1676705052 Legion Freedom of Russia Russians in the fight for Ukraine

Legion “Freedom of Russia”: Russians in the fight for Ukraine

Several hundred of them have been deployed on the Eastern Front in Bachmut, which has been bitterly fought for months, according to the New York Times (“NYT”). There they fight under Ukrainian command mainly in artillery or air reconnaissance units. Their flag is neither Ukrainian nor Russian, it consists of white-blue-white horizontal stripes. At the beginning of the war, Ukrainian law did not allow Russian citizens to join the armed forces. It took until August for the legislation to be adapted, said Andriy Yusov, spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence service.

“There were a large number of Russians who were morally outraged by the invasion of their country and were looking for a way to join the defenders of Ukraine,” Yusov said, explaining the military’s motivation for creating the unit. “The Legionnaires came with the desire to stop Putin’s troops and free Russia from dictatorship.” “They are motivated and professional fighters who do their job perfectly,” a Ukrainian official who asked to remain anonymous told AFP.

Admission tests with a lie detector

Recruits are carefully screened before they begin basic training – interviews and a lie detector test – to eliminate the risk of infiltration. There have been several attempts by Russian spies to infiltrate the Legion, Jussow said. The group operates under the umbrella of the International Territorial Defense Legion of Ukraine, a fighting force that also includes units made up of American and British volunteers, as well as Belarusians, Georgians and others.

Ukrainian soldiers on the front line near Bakhmut (Donetsk region)

AP/Libkos Russians fighting the Russians are involved in some of the hardest fighting of the war

Mainly political importance

According to Ukrainian military expert Oleg Zhdanov, the legion has above all political significance: “It’s good for Ukraine if it can show that Russians also support democracy and freedom and are fighting on the right side,” he said. However, Russian fighters “due to their small numbers do not have much influence” on the course of the war.

In fact, it is not certain how many fighters belong to the “Freedom of Russia”. In August, a Moscow Times report said the unit could field two full battalions, the equivalent of more than 1,000 troops. But that would be quite a small number when considering the total number of foreign fighters for the Ukrainian armed forces: The Foreign Ministry said in early March that the armed forces would be supported by almost 20,000 volunteers from 52 countries.

“A real Russian does not wage such an aggressive war”

According to various media reports, the Legion’s spokesman calls himself Caesar and states: “I am not a traitor. I am a true Russian patriot”. t kill women and old people.” Russia was out of the ordinary: “Go to the villages – you will see drunks, drug addicts and criminals.” That is the result of 20 years, Putin said, if he survives the war and the territory Ukrainian is released, “I will definitely continue to fight to overthrow this Kremlin regime.”

Russian Freedom Legion soldier in Ukraine

APA/AFP/Sameer Al-Doumy The coat of arms of the Russian Freedom Legion is a fist with the words “Freedom” and “Russia” written above it

difficult balancing act

Legionnaires find it difficult to explain their motives to their families in Russia, wrote the “NYT”. Reports of atrocities committed by Russian troops, such as the murder of civilians in the Kiev suburbs of Bucha and Irpin, are dismissed as foreign propaganda in their homeland. “They say bad people live here and they believe it. They don’t believe that the second largest army in the world can kill ordinary people,” said a fighter with Russia’s Legion of Freedom.

In interviews, some legionnaires said they were already living in Ukraine when Russian forces invaded and felt obligated to defend their adopted country. Others, often without military experience, came to Ukraine from Russia after the war started because they resented the invasion. The soldiers explain their goals in a self-written manifesto: “We are fighting against the dictatorial regime of Vladimir Putin, against the violation of democratic values, total corruption, violation of human rights and lack of freedom of expression.”

Also Chechens on the side of Ukraine

In addition to the Russians, there are other fighters on the side of Ukraine, although one prefers to suspect that they are in the enemy camp. At least three Chechen groups are also fighting Russia, mostly soldiers who opposed Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov and some of whom had to leave their homeland a long time ago.

The two best known groups are the Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion and the Sheikh Mansur Battalion. There is also the smaller unit OBON, which also appears as a Separate Special Purpose Battalion. All three groups had accounts of frontline operations. Estimates differ on how many fighters there are in total. It is also unclear whether there are also Islamist fighters in their ranks, but according to expert estimates, there are likely to be very few of them.