Ukraine civil war fears mount as volunteer units take up arms

The Guardian reports: The men, dressed in irregular fatigues and with balaclavas pulled over their heads, fingered their Kalashnikovs nervously and jumped at every unusual sound. Eager to aid their country’s military struggle, the so-called Donbas volunteer battalion was ready to fight, but appeared to be short on training.

The battalion commander, Semyon Semenchenko, a 40-year-old from Donetsk with a degree in film-making, insisted that he and all his men had combat experience, from the Ukrainian or Soviet armies. They are all volunteers, receiving zero salary from either the state or oligarchs, he said, claiming they live off their own savings and donations from patriotic Ukrainians, who transfer them money after reading about them on social media.

“Our state needs defending, and we decided that if the army could not do it, we should do it ourselves,” said Semenchenko, during a meeting with the Guardian outside the town of Mariupol, where his men were based and offering support to regular units of the Ukrainian army in their fight against armed separatists in the region.

With military operations inside Ukraine’s borders an unappealing prospect for many of the country’s professional soldiers, irregular units are springing up as Kiev struggles to wrest back control of Donetsk and Luhansk regions from the grip of pro-Russia fighters. They have been given semi-legitimacy by the Ukrainian authorities, grateful for any help they can get in their fight in the east. [Continue reading…]

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