Latvian ‘rebel’ tells of banditry in the Donbas

He was from the “militia”?

No way! I’ll tell you more. I think that the Russian officers were brought in to the Donbas a year before it all started. There’s no regular Russian army there, there are Special Forces. Regular troops remain on their territory, doing laundry or whatnot. And in the Donbas there is another Russian army. For each group there is one specialist who gives you a map, a map of the infantryman, the scale of one to 2500, just on the battlefield. While they have other maps, GPS, UAVs, they have GRU [Russian military intelligence service] behind them. They have normal storages packed with uniforms, with everything. They’ve got stuff that you can’t find anywhere in Donetsk or Luhansk. Those who wear that Pixel-type camouflage, you can’t even go up to them and ask something. They are from the outside, they appear and then disappear. When the firefight begins – they disappear, leaving only the front-line people. There was a professional army, everyone knew what to do. I’m sure they were brought in beforehand.

All this “Givi” and “Motorola”, all that garbage. They are never at the front line. They work for the cameras. And mercenaries – both on the base, and over there, are people who had already been to war. In my platoon, there were those who had already gone through three wars, they were both in Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan, they are all scarred, it’s all just fun for them, “Hey, let’s beat that ‘ukrop’” [“ukrop” – is another derogatory term used by Russians for Ukrainian citizens].

What about the locals? Are they of any help?

Everything shown on Youtube is total garbage. There is no longer any support [from the locals]. Stones were thrown at our convoy as we passed. Even in Donetsk. I really felt bad then. They were just throwing stones. Nobody has jobs, everything is closed down. Patrols were organized to give away food to the locals, to show off, like they’re cool guys, and then at 0400, when everyone is asleep, they would be like “Let’s shell those houses with ‘Grads!” [‘Grad’ is a Russian-made rocket launcher]. Or they would drive off in their SUVs somewhere to Donetsk, Shakhtarsk, or Avdiyivka, turn around and open fire on their own men. And also they shell [Ukrainian territory] from Russia with “Smerch” [a Russian-made multiple rocket launch system]. I was near the border and I saw “Smerch” rockets flew over in the direction of Ukraine. I have no idea where they landed, maybe they hit civilians. What they say on the TV, that civilians bring them food, it’s all bullsh*t. Their food comes in convoys.

Is there a lot of staged filming in general?

There are lot of fakes. I saw these Lifenews [crews]. There were fake OSCE [mission members]. Well. There were real ones as well, but they would appear when there are TV crews and when everything is over. There are many fakes.

Are there supplies of alcohol and drugs to the fighters?

Chechens have their own drugs and syringes. They said that it was morphine, but I’ve seen people under morphine influence, so that was more likely heroin. After morphine people just lie on the ground, but after heroin they are still able to walk and shoot. These guys couldn’t care less – they just go and kill people.

Yes, there also were disciplinary battalions, [former] convicts consisting of 32 and 64 people. Those are just crazy. They are in overkill mode. We would spend 120 rounds of ammunition overnight, while they could easily spend 40,000.

When did you realize that you wanted to leave?

They would make people change clothes. The people who passed through the training base, I don’t know who they were. They were brought in the APCs, having being arrested. They would dress them up in Ukrainian uniform, with Ukrainian stripes and all that; they’d let them out somewhere, and then shoot them. Then comes the TV crew, when all is quiet, and they just show how many “ukropy” have been killed. I was disgusted. It’s the show for the whole world, it’s no political war. There are local rebels there, but these rebels sit in the cellars with their children while the whole other kind of people roams the streets. There are Special Forces of the Russian Federation there, I insist on this point. They are Special ops. As I had gained some authority, I told them, “Either I’m leaving, or just shoot me.” And I just disappeared via Rostov, again. They don’t let the others leave. Either you leave and die, or you stay. It’s like a prison camp.

What is your subjective evaluation of what you saw?

Just hold your territory, don’t go on offensive. There’s no help for the Russians there, no support – the locals hate them. Civilians have no jobs and no peace because of them. Everybody is dying from idleness and even from hunger. This is yet another Holodomor. Both in Luhansk and Donetsk. All this made me stutter for a couple of weeks. Now I’d like to fight for the other side. Against these people, not against the civilians. This is banditry, I can’t find no other name for it.