MARIUPOL, UKRAINE – Paramilitary groups are actively preparing for a Russian invasion near Ukraine’s front lines with Russian-backed separatists.
The Ukrainian government insists that independent armed groups are not involved in their war in the east and that these fighters do not exist there. But New York Times journalists recently contacted three paramilitary groups that claim to operate near the front lines of the conflict. One person gave us permission to film this month.
We followed Ruslan Postovoit and Yuriy Ulshin, who first took up arms in 2014 as part of a nationalist volunteer movement that was formed during the protests in Kyiv’s Maidan Square.
Now, they are preparing for a possible larger war with Russia and command a unit of about a dozen paramilitary fighters.
By 2015, the government said it had virtually disarmed all volunteer battalions and introduced fighters into the full-fledged armed forces.
Serhiy Sobko, chief of staff of the Territorial Self-Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said: “There are currently no volunteers other than the battalions structured in Ukraine. “I have no personal proof of the existence of these informal groups,” he added.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry declined to comment further on Postovoit and Ulshin’s team.
On the ground hundreds of miles from Kyiv, the presence of paramilitary units is an open secret. Local commanders say they see them as an asset to help regular soldiers. And the commander in chief of the armed forces of Ukraine, Valeriy Zaluzhnny, shared a Facebook photo posing with Mr. Ulshin and other volunteer fighters.
Mr. Ulshin and Mr. Postovoit said they were increasingly frustrated with the army’s chain of command and orders not to fight. Today, they say, they fight on their own terms, but they cooperate and coordinate with local military commanders on missions such as drone reconnaissance.
Mr. Ulshin and Mr. Postovoit led The Times to a local military headquarters near the front-line town of Vodiane, and it was clear that the two groups had a close relationship.
Paramilitary units can obtain weapons and supplies through community sourcing and networks of volunteers, including Ukrainians abroad.
“You have the official armed forces and you have the volunteer world, which works in tandem with what the government does,” said Jonas Ohman, a financier based in Lithuania munition Unmanned aircraft and anti-drone jammer for fighters like Mr. Ulshin and Mr. Postovoit.
“We told them, if you want to destroy the enemy, tell us what you need and we will get it for you,” Mr. Ohman said, referring to the time when he began funding the campaigns. Ukraine’s volunteer fighters, in 2014.
Military experts and paramilitary members and suppliers say dozens, if not hundreds, of fighters like Ulshin and Postovoit are active near front lines in the region. Donbas.
The role of paramilitary fighters in any conflict with Russia is uncertain. Politically, groups represent a liability. But Mr Ulshin and Mr Postovoit say their fighters want to continue defending their country.
“It’s simple,” Mr. Postovoit said. “This is our land. Do you understand? We have nowhere to go but move on. ”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/19/world/europe/ukraine-russia-donbas.html Ukrainian army prepares for conflict with Russia.