Ukrainian volunteers battalion chief interviewed on fighting in east

The commander of the pro-Ukrainian Donbass battalion, Semen Semenchenko, fighting pro-Russian terrorists in the east of the country has said that pro-Russian separatists will take as much territory as they are allowed to by the Ukrainian authorities. Speaking in an interview, he described the situation in detail and gave his views on the seriousness of the situation for Ukraine in Donbass. The following is the text of the interview with Semenchenko, conducted by Pavel Sheremet and Oksana Kovalenko, entitled "The separatists will take as much as we give them", published by the Ukrainian site Ukrayinska Pravda on 30 May; subheadings have been inserted editorially:

Donbass battalion commander: Separatists will now take as much as we let them take

While communicating with journalists, the Donbass battalion commander never takes off his balaclava. It is not clearly known whether Semen Semenchenko is his real name or a codename. He does not need excessive fame, though Semen reports in social networks about the battalion’s important operations in East Ukraine.

He recently arrived in Kiev in order to form a new National Guard battalion. Some 100-150 people call him every day. Volunteers are selected, and then they undergo a medical examination and are sent to the Interior Troops’ training camp.

Semen is a quite a young man and father of four children. He was born and grew up in Donbass, never prepared himself for political activities, and moreover, could not guess that he would have to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity with deadly force from the same Russians as he was.

However, the Donbass commander emphasizes the he is not fighting against Russians, but against Russian fascists and bandits actually coming out of all holes.

Discusses dangers at local level in Donbass

[Correspondents] Why are you always in a mask, why don’t you reveal your real face?

[Semen Semenchenko] The Interior Ministry’s Luhansk battalion commander has been kidnapped, and he is still in Luhansk SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] (SBU building has been captured by armed people. All people detained by terrorists are delivered there now – editorial note).

The founder of the [far-right Right Sector party leader Dmytro] Yarosh’s battalion, which still has not been set up, Vasyl Budyk, is being kept in a basement by Devil [aka Bis in Ukrainian, Bes in Russian] (Igor Bezler, one of separatist military unit commanders – editorial note) in Horlivka. He had been photographed embracing Yarosh, but was captured two days later.

Other Interior Ministry battalions could not even be manned at platoon level. They were united together. There are not many people willing to go there. Three battalions are actually in the course of formation now: one will be based on the National Guard, the second one is a territorial defence battalion in Luhansk Region which will be involved in guarding the state border, and the third one will be voluntary.

Semenchenko gives some details of background

I think I have the right to the whim of wearing a mask. I have got all the grounds for this.

[Correspondents] Is Semen your real name or a call sign?

[Semenchenko] I shall leave this without comment.

[Correspondents] Where do you originate from?

[Semenchenko] I originate from Donetsk, and I am an ethnic Russian. I was a small entrepreneur before the war [beginning of hostilities in Donbass in March 2014]. I dealt with security systems, video surveillance and other things. My business turned its toes after Maydan [Independence Square in Kiev where mass protests against suspension of Ukraine’s European integration took place in December 2013 – February 2014] because I did not deal with it for two months.

[Correspondents] Did you take part in Maydan?

[Semenchenko] Yes, we founded Euro Maydan in Donetsk.

[Correspondents] How did you come to the idea that territorial defence battalions had to be formed?

[Semenchenko] I was surprised that no-one else had come to it. We were just willing to somehow stop this uncontrolled crime. Moreover, we were within the Self-Defence in Donetsk and saw developments in our region and among pro-Russian groups.

There is no kind of real separatism in Donbass today. There are local [formerly ruling] Party of Regions and criminals, and Russia joined them at the second stage.

I saw the way police gave way and people were killed at rallies for a united Ukraine, and I understood that it was necessary to carry out rescue operations, indeed, since all that had already begun flourishing in a very rapid manner.

Formation of a territorial defence battalion was blocked in our region. The General Staff was afraid to empower the army of an almost alien state, as they said, and local authorities did not need this either. But then the local authorities got absorbed in playing separatism, and an uncontrollable reaction began.

