Russia This Week: TV Rain Interviews Volunteer Fighter Back from Donbass

September 12, 2015
Vyacheslav Isayev, a Russian volunteer who fought in Ukraine with combined Russian-separatist forces, in an interview with TV Rain on August 21, 2015.

In Russia This Week, you will find links to the stories of Russia Update in the last week and a special feature or translation of regional media to follow up on the news and trending topics below.

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TV Rain published an interview on August 21, 2015, by Georgy Aleksandrov with a Russian volunteer who fought with the August Battalion of the Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine who gave his real name as Vyacheslav Isayev. (The link with video and text is behind a paywall).

Isayev did not ask to disguise his name or face on television. He said he fought with the forces of the self-declared “Lugansk People’s Republic” (LNR) and had now returned home to Russia from the Donbass.

After the appearance of the show, TV Rain said viewers had many questions. In order to answer them, the editors subsequently published the complete text version of the conversation which had been shown on TV in shortened form, and explained that they had audio and video tapes of the interview in the editorial office.

The following is a translation by The Interpreter of the full text of the interview with Georgy Aleksandrov of TV Rain. Where the second full text left out something that was originally in the shorter version, we included it.

“They Shot At Our Own People, and Sold Weapons to Ukrainians”: TV Rain Interviews Russian Fighter Back from Ukraine

During his trip to the
LNR, the author of this report lived in the camp of the August Tank Battalion.
Besides local residents, there was a group of Russian mercenaries was found
deployed there. They were fairly terse, and tried to keep in the shadows —
only one of them, a fighter with the call sign “Isa” was ready to

“If I stay alive,
I’ll give you an interview,” he told me, and kept his word.

And recently in the
middle of the night, my phone rang. Isa had kept his word. In a few days in the
center of Moscow, he gave an account of why he had gone to the Donbass.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
Please introduce yourself.

Vyacheslav Isayev:
My last name is Isayev, my first name [and patronymic] are Vyacheslav
Yuryevich. I’m from the city of Sosnovy Bor in Leningrad Region.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
You and I got acquainted about a year ago in the Lugansk People’s Republic.
Tell us, please, how you wound up there and what did you do there?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Well, like everybody else — from the desire of my heart to help Russian
people. Russian people are dying. I applied at a private military company.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
Did they come across you or did you come to them?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Through friends.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
What were the terms? Did they promise you money?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Yes, they promised to pay me, they even put out some sums: $4,500 per month. I
was so supposed to go there as an instructor, to train the militiamen in
military tactics, and in general to help Russian people. We gathered together
in St. Petersburg in an office. We were kitted out. Then we received our weapons
in Rostov. We got armored vehicles there.

And we cross at the Severnoye checkpoint, not through the
checkpoint itself, but through a little section of the border which was open
for entry, and we went through.

Georgy Aleksandrov: Did a lot of people go there for cash?

Vyacheslav Isayev: All of them went there for money. The
majority of them.

Georgy Aleksandrov: Were they paid or were they ripped off,
like you?

Vyacheslav Isayev: Likely some were paid. Some were ripped

Georgy Aleksandrov: They didn’t give you anything.

Vyacheslav Isayev: They didn’t give me anything at all.

Georgy Aleksandrov: And further, accordingly, you ended up
in the August Battalion. What tasks were assigned to you?

Vyacheslav Isayev: We guarded the commander of that
battalion. His last name was Kostin, his call sign was “Batya,” we
got acquainted with him in Rostov at the training group. In order for this
division to be allocated modern weapons, we had to round up people. It got to
the point that we took people out of the prisons.

They were all locals. No one was forced. People wanted to, I
don’t know, perhaps start their life anew, perhaps something else. Perhaps they
wanted to fix their further destiny somehow. But on the whole they were good
guys, nice guys. We drove them to the training ground. There we made up the
crews for tanks, for SAUs (self-propelled artillery systems). Sometimes it
simply came down to one of them being just a tractor driver, but he
could drive a tank.

There, they let us shoot one time. Some of them ran away
from that training ground to Moscow, to construction sites. And we had to
constantly make up the crews again. There was an unspoken agreement that the
armor that we took from the Ukrainian side we would send back to Russia and
they would exchange one of ours, the 60s, the 70s for a damaged
tank…At first ammunition was delivered, and then the armor started coming in.
I think it was sufficient in order to take Kiev with these forces.

