Russian businessman Bondo Dorovskikh who had some oil business and later worked in Moscow construction company decided to go to the East of Ukraine as volunteer. He was convinced that he was going to fight against fascism.
Dorovskikh was accepted to “Prizrak” (means “ghost” in Russian) brigade that was operating in Lugansk Region and later he was fighting on the territory of so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. But when he got to Donbass he found out that there is nothing like he was dreaming about, and “there was no Russian idea”. When he realized that he was deceived by Russian propaganda, Bondo Dorovskikh returned to Russia. “Everything got turned upside down in my head so much that I would like to join National Ukrainian battalions to fight for their independence”, wrote ex-militiaman.
What he saw on the East of Ukraine, Bondo Dorovskikh told to Radio Svoboda. Read original article in Russian at svoboda.org Below is translation of full interview into English.
– A lot of people go there to fight for money. You are businessman, wealthy person. What made you go to the war?
– I really thought that Russia is in danger and mercenaries who want to conquer our country are fighting there, I though that Donbass is Russia’s outpost where we should be to protect our interests.
– So you were ideologically motivated without material interest?
– There was no question about materialistic interest, because I was buying all ammunition myself, bulletproof vest. It did cost me about 100 thousands rubles to go there and buy all needed. So that was not about money. And they don’t pay much there, now its 360 US dollars per month and not everybody even get that. Some people go there for adventure, some people go for combat experience… Everybody have their own reasons. Sure, most of those people have some disorders. Same with ISIS, why people go there? They think they will be needed there, they will be demanded. When you get there from the 1st minutes you understand that is not military division, that’s real gang.
– Do you remember what was the last drop, when you finally decided to go there? Some TV show or read something in the Internet?
– I had “Russia-24″ TV channel in my head all the time, where they showed newest Ukraine history. And after that I was telling myself that I wouldn’t go there, that I don’t need that. I was telling that to myself every morning. But as soon as I turn TV on, where they were talking only about that from the morning till the evening… Sure mass media influenced on my decision.
– Have you been to Ukraine before, do you know this country?
– No, never been there, that was my 1st visit.
– Where did you go to become volunteer?
– There are several option in the Internet. There is Inter-brigade from Limonov party “The Other Russia”, you send small application form to e-mail, they say that you need to come to Shakhty city for example, and from Shakhty they send you to the area where militia is located. I wrote to everybody, I wrote to Inter-brigade, there Donetsk People’s Republic recruit center opened in Mosocow, so I wrote there, they ave me contacts, approved my application. They approve all applications. Next they give you phone number. When you come to Rostov-on-Don, you call that number, they tell you where you need to come, where transit point is located.
– So there is no verification, they don’t ask you about your military experience, don’t check if you are provoker?
– No verification at all. There were even cases when somebody was crossing the border only with photo copy of his passport, some people even had no documents. When we arrived to militia, they just asked for my full name, that’s all. They take a photo of you and give you ID according to the name you told them. Когда мы приехали в ополчение, там просто спросили фамилию, имя, отчество и все.
– And they give weapon?
– Faster than anything else, they give you weapon right away. I was a sniper, I had automatic gun, I had riffle. I also had grenade launcher and machine gun, I basically had all kinds of automatic weapon. When we arrived at positions in Nikishino on the front line, there were local militia, they had one magazine for each automatic gun, and they didn’t have proper clothes, and we had everything, we were fully equipped, we had grenades, machine guns, RPG, ammo for them, absolutely everything. We even had 2 own cars that we could use for transportation.
– All that was given to you in Rostov Region in a training camp?
– No, they don’t give anything in Rostov Region, all that was given on the territory of Donbass. In Rostov Region they sent militiamen who used to be tankers to the training ground where they teach them and form tank units. They were getting weapon there. I saw it myself. Those tanks were transported to the Russia-Ukraine border on trawls where they crossed the border on their own and went directly to the combat areas. And I was given weapon in Donbass.
– How did you cross the border?
