Time reports: The Wolves’ Hundred, a Russian paramilitary force with a dark history, is carrying on the fight in eastern Ukraine in the place of Russian soldiers. TIME interviewed its commander and his men about their motives and links to the Russian state
Co-chairman of the Presidium of the People’s Republic of Donetsk Boris Litvinov, left, Insurgent leader head of the elections commission of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin, and vote-counter Roman Lyagin, right, show documents with the results of Sunday’s referendum at a news conference in Donetsk, May 12, 2014.
About a month ago, soon after arriving in eastern Ukraine, a group of Russian paramilitaries known as the Wolves’ Hundred seized an old truck from a local police station and used some spray paint to give it a makeover. They did not remove the blue siren from the roof, as it seemed to lend them an air of authority as they drove around the towns that they control. But on the hood of the black, Russian-made Hunter SUV, they drew their insignia — the snarling head of a wolf in profile.
For weeks, the central government in Kiev, along with its allies in the U.S. and Europe, have been trying to find solid evidence of Russian boots on the ground in eastern Ukraine. They need look no further than the men of the Wolves’ Hundred. In separate interviews with TIME over the past three weeks, four of its heavily armed fighters have admitted that they came from the southern Russian region of Kuban. They are part of the Cossack militias that have been in the service of Russian President Vladimir Putin for almost a decade, and they say they will not go home until they conquer Ukraine or die trying.
Their links to the Russian state are, however, just tenuous enough for Putin to deny having sent them, and these fighters in turn deny being paid, equipped or deployed by the Kremlin. They say they are volunteers driven by the ideals of their Cossack brotherhood — Russian imperialism, service to the sovereign and the heavenly mandate of the Russian Orthodox Church. [Continue reading…]