[Note: In the first,
shorter version of this interview, Isayev is quoted as saying, “That is,
the ammunition was delivered along with the vehicles — with the KAMAZ and Ural
trucks.” This is a good example of when the Russian word
tekhnika can mean either armor, as in tanks and
BTRs, or vehicles, as in trucks, so we have used both terms depending on the

Georgy Aleksandrov:
Is there an option where something heavier could come from the Russian side.
I’m asking now about the Boeing. [His
reference is to the Buk that shot down MH17, which was a Boeing–The Interpreter

Vyacheslav Isayev:
I doubt that that was done from our side. I doubt that something like that was
brought over there.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
How did events develop further with the August division?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Well, you know, it was sad, it was sorrowful. At that camp where you and I met,
there was a big raid, they took the ammunition back. Rumor has it that when
there was a big recount of who got what. Three or four local divisions —
Batman’s, the GBRs [rapid-reaction groups], what else was there…they crushed everybody there and took back
all the ammunition, all the KAMAZ trucks. And they divvied them up among

Georgy Aleksandrov:
There were cases when you perhaps traded in the arms? I have heard such things.

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Well, of course. I think it all went to Ukraine.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
to the other side?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
It’s not just that it went to Ukraine, I think there’s more, that more than
half of it never got there in general. That was what was really done by our
guys. I don’t know who really sits there at those warehouses. Perhaps, traitors.
How else can you call such people? Scalpers.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
How many people were killed then?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Rumor has it that about 30 people at any rate were put down. They threw them in
the river. They mopped up the blood on the ground and picked up the casings. We
were already gone by then.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
I’ve heard a lot of stories about how the militia pinched cars and apartments.
Did that all really happen?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Such things happened. There are investigations underway now. I thin these
people will be called to account. Under the condition that they are still

Georgy Aleksandrov:
And what can you say regarding the murder of the commanders of the militia divisions
of Batman and Mozgovoy.

[See The Interpreter reports of the
assassination of these commanders here and here.]

Vyacheslav Isayev:
In Ukraine, perhaps there are such professionals but if they are there, they
sit deeply in clandestine locations and don’t crawl out. I think it’s our own
Russian guys. Specially-trained people.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
Was that done in order to unite all of them under one element?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Yes, so as to make one leader. Each division had their own fixers who came and
helped with weaponry, and gave some advice. Sometimes they butted heads among
themselves so much that we’d go crazy there. The Cossacks, who answer to no
one, and some sort of special divisions. There were even such divisions that
didn’t fight there, but were

just involved in taking out the metal. That is, they were
getting rich. They were robbing people, can you imagine?

Georgy Aleksandrov:

Vyacheslav Isayev:
What do you mean, why? They extracted money, property out of them.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
So it was just gangsterism?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Let’s put it this way: yes, under the guise of the militia were gangs about
which there are still criminal cases being investigated by the LNR prosecutor
general’s office.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
Did they kill people?

Vyachelsav Isayev:
I think so. I cannot say unambiguously — I was not present there, but judging
from everything, yes. And many of them will not be found for a very long time.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
And how many Russian citizens were killed?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
There are enough tears for everyone. On their side and ours.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
We are told a lot about how there are fascists, Banderaites fighting on the
Ukrainian side. Did you talk to these people?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
I talked a lot with these people. Some of them, leaving Lugansk, went over to
the other side. They changed their views, that is. I will come back again to
the August division. I helped one guy there. He was named Seryoga I think, I
don’t recall his last name. So he had two sons. They were killed [fighting
with] the militia [the separatists]. One son, the last one, was young, he was 17 years old. Do you remember
him, the young boy?

Georgy Aleksandrov:
The machine-gunner.

Vyacheslav Isayev:
The machine-gunner, yes. He was simply shot in the back.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
His own men shot him in the back?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Yes. His own men! So what is he, the father, to do? Which regime should he
follow? So what of it? Well, did that ammunition really cost the lives of those
people? I understand: if they had buried the boy humanely. But to just throw
them in the river, and then somewhere outside of Rostov we’ll fish them out in
horror, why are there so many people floating here?!

Georgy Aleksandrov: Were there greater losses from our side? For
example, they say Debaltsevo went rather well for the militia. But I heard
other information as well, that a tank was burned in August [Battalion], and there were a
lot of men killed.

Vyacheslav Isayev:
Practically the entire August division was destroyed. The remnants were broken
up to other divisions.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
How many people, in your view, have died in this conflict? I mean both
civilians and military?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
I can’t answer that question for the simple reason that for many years,
analysts will argue with one another how many were killed and who. But I think
a lot were killed. Lugansk was shelled by the Ukrainian forces and the militia
themselves made a bunch of mistakes. Well, imagine, shooting a Grad off from
the center of town? That is, understanding, that return fire will be coming
right away. With that, the division immediately goes away. And later it’s every
man for himself.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
If at the very beginning, Strelkov and his whole team from the Crimea had not
arrived, would the local population have staged this revolution here?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
I think that if all these people hadn’t arrived, the revolution would have been
strangled at its root, everything would be normal and no one would have known

Georgy Aleksandrov:
And the OSCE, do they really monitor, do they see the real picture?

Vyacheslav Isayev: We
live now in the 21st century, yes? The world of technology and space. There is
the satellite system of oversight, communications. Well, tell me, what OSCE,
what is it needed for? You can see everything from satellites. And somebody
sees all that, do you understand?

Georgy Aleksandrov:
They have begun to hand out pensions and salaries in the LNR. In rubles. Where
are these enormous sums coming from?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
From Russia. I think that this is all brought in legally, through [the
checkpoint on the Russian-Ukrainian border at] Izvarino.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
Why needs this war, and for what?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
I don’t know who needs this war. If it is simply to break in our own people —
well, understood. But to lay your head on the line so simply there, as they
say, for the sake of our brothers, well it isn’t worth it. There is that famous
poem, “We will never be brothers.” You know, that’s real. That girl,
really, she wrote it truthfully. We really are not brothers for them.

[The reference is to a poem by a Ukrainian poet, Anastasiya Dmytruk, titled “We Can Never Be Brothers” which was also put to music by a Lithuanian singers Gitautas Litinskas and others. It is best known for the lines spoken by a Ukrainian to a Russian: “You are huge, but we are great”--The Interpreter].

We are
Moskali [Ukrainian pejorative term for Russians–The Interpreter] for them anyway, no matter how good or bad we are, even so we are for
them potential Moskali.

Do you think that when the KAMAZ trucks full of corpses
drove away, that they at least paid their respects? You will see, we will still
heap a lot of sorrows on. And all of that struggle will turn against us. And
they will come to an agreement between themselves, believe me. They will be
coming to an agreement for their whole lives. They will simply remove the unfit
ones and put the fit ones in place. Russian and Ukrainian generals studied in
the same academies together! Half the General Staff is Ukrainians. They have
grandmothers, grandfathers, they used to go there every summer.

Georgy Aleksandrov:
A lot of the guys will come back from the war, a lot of them have blood on
their hands. How will they behave themselves? Today, thousands of people are
returning from the Donbass to Russia. How soon will they be able to adapt to
civilian life? And can they ever do this?

Vyacheslav Isayev:
The majority of people who have already come back from there have either gone
over to the side of Kiev, or they are sitting in prisons. Because their
mentality — it’s not that it’s disrupted. It’s a kind of anything goes, you
know? And you come back here and you realize that’s not acceptable here. And as
a rule, who do the clashes occur with then? With police, or with someone else.
People try to prove, here, we’ve returned, we’re heroes. But if you get down to
it, what are we heroes of, after all?

Georgy Aleksandrov:
A sniper from the August Battalion was detained the other day, his call sign
was “Medved'” [Bear]. He shot dead the policemen in the Moscow

Vyacheslav Isayev:
That man stole a weapon from his division. And how many other weapons are
stockpiled there and are awaiting their hour. Because everything thinks that
this will be a continuation of Rostov Region. Although it seems to me that this
will hardly be the case. I think that still and all that they will come to an
agreement that they will be in Ukraine. And that still and all, they will
unite, you will see. And they will say that this was simply a battlefield
between Russia and America or the European Union.

I appeal to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Vladimir Vladimirovich,
really, they aren’t worth it. Our lives, of Russian people, are not worth all
of that. Let them figure it out among themselves. Why? Because it’s stupid.

Well, it’s just why? For that Donbass? But wait: we have
Rostov next door — it’s all the same thing. I am telling you, if this comes
here, it will be so bad. I would not want that for my country. Let this be a
big lesson for us.

PS. After the show was
broadcast, former militiamen from the same battalion as Vyacheslav Isayev got
in touch with me. In their words, “Isa” is a traitor who tried to
flee to the Ukrainian side, a drug addict and in general a bad and dishonest
man. Perhaps that’s true. However, the story of the raid on the camp of the
August Battalion, about the numerous crimes of people who operated under the
guise of the militia and other terrible moments of the war in the Donbass, I
have had occasion to hear from many other sources. So this interview is only
the extremely subjective opinion of one of the witnesses of the drama unfolding
on the territory of a neighboring and until not so long ago fraternal country—Georgy

— Catherine A.