– We went through the fields. 1st time we came to border checkpoint legally, but I had restriction to go out of the country, so they didn’t let me go there. And after that the border guard told me that was not a problem and that some guys would help me to go through. And it happened, we got in a bigger group, about 15 people and during the day we went just through the fields, there was really no border there.
– You had restrictions because of the debts?
– I have little debt with bailiffs, so I was not allowed to go out of the country, I didn’t know about that.
– Your unit was formed in Russia or when you already got to the territory of Donbass?
– You join the unit already on the territory of Donbass. There are several transit points in Rostov Region, people get together there and wait for dispatch. Somebody wants to go to DPR, somebody wants to get to LPR, some people want to join “Prizrak” brigade, so they check that and send you where you want. We came to “Prizrak” brigade at night, in the morning people from different squads come and offer to go anywhere you want, for example to Vergulevka where the front line was, or you can join intelligence unit, or tank unit, counter-intelligence and so on.
– But you need to have some skills?
– In theory yes, you need to have some skills. But what kind of skills do you need in counter-intelligence? What kind of counter-intelligence do they have there? They just have power, and they have no laws there. You need skills if you are a tanker for example. And what kind of skills do you need to shoot or to stand in a trench? Just stay while there is artillery war. And next all this herd starts to move, tanks go one way, and those tanks may have no radio connection, infantry can’t communicate with tankers, so tanks go one direction and infantry goes another direction and there is no coherency, no training. You really think that kind of herd could win the war? Do you know how they were winning in summer? SU jets were flying from Russia. One of the militiaman who was on anti-aircraft guns told me – “We got an order that SU jets will come now, don’t shoot at them”. There were Russian troops in summer, more likely. There were Russian jets, that I was told by militias. Personally, I haven’t seen Russian troops. As for officers, yes, I saw a lot of officers, “on vacation”, who were there. There were few regular Russian Army officers in “Prizrak” headquarters.
– Have you talked to them or just saw accidentally?
– I knew them very well, I have been to their headquarters very often. I knew the brigade’s chief of Intelligence, chief of staff, chief of staff of lower rank, used to hang out with them when volunteers were coming. I often communicated with chief of Intelligence, live close to each other, both Russians. I was seeking intelligence, so we communicated more.
– What “Prizrak” brigade was doing while you were there?
– When I was in “Prizrak”, the brigade controlled all Alchevsk city. Our combat units were on the front line in Vergulevka, in Komissarovka and in couple of other villages. There are about 100-150 people stationed in Vergulevka, small units in Komissarovka, and the rest were in Alchevsk. In face, DPR and LPR didn’t recognize “Prizrak” brigade. They had internal confrontation, they were limiting weapon supply. At some point there was not much weapon supply from Russia, no artillery, no tanks, but somehow they managed to solve such problem in “Prizrak”. Several hostels: volunteers were constantly coming from Russia and from other countries too. The only men who were training were Spanish, they had international squad with people from Spain, Italy, France. As for others the routine was like this: squad commander wakes up, does roll-call, put everyone in a line, and same thing in the evening. The rest of the time militiamen walk around Alchevsk, collect metal, take off metal gates somewhere, looting, sell that metal to have money to buy alcohol and cigarettes. They are on their own. Get drunk somewhere and shoot each other. One time one man got drunk and wanted to through grenade in a room, but he was neutralized. This kind of peaceful life. If somebody gets bored, he goes to the front line.
– So men were not paid at all, they had to earn money collecting scrap-metal?
– Actually yes. Some men were selling weapon. Russians collect money, radio station, send ammunition, bullet-proof vests, they were selling all that to get drunk. That was the life there.
– How many locals are in “Prizrak” brigade compared to people from Russia and other countries?
– I think about 10 percent, maximum 30 percent, all the rest are locals.
– What was the attitude of local population towards you?
