The Guardian reports: In late April, 65 Russian men in groups of five to 10 crossed the border with Ukraine on foot, telling border guards they were going to visit relatives.
It wasn’t a fond babushka who picked them up at the border, however, but rather pro-Russian rebels from the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. They bussed the Russian fighters to the regional capital, where they took up arms and last week engaged in the fiercest combat yet against forces loyal to Kiev.
“I was watching events in Odessa and was very upset about what was going on,” said one of the Russian fighters, who would give only his wartime nickname “Varan” or “Monitor Lizard”. Clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian protesters in that city last month left more than 40 people dead. “I called up the military enlistment office and asked what I could do. They said people were gathering in Rostov and it may be possible to go to Ukraine. It’s not official; they whispered it in my ear, so to speak.”
The Russian fighters – including veterans of the military, intelligence services and riot police – formed the core of a new unit called the Vostok Battalion, which took a lead role in the bloody battle for the Donetsk airport last week, in which 33 Russian citizens were killed. [Continue reading…]