So, when I saw that this process was moved back, we decided to start forming it on our own. We travelled to Dnipropetrovsk. I understood that formation should be carried out there because we would not make progress in Donetsk anymore. Conscripts were already beaten here. I arrived and announced conscription immediately under [region state] administration walls in Facebook without making arrangements with anyone. People began coming, and dialogue gradually went on.

[Correspondents] Does Donbass consist only of people from Donetsk?

[Semenchenko] Their share is some 70-80 per cent.

[Correspondents] Is [billionaire, Dnipropetrovsk Region governor Ihor] Kolomoyskyy anyhow related to your battalion?

[Semenchenko] Kolomoyskyy is related as the head of the Dnipropetrovsk Region Administration. He has allocated us a former pioneer camp. It was not even he who allocated, but that was a local council at his request. That was all. No-one provided us any other assistance then. But generally speaking, we do not wish relations of this kind.

We are presently being more supported by people, and thank God, the situation with funding has already come right. This is because people trust us. We are actually able to fund all our needs, except armaments, at the expense of donations.

[Correspondents] But how does Donetsk Region governor [billionaire Serhiy] Taruta accept you?

[Semenchenko] Russian propaganda presents it the way that these are local fascists and Yarosh’s right hand Semen Semenchenko. Unfortunately, there are many of those from the side of patriotic forces who echo Russian media.

As regards Taruta, they have already recognized us. We recently visited the Donetsk Region government in exile (they all presently stay in Kiev), and they assumed the obligation to help us. They will buy exclusive armaments, some thermal viewers and other things for us. For the moment, they have presented us an old bus. This means they have recognized us. But unfortunately, they recognized us when it was already too late, when they had been ousted from that place themselves.

Semenchenko says tide turned against authorities in Donbass early May

[Correspondents] When, in your opinion, was the turning point reached, when the authorities lost control over Donetsk: aforementioned Taruta, [billionaire Rinat] Akhmetov and authorities in Kiev?

[Semenchenko] The turning point was reached when active deployment of professional villains, Chechens and Crimean [special task force units] Berkut and Alpha began. This happened immediately after the May Day or around then. I had several meetings with Taruta. It seemed to me, he sincerely believed he would cope with this and would reach agreement with everyone.

But meanwhile, militants were being trained without hindrance in pioneer camps in Donetsk and Luhansk Regions. They are just getting out now. When we fell into an ambush bear Karlivka some days ago, we saw Chechens quite accidentally, and we saw there were a lot of them. Before that, we somehow did not come across them, they were hidden in bases.

[Correspondents] It was even earlier, in March, when bandits beat people from Maydan, and [pro-Ukrainian activist] Dmytro Chernyavskyy lost his life… [ellipsis as published]

[Semenchenko] We were right in the middle of guarding this rally… [ellipsis as published]

[Correspondents] … [ellipsis as published] Do you think the local authorities who played along with the separatists then?

[Semenchenko] They were the ones who gave rise to this separatism. The local authorities are obviously the founders of this entire separatist movement from the very beginning.

These are criminals, the Party of Regions, local industrialists and entrepreneurs who used city mayors, used human resource, transported people from the whole region and gathered crowds for pro-Russian rallies, until a chain reaction began. Therefore, this is a problem actually generated within the region. But Russia got involved… [ellipsis as published]

[Correspondents] But what about Akhmetov?

[Semenchenko] I did not light a candle to Akhmetov, and I have no idea. But if I were Akhmetov, I would not have admitted this. But if he has admitted, it means there is something. I know for sure that, besides Akhmetov, many people were involved in it. The reason is not far to seek. When the offices of the Party of Regions were crushed in some districts of the city recently, batches of St George Ribbons [symbol of pro-Russian activists] were found there.