– When we arrived to Alchevsk, next day we went to the market to exchange rubles, we met old lady, who was saying: “You are against us, right?”. After that in about half an hour we went to the church, some woman came to me and said: “We are going to have elections soon, who should we vote for?”. I tell her vote what your heart tells you. Nobody can tell you who to vote for? And she said: “We don’t need Putin, we don’t want to join Russia. We want Ukraine to be here, independent Ukraine.” That was the 1st that I started to see right after I got there. Later in Nikishine village I approached one woman and asked her. When Nikishine was under Ukrainian Army, what did they do here, there was no laws? And she says: “No, everything was good, we had nothing against them. But when OPLOT came (that’s Zakharchenko’s brigade, the leader of DPR), they told us to get out of our house and simply put the cars close to the entrance and put all stuff out of the houses there, they just robbed us. Russians, please save us, we are not afraid of Nazi, we are afraid of OPLOT, we are afraid of militiamen!”. I met such people there. And there some statements from other people who simply consider us to be occupants. They have a question – Why did you come here?
– Locals who were in your brigade, were they ultra-patriots of Donbass, or they had mercantile interests, or they simply were indifferent to politics?
– I think they don’t care about politics. Mostly those are people who have been in jail before, many of them several times. I have photos that were in out barracks, I took a photo of them. The comicality is that those people who were in jail before are looking for former police officers. No, they are very far from politics. In DPR they were getting paid, so they went there just to outstay the war and to get paid at least some salary. The rest of the people were scumbags who were given weapon. Being in militia they have some power. There are no laws, and when you are driving on the road, they just go on red traffic light. If locals see armed people on the road, sure they always let militiamen go, because militiamen are armed. Militiamen say that they are respected, so they can go on red light and they shouldn’t stop.
– You are intelligent person, it was probably hard for you to find common language with them. How your did you deal with them?
– I almost didn’t deal with them at all. I had a friend, he lived in Germany for 10 years, I was communicating with him. There were few Russians. People coming from Russian are a little different, not all of them, but there few that you can communicate with. Spanish guys, there was one young guy from Madrid. There were some people to communicate with, but not much. That is probably why I left. I wanted to leave Alchevsk right away, but I wanted to go to the front line as well and see what was going on there. I started to sympathize the opposing side there. Because there was cease-fire agreement and they were shelled by heavy artillery, by MRLS, simply burnt by “Grad”. When you hear on the radio that our guys burnt two “URAL” trucks with soldiers, when you hear people screaming, of course you understand that everything is totally opposite that you though it was. You feel sorry for that side that is simply being wiped out and they were killed by regular thugs, who didn’t care who to fight against, that was just their criminal way of life.
– That was right after signing 1st Minsk agreement?
– Yes. I was in Nikishine since November, November-December. It was absolutely same thing in Vergulyovka. The opposite side was bombed from our side.
– And did Ukrainians keep the cease-fire and they didn’t respond?
– No, they also sometimes shelled us pretty dense. But I was watching at casualties, ours constantly raid that side. Two “URAL” trucks were burnt when I was there, next they hit a tank and APC. Every time they get drunk they went to raid Ukrainian checkpoint. There were no raids from that side. Although it was clear to me that was easy to kill us all. There were 80 of us in that Nikishine, it would be easy to smash us from Kamenka, there were a lot of enemy forces there. They simply didn’t have a wish to do that.
– Did you have a lot of killed in you squad?
– No, from our side in Nikishine for one month only one man was killed, he was wounded in the head by shrapnel. On the other position where squad commander with nickname “Biker” was, I haven’t heard about people being killed.
– You said that “Prizrak” brigade had conflict with DPR. What were the reasons for the conflict and how it expressed?
– DPR and LPR didn’t want to recognize “Prizrak” brigade, there was some political problem. They were offering to Mozgovoy to join LPR, but not as single division, but in small parts, so he would lose all the power. Sure he didn’t agree on that, he wanted to stay independent.
– You personally talked to him?
– Just said hi, but we didn’t communicate. I was communicating with Strelkov, but that was in Moscow. I accidentally met Strelkov and we talked about Mozgovoy. He said that was the only leader he still trusted.
