. Petersburg

Rayevsky on social media

Rayevsky on social media

Political beliefs: Nazi.

Rayevsky with flag of Russian nationalists

Rayevsky with flag of Russian nationalists

Previously, Anton Raevsky was an activist of the Nazi organization Russian National Unity (RNU) and the “National Socialist Initiative” (NSI). In the photo from 2010, Rayevsky (far left) and his colleagues on the NSI, including (second from left) Dmitri Bobrov, nicknamed “Schultz,” the famous St. Petersburg Nazi, who was imprisoned for a term of 6 years in the case of the group “Schultz-88.”

I’ve somehow had thought naively that anti-fascists were like those who fought in the International Brigade in Spain in the 1930s. But it is not important whether it was in the pro-Soviet brigades (as Ernest Hemingway) or the Trotskyists (George Orwell). But anyway still not Fritzes with Schultzes. Therefore, of course it’s a bit strange to see, among the ranks of the “anti-fascist” resistance of the Donbas, people with swastika and Hitler tattoos, and fans of “National Socialism.” Especially from the city that National Socialism’s founder nearly starved to death in 1941-42. Especially receiving weapons from the Russian government. Especially its (this government’s) haters. And by the way:

From Rayevsky’s vKontakte page, 3 July 2014:

Rayevsky (left) with Dmitri Bobrov, aka Schultz (second from left), with National Socialist Initiative colleagues

Rayevsky (left) with Dmitri Bobrov, aka Schultz (second from left), with National Socialist Initiative colleagues

“It is very amusing to read posts and comments from Ukros (Ukrainians) and Putinoids. These and others call me a Russian fascist and Nazi. If everything is clear with the Ukrainian chauvinist-Russophobes, then especially for the fans of Putin, Starikova, Kurginyan and other Kremlinites, I say: among the rebels, in the army of the DNR is a large number of Russian National Assemblyists and monarchists, and NOT ONE member of the “Party of the Great Fatherland,” the “United Russia” party, and “Matter of Time.”

10. Sergei Zhdanovich, Elektrogorsk (Moscow Region)

Special Forces instructor. Previously fought in Chechnya (46th Separate Brigade of the Special-Purpose VV), and served in the riot police.

Sergei Zhdanovich

Sergei Zhdanovich

Chechnya 2002: Zhdanovich is on far right

Chechnya 2002: Zhdanovich is on far right

Political beliefs: Member of the “United Russia” Party. He could have lived without grief, spending the rest of his days quietly as a retired veteran.

Zhdanovich with fellow veterans

Zhdanovich with fellow veterans

Zhdanovich resting in a sanatorium on Pyatigorsk

Zhdanovich resting in a sanatorium on Pyatigorsk

But at the call of the party, Sergei Borisovich (Zhdanovich) went to the Donbas to help the separatists. On 14 May 2014, he left, telling his family that he was going to the military camp in Rostov-on-Don. He was killed on 26 May in Donetsk.

The last picture of Zhdanovich, taken in Donetsk Airport a few hours before his death

The last picture of Zhdanovich, taken in Donetsk Airport a few hours before his death

Sergei Zhdanovich was killed trying to capture the airport. He was buried in Elektrogorsk quietly, without fanfare. In attendance at the funeral were children from the local military-patriotic club “Thunder,” which was in charge of the deceased in the city. Now the club is named after him.

Кто воюет в Донбассе: 10 портретов ополченцев

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