Christopher Miller writes: Russian volunteer Andrei Kamayev arrived in war-torn eastern Ukraine in late September 2014, bursting with patriotic bravado and convinced that he was following in the footsteps of his grandfather—a Soviet intelligence officer in World War II—by fighting against “fascists and Nazis.”
Using terms propagated by the Kremlin to describe Ukrainian government forces fighting Russia-backed separatists, the 49-year-old Kamayev admits to other motives for joining up: He also wanted to help restore the Russky Mir, or “Russian World,” and stave off the perceived encroachment of NATO.
But his dream of military glory came to a quick and devastating end on February 1, 2015. As Kamayev followed a convoy of tanks during an assault near the strategic town of Debaltseve—then Ukrainian-controlled—a mortar shell exploded beside him, shredding part of his left leg. He was evacuated to a nearby hospital, but without the proper medicine to treat him, gangrene set in and doctors were forced to amputate the rest of his leg up to his hip.
He was lucky to survive, unlike many fellow Russians who volunteered to fight in Ukraine. But back in his new home, St. Petersburg, Kamayev hobbled around the former imperial capital on crutches, struggling to get by.
For him and thousands of other unrecognized, so-called veterans of the Kremlin-fomented conflict in eastern Ukraine, there is little, if any, glory beyond the battlefields of a war that grinds into a fourth year, with no end in sight. [Continue reading…]