– When was the 1st time you felt disappointment – when you understood that what you were told on “Russia-24″ TV channel doesn’t represent reality at all? Was it slow process of understanding or you felt that from the very beginning?
– From the very beginning. As soon as we crossed the border, 1st what we saw after 5 minutes that was a fight between militiamen. After about 2 hours convoy arrived, Mozgovoy’s Deputy Brigade Commander Nikolaich was walking with a gun and wanted to shoot 2 drivers. Immediately I realized where I got to, the was no sign of army. I was disappointed right away and this disappointment just grew bigger with time.
– So why did you stay there for six months?
– It was like this: I came in July, spent one week there, left, came back to Russian Federation. In Moscow I accidentally met Strelkov, just met him in a shopping center on Rublevsky highway. And I started to think that maybe I didn’t see everything, maybe some other places are different. Initially I wanted to go to join Strelkov, I thought that maybe something depends on a commander. Later I went there again, came there in October. I spent some time in “Prizrak” brigade and got convinced that everything was the way I thought. After that I went to DPR, in Nikishine, and I saw absolutely same thing there. I even talked to other people to see how it is in “Zarya” battalion in Lugansk People’s Republic, it was all the same everywhere.
– What do you think, how long self-proclaimed republics are going to hold on?
– Without Russia’s support all this wouldn’t exist. Russia wants to continue to support this movement, so militias will hold on for long time.
– What would you like to say to listeners from Russia, to those people who are thinking if they should help self-proclaimed republics or not?
– I would like to advise not to go to Donbass, that is fake patriotism. There is no Russia there, there is real aggression. You will simply get to a gang. When I recently saw information that policeman from Moscow quit his job and that there, I was shocked. He went straight into real hellhole. I don’t know how he is going to live among such people. I would like to advise people not to go there, because that has nothing to do with protecting your motherland. They show us on TV as if there was already the Great Patriotic War, but in reality that is not the Great Patriotic War, that is just real aggression. We invaded territory and Russian authorities support the terror there. If we were not going there, if Russia wasn’t helping militias, there wouldn’t be thousands killed, nothing would happen there at all. What did it start from? Strelkov came there with his group. Strelkov is a military guy, he would fight all his life if has such possibility. I was so ardent supporter of this movement that I was agitating people to go there, but when I was coming back, Federal Security Service (FSB) stopped me on the border, they talked with me for a long time. I told them straight everything, same as I am telling to you now. Besides, they told me that a week before me another 180 Russians got out of there. They only asked me one thing, don’t tell anyone about this. I told them, I will come back and will be telling people everywhere in social networks not to go there, because everything is absolutely not like they show us on TV. There are murders, robberies. Furthermore, from the 1st moment I realized that if somebody can kill me here, more likely that would be not Ukrainian Army, not the enemy, but some drunk militiaman can just shoot me.
– Is it easy to leave the squad? You just through your riffle on the table and say, that’s it, I am going back to Russia? Or you have to do that secretly?
– You are volunteer, you say, that’s it, enough, I want to leave. In Nikishine they were asking me to stay, because there were not so many of them there, they were saying, stay, where would you go? I say, ok, I stay another week. And again after a week. As for locals, I got impression that they were there against their will. In about two weeks, I just gave my riffle to them, because it was assigned to me, there was opportunity to leave next day, a car was going, I gave them my riffle and said, I am leaving to Russia. I had no obligations to them. Commander of your squad just comes there 2 times a week for half an hour and quickly runs away from there, there are no commander, nobody. I am like cannon fodder there. And there is nothing to fight for. The most important thing is that there is nothing to fight for! I would be glad to be useful, but that’s not a kind of war that is worth risking the most valuable thing you have.
– Your political views changed to the opposite during this time?
– Yes. Furthermore, I had negative attitude towards our current authorities, because before I had my own pretty successful business, oil depot, and large wholesale business. And later I lost it because of our authorities. But one year ago I changed my opinion on Putin and current authorities, I though he was so great. And now this veil is gone.