Radio Free Europe has published a fascinating interview with a pro-Moscow mercenary who fought in eastern Ukraine. The man, an Armenian called Artur Gasparyan, describes being recruited and armed in Russia and crossing the border to fight the Ukrainian army alongside other rebel militias. He explains how Russian overseers had him delete his social media accounts in order to make him difficult to identify by the press, and how the soldiers in his militia did not know each others’ real names. Here is a particularly riveting passage from the interview in which the soldier describes his experience with the violence and mismanagement at a battle at Donetsk Airport:
One Chechen was killed on the roof immediately. Two others were wounded. They fired on the helicopters with everything they had. It took me two or three seconds to get up there. I fired on the high area from where a sniper was shooting at us. They forced us tightly into the building and were bombing from all sides. They had missile launchers around the perimeter of the airport and were firing on the terminal.Khodakovsky [their commander] naively thought that since the airport was new—just opened for the European soccer championships [in 2012]—they wouldn’t use heavy weapons on it. If we had only had our antiaircraft weapons, none of that would have happened.
It’s important to keep stories like this one in mind as Putin continues to deny sending militants into eastern Ukraine to sow violence and discord. When Gasparyan is asked about press reports that the separatists in eastern Ukraine are about 80 percent local and 20 percent Russian, he responds:
I’d say exactly the opposite. Most of them are Russians, Chechens, Ingush. There are also Armenians like me. I spoke to some locals and they say that they did what they’d been told. I said, “What did they tell you to do?” They answered: “We voted. The rest is up to you.” That is, they participated in the referendum on DNR independence but they don’t intend to fight. One guy told me, “I want to get my pay and then drink until my next payday.” In general, they have no experience. Don’t know how to handle weapons. No one had been in the military.
You can read the whole interview, including the soldier’s motivations for joining up and reasons for eventually leaving the fighting, here.