Donetsk, May 29
It’s 8:00 PM when the soldiers of the Vostok Battalion gather near the BTR (armored personnel carrier.) An officer gives the order and the soldiers climb on top—perhaps a dozen of them. The vehicle maneuvers slowly, taking the street toward Artyom avenue. The crowd splits to let it pass, and applauds. Some of them take pictures.
Another officer yells, “Shestoy v Kamasu!” The rest of the soldiers climb onto the blue Kamaz parked in a row. Someone above lifts the Kalashnikov over his head. In the queue of the convoy there’s a truck with a tarpaulin. Two soldiers lower the rear gate and a group of men in plain clothes gets in. These are the new recruits: young men, and some who have overstepped their fifties are among them. They all possess the serious gaze of those who believe in what they are doing. A guy comes about and hands a purse to the one closest to the rear gate.
I also applaud and greet them as the convoy leaves. Some of the women are moved.
All afternoon soldiers have surrounded the former building of Regional State Administration—now headquarters of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Officially, the purpose of the operation was to detain those responsible for looting the local supermarket Metro, which was robbed after the battle for the airport. Twelve men were identified, arrested and taken away by bus.
At the same time, the barricades built of tires and boulders in front of the building were almost entirely removed by two bulldozers. The authorities explained that barricades built of combustible materials can easily catch fire during an assault, endangering the building and interfering with the defenders’ actions. Some of the activists looked with suspicion to this operation, dreading a military coup.
But who are these soldiers?
The Vostok Battalion arrived in Donetsk on May 14. They headed down Artyom Avenue in a long convoy to Lenina square, where a ceremony was taking place attended by a large crowd waving Russian flags along with Donbass flags. When the soldiers got off the Kamaz, women approached to hand them flowers. The Chairman of the DPR, Dennis Pushilin, thanked them from a small stage and the crowd chanted, “RUS-SI-A! RUS-SI-A!”
On May 9, the Vostok Battalion had entered Mariupol accompanied by the music of the popular Russian warsong, “Farewell of Slavyanska” and inspiring that very enthusiasm among the citizens. Immediately, the Ukrainian media stated that on the side of “separatists” fought Kadyrov’s “Vostok Battalion.”
Kadyrov’s Vostok Battalion was a pro-Russian Chechen detachment that participated in Ossetia war in 2008 and was disbanded that very same year.
Want to hear an interesting anecdote? On April 15, Ukrainian deputy Alexander Briginets said that in Lugansk, General-Lieutenant V. Guslavsky was forming the “Skhid Battalion,” behind personal initiative of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov. Well, in Ukrainian language the word “Skhid” means “East” just like “Vostok” in Russian. It seems this word is really trendy around here, isn’t it?
Clearly the two homonym battalions have no relation each other. The Vostok Battalion that arrived in Donetsk is a local militia staffed from former members of Ukrainian special services (Alpha, Golden Eagle,) Russian volunteers, as well as volunteers from Chechnya. Then has the Ukrainian media reported correctly when speaking of invasion by Chechens and Russian troops within Ukraine borders?
By the way, where is Chechnya? Given that a fortnight ago CNN put Ukraine in Pakistan, it’s appropriate that I ask this question. So from Donetsk take a car and in a couple of hours you get to Rostov-na-Donu. From there a nearly ever-straight road takes you towards the south-east to Grozny, capital of Chechnya. In total: 600 miles (965 km.) So Chechnya is not lost in one corner of huge Siberia. Nor is it on the other side of the ocean.
And here is Novorossiya, as Catherine II called it—not Putin. Populations who live here have lived here more than two centuries.
This land, as well as Crimea, is Russian. Both of them were conquered by the Russians in 1783, in the war against the Ottoman Empire. Both were defended by the Russians in the war of 1854-55 against the Anglo-French aggression. They were Russian in the days of the Tsar Empire. They were Russian during the USSR. They were Russian when it collapsed. And they still are today. Both were “gifted” to Ukraine: Novorossiya by Lenin in the 20s, Crimea by Khrushchev in 1954. It happened because the borders within the USSR had only an administrative value. So, this is a mere homecoming. It’s the correction of an anti-historical and anti-ethnic mistake.