Their number is confidential but the “hundreds” of Russians who fight alongside the ukrainian soldiers in the region of Donetsk (east), in a legion called “Freedom of Russia”, are not considered “traitors”.
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When his spokesman, “César”, meets with journalists, he usually takes them to the ruins of an Orthodox monastery in Dolina, in an area retaken by the Ukrainian army a few months ago.
The shattered golden dome, the rubble and the religious icons thrown on the ground are, according to him, the sample of “what are Putin’s values”.
“I am not fighting against the homeland, I am fighting against the Putin regime, against tyranny,” says “César”, a handsome man with blue eyes. “I am not a traitor. I am a true Russian patriot, ”he assures.
Created at the beginning of the war, the Russian Fighting Legion, whose emblem is a clenched fist crowned with the words “Freedom” and “Russia”, is part of the international volunteer corps of the Ukrainian army.
According to “César”, the legion has “several hundred” Russians who, after receiving two months of training, were deployed starting in May in Donbas, the mining region in eastern Ukraine that Moscow is trying to fully conquer.
His men are deployed above all in Bakhmut, one of the hottest spots on the eastern front, the scene of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops for several months.
They are mainly engaged in artillery and are under the command of Ukrainian officers.
“They are motivated and professional fighters, they do their job perfectly,” a Ukrainian official said on condition of anonymity.
The recruits have been subjected to numerous interviews, psychological tests and even a lie detector to avoid any risk of infiltration, he explains.
– Political importance –
“They participate in the war, but they don’t have a significant impact, due to their small numbers,” says Ukrainian military expert Oleg Jdanov.
“Its importance is more political. It is good for Ukraine to be able to show that there are Russians who support democracy and freedom, and who are fighting on the right side,” she says.
It is difficult to know who exactly are the “Russian patriots” that make up the legion and what their motivations are.
Tikhiy, a worker from Togliatti, the Russian automobile capital located 800 kilometers southeast of Moscow, comes from a mixed family and his wife, whom he met in Russia, is Ukrainian.
“She wouldn’t have understood if we stayed in Russia,” says the father of two, who was visiting family in kyiv at the time of the invasion.
They never returned to Russia, and he enlisted in the legion of the Ukrainian army. He has almost no contact with his family in Russia, who does not understand his decision. “They have been a little brainwashed. But I know they are worried about me.”
Tikhiy has applied for Ukrainian citizenship, but will only be able to obtain it after the end of the war. “At the moment I still have the enemy’s passport.”
– ‘Right-wing nationalist’ –
“César”, the spokesperson, is originally from St. Petersburg, where he was a physical therapist.
He claims to be politically motivated and describes himself as a “right-wing nationalist” who believes that Vladimir Putin’s regime can only be overthrown by force.
He does not trust Putin’s opponents, “all puppets”, according to him, and believes that his compatriots “do not want to see or hear anything”.
“Russia is dying. If she goes to the villages she will see drunkards, drug addicts, criminals. People are suffering,” she asserts.
“This is the result of 20 years of Putin. His system, his government, his deputies, they’re all shit. They are losers, corrupt, thieves, who only think about living in money and pleasure. This is not the way to govern a country ”, he assures.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 was the trigger that made him decide to take his wife and four children to kyiv.
“They also live in fear of the bombing and the cold, but they agree with my decisions,” says “César”, who speaks with an open face since his family is now “safe” in Ukraine.
I am Jack Morton and I work in 24 News Recorder. I mostly cover world news and I have also authored 24 news recorder. I find this work highly interesting and it allows me to keep up with current events happening around the world.