In his article, In the Pampases of Donbass, special correspondent for “Kommersant” Ilya Barabanov reports on his interviews with the young Russian soldiers who fought at Debaltseve. What follows is a translation of his article, which shows, among other things, that 1) the Russian soldiers were actively recruited by political commissars to fight in Ukraine, 2) They were actively encouraged by their commanding officers to go to Ukraine after signing papers resigning from the Russian army, 3) They wore Russian uniforms without insignias, 4) They did not like that reporters were directed to interview local militia (miners), while they did most of the fighting, 5) They were told that by fighting against the Ukrainian junta, they could prevent war from coming to Russia.
Here is Barabanov’s article:
20-year-old Misha was born in Yekaterinburg, 21-year-old Alex in Mozdok, Artem, 22 years old, is from the Slavyansk-on-Kuban and 23-year-old Dima is from Vladikavkaz. The other guys are from Chita, Norilsk, and Ulan-Ude.
Until recently, they were in military contract service with the motorized infantry brigade in city “N.” In December and January they were posting photos of themselves on the Russian version of Facebook.
Two to three weeks ago, everything changed, and these young guys are now posting pictures of themselves in uniforms without insignias clustered on a square in (the east Ukrainian city of) Gorlovki, sitting atop an armored vehicle somewhere on the road to Debaltseve, or posing in front of a destroyed tank at the entrance to the ruined (east Ukrainian) city of Uglegorsk.
They all came to Donbass after January 20, when active hostilities resumed. They came on an open-ended mission. Their commanders (in “N”) did not oppose their coming. On the contrary, the commander was quick to convince them why they should go to Donbass to protect their (Russian) homeland.
The young men went to Donbas in groups of three as a crew. Upon arrival, they asked if their friends already there were still alive. They are assigned to different army units already formed in the DNR (people’s republic of Donetsk).
The young soldiers’ role in military operations was to perform combat missions on behalf of either the self-proclaimed republics, or “separate regions of Donetsk and Lugansk region” (as it is written in the Minsk agreement). They know how to fight. They carry out their duties and then return to headquarters. In the commandant’s office and at checkpoints, they can see journalists talking to local militia who claim to be miners. You are supposed to get the impression that it is “locals” who are fighting the (Ukrainian) junta, but then someone blurts out:
– We have the Buryats (a local people of eastern Siberia) for cannon fodder.
– And what about the Buryats?
– Well, they are the Donbass Indians.
Everyone smiles and understands. In the days before the final assault on Debaltseve, the reporters do their best to conceal the presence of the “Buryats” by closing the entrance to the city of Uglegorsk, from which the assault on Debaltseve is being launched. After the battle and Debaltseve has fallen, the miners again will man the check points and journalists will again be allowed in on the open road.
Everyone knows the strategic significance of Debaltseve as a direct road connecting Donetsk to Lugansk, and the largest railway junction and offering high ground for artillery. About how many hundreds on both sides have been killed during the month-long assault, we will not learn soon.
After the taking of Debaltseve, it may be possible that the Minsk ceasefire agreement will be observed. The shelling may stop completely or at least subside for a month or two until someone decides that the self-proclaimed republics can not go on living without Mariupol, Artemivsk or Lysychansk . Then “political commissars” will be activated throughout the military units in Russia to tell stories about how important it is to protect the freedom-loving West Donbas from aggression. No one will be forced – only volunteers will go.
Michael, and Alex, and Artem, and Dima signed a letter of resignation before leaving for Ukraine. If anyone of these guys is “very unlucky” (killed) in the assault on Debaltseve, they are out of luck. Such volunteers will have no relationship whatsoever to their military units (back in Russia).
[The reporter goes on to write that the same thing happened to Soviet “volunteers” during the Spanish Civil War, where Soviet officer died under Spanish names.]
The reporter then asks the young soldiers:
“Were you told that you were being sent to military exercises in the Rostov (Southern Russia) region or were you directly told that we were going to fight in Ukraine?”
“They told us right away (we are going to Ukraine). See for yourself. These grunts do what they are told. I do not serve in the army in order to learn to sew and dig.”
“Is your “trip” for a long time or does it go on indefinitely until you leave?”
“So far, I am here. I want to either to end the war, or fight to my last breath.”
“And why are you doing this?” The reporter asks one of them.
“We were told that we can help to stop the war here.”