[Correspondents] You say you guarded a pro-Ukrainian rally in Donetsk… [ellipsis as published]

[Semenchenko] Yes, and the police actually gave way and admitted a large number of people with sticks, hatches, chains, and also weapons. They overpowered us several times. We were just swept away. All this resource was intentionally concentrated for suppressing people’s will to resist. Then people simply became fearful or expressed their beliefs and views.

As far as I remember, the most recent rally took place in May. It ended with a clash. No-one shows their face any longer. A so-called rebel war is being waged presently. The first stage of this war is against the population and infrastructure.

*This means they wreak havoc on people’s minds and form the image of a liberator. As soon as the percentage of support runs high, the second part of the operation begins, as is happening now: certain troops or militants are brought directly.

Information war was waged at the first stage with the help of that criminal structure from the Party of Regions, local bandits and some industrialists. Why do I know them? This is because the four districts seized by us… [ellipsis as published] were purged of such people. By the way, no-one died. But when certain people stayed in a basement for some time, everything faded away immediately… [ellipsis as published]

Russia’s support to all this violence is some 15-20 per cent. The rest is a specially created picture on TV. The authors of this whole puzzle just lost control over it, and this is what we are seeing now.

[Correspondents] Is your family from Donetsk?

[Semenchenko] Yes.

[Correspondents] Does it still stay there, or have you evacuated it?

[Semenchenko] I evacuated it back two months ago. I could imagine what things would lead to.

I put on a balaclava for the first time back four months ago. If people are able to forecast their own actions and the actions of opponents, they could see the course of further developments. Moreover, our government machine is obsolete and is unable to practically resist this. It has to be replaced. We shall win when we replace it. Before that, there will be many months of trampling, victims, blood and so on. The forecast is not comforting, but realistic.

[Correspondents] Why do you fight for Ukraine so selflessly?

[Semenchenko] I shall tell you a commonplace thing. This is because my grandfathers fought for it the same way in the ranks of the Soviet army. As separatists sing, their grandfathers fought in war. I have the impression that they fought with [Nazi] police or with collaborators, because heroic grandfathers cannot give rise to grandchildren who torture, kill and kidnap people.

I was brought up in the spirit of Soviet patriotism. I think that, if one takes an oath with the text that one has to defend his homeland to the last drop of his blood, it is necessary to somehow comply with this. It is clear that there are not so many people of this kind. But thank God, their number was enough for a battalion. More than half of us are Russians. I love Russia a lot, and I accept the Soviet Union in a normal way.

But the things being built in Russia now are not related to the Slavic world, to Russian spring, to the USSR at all. This is a certain mix of Orthodox [meaning church] fascism… [ellipsis as published] all of this is wrong.

We have got a great many Russians and Belarusians, even simply Russian and Belarusian citizens, and there are also Georgians. A great many means up to 20 per cent. Anyway, the majority is formed either by local residents or people not further than from Zaporizhzhya. It can be seen that they do not represent these forces of the Russian world. Of course, people were brainwashed for some time, but it will not last long.

Avoids discussing his children, says professionalism is key

[Correspondents] But what about your children? How many have do you have?

[Semenchenko] I have four, but I am not ready to speak about children. These are identification signs.

[Correspondents] But you bear responsibility for your four children. Might it be better to deal with defending your children than defending the country?

[Semenchenko] First, it is already too late. Second, I actually do not see any imminent terrible risk for them. Everything is resolved by professionalism. I have taken sufficient precautions. I made very clear to people from the opposite side what will happen if, God forbid, anything happens to my family. It is clear, I am anxious. But I think I have taken sufficient measures.

[Correspondents] But what will happen?

[Semenchenko] The same will happen to their families. But this is subject of another discussion.

[Correspondents] Does your wife reproach you, call you back home and eat away the nerves?

[Semenchenko] It happened at first. But then she saw the course of developments and understood that I was rights. She first said: What is the difference in which country we shall live, Russia or Ukraine? I explained to her that the issue was not about living in Russia or Ukraine, but