Russia Update: Volunteer Urals Fighters Return Home from ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’

April 17, 2015
Volunteers fighters from the Urals return from the LNR. Photo by

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.


Special features:

Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo: ‘It is Seen as Correct to Initiate Annexation of Eastern Regions of Ukraine to Russia’

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Opposition Member Natalia Pelevina Interrogated, Named As Suspect In Bolotnaya Case And Placed Under Travel Restrictions

Ekho Moskvy reported tonight that Natalia Pelevina, a member of the opposition RPR-PARNAS party (which was co-chaired by Boris Nemtsov until his assassination in February) and the executive secretary of the Independent Human Rights Council of Russia, has been interrogated by the Investigative Committee on suspicion of “organising and financing mass unrest” at the Bolotnaya square demonstration on May 6, 2012.


The Interpreter

As Pelevina herself told Ekho Moskvy, a search was carried out at her home and she was questioned at the Investigative Committee.

All of her devices were confiscated, as a result of which , she was unable to contact her lawyer.

After the interrogation at the Investigative Committee, Pelevina was assigned the status of a suspect in the ‘Bolotnaya case‘ and has been placed under travel resistrictions.

The first interrogation under notice at the Investigative Committee is scheduled for Monday. Pelevina stressed that she was not on Bolotnaya square on May 6, 2012, she was in an altogether different location with friends.

The Interpreter‘s editor-in-chief, Michael Weiss, notes death threats Pelevina said that she had received
— Pierre Vaux
Russian Volunteer Fighters from the Urals Return Home from the LNR


Yelena Racheva, special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, published a story today April 17 about Russian volunteers from the Urals who
went to fight in the self-proclaimed “Lugansk People’s Republic” and
now have returned home.

The story has less drama that the experience of Dorzhi Batomunkuyev, the Buryat tank gunner— the worst the fighters from the Urals
suffered were pneumonia and ear aches but they weren’t severely wounded and didn’t see
much battle.

The following is the translation by The Interpreter:

They returned quietly: without Cossack fraternization,
prayers, greeters, and speeches. The train from Novorossiysk to Nizhny Tagil
arrived in Yekaterinburg at 6:00 am. Several people in camouflage, covering
their faces with hoods, dragged heavy rucksacks out of the reserved cars.
Seeing journalists in the distance, they darted away into an underground
passageway (after the celebratory send-off of the unit, the names and
photographs of several of its participants ended up in a Ukrainian list of
“Russian terrorists,” after which the volunteers really grew to hate
journalists). The rest, in plainclothes, simply melted away in the crowd.

[A send-off ceremony with Cossacks in attendance and speeches by Col. Igor Strelkov was reported last monthThe Interpreter.]

 One month ago, on March 11, the detachment had been seen off
to “Novorossiya,” when the Minsk agreements about a ceasefire were already
signed. Fifthy people from the contemporary Urals Volunteers Corps gathered by a
monument to warriors of the volunteer tanks corps of the times of the Great
Fatherland War.

The speeches, the brotherhood, the Cossack dance and the
celebratory handing of identification cards was shown on all the channels, so
that the volunteers doubted whether they’d get to Lugansk alive.

In fact, no problems came up even on the boarder: Aleksei
Mozgovoy, commander of the Prizrak Brigade personally met the volunteers’ train
car on the platford in Rostov Region and drove them to the LNR.

Vladimir Yefimov, commander of the Urals Brigade, chairman
of the Sverdlovsk Fund for Spetsnaz Veterans, ataman of the Isetsky Line of the
Cossack Troops and former commander of the Black Wolves spetsnaz had made an
agreement with Mozgovoy to send volunteers long before the signing of the
ceasefire. He didn’t cancel anything; he didn’t believe in the peace.

Everything went wrong almost immediately. As the volunteers
told me, at the LNR, the brigade was billeted in Komissarovka near Alchevsk in
an abandoned, half-bombed-out prison. In photographs on the cell phones of the
men from the Urals the walls have holes, there are bunk beds and broken tiles.

There was no war. The volunteers were sent to guard
checkpoints, stand on guard, guard warehouses. They prepared their food
themselves, they didn’t see showers for a month, and it was cold inside the
prison. One of the Urals men landed in the hospital with pneumonia, another
got infected ears. The majority suffered from strep throat.

The locals treated them badly, Mozgovoy’s fighters perceived
outsiders with weapons even worse. They didn’t give them any documents, they
handed them old automatic rifles only when they were on duty, and what the
volunteers refused to return, they tried to get back from them with force.
Three times, the volunteers were disarmed.

They didn’t get any pay in the brigade (and they hadn’t
counted on it — “the collective farm is a volunteer affair,” Yefimov
immediately warned them). Sponsors bought them uniforms, equipment and one-way
tickets. Before their departure, Yefimov thanked them publicly, and businessmen
who had promised the entire brigade return tickets grew frightened at the
publicity and possible sanctions. They didn’t buy the tickets. As a result, the
commander publicly announced a collection of money for the return tickets for
the volunteers. Many called on the phone numbers published, but they were only from
Ukraine — they cursed and swore at them.

The day before departure, the brigade was deployed to the DNR
[Donetsk People’s Republic]. There, the treatment was better, there were two-person rooms,
and combat duty.

The 3,000 for a reserved train seat had to be sent home by
wives and mothers. Nineteen men left with Yefimov on Sunday, and another 10
left earlier; the rest remained in Donetsk. Some hadn’t found money for the
tickets, someone decided to remain and fight. Anna Kosheleva, a train official,
told journalists that there were a total of 180 militia and “military
cadres” on the train. I only saw three soldiers. According to them, they
were returning to the base from the volunteers had come.

…Fifteen minutes after the arrival of the train, the
station was already empty, only a belated film crew roamed around looking for
people in camouflage, and one volunteer, Yura (his name is changed) from
Khanty-Mansysk waiting for a train. Calm, hunched into his dark jacket,
indistinguishable from passers-by, Yura, the former fireman and policeman was
waiting for his army buddies, standing on the steps of the station, squinting
in the April sun.

“At 6:00 am tomorrow I will go home. At 7:00 my wife
will already go to work…She waited for me to come back from the army, from
Chechnya she waited, now she is waiting again…I will see my daughter. The
first thing I’ll do at home is eat shishkebob, I couldn’t stand to look at
canned meat after a month,” he said.

In a month, Yura plans to return to Donetsk. “I’ll
settle my affairs, earn some money — and go. By myself, without the brigade. I
have already seen everything, I know where I’m going. Now I’ll go for a long
time, likely. I will not bring an automatic rifle, enough. I’ll go into
fire-fighting, I worked as a fireman for a long time, people are always needed
there. I don’t want to fight any more, I’m going to help people.”

Almost all the volunteers from Yefimov’s brigade plan to
return to the DNR immediately as soon as the ceasefire is over. And at the
Sverdlovsk Fund for Spetsnaz Veterans, another 40 new recruits are preparing to
be sent to the Donbass.

P.S. Report on 52 hours on the trains from Rostov to
Yekaterinburg with the returning Urals volunteers will be in one of the next
issues of Novaya Gazeta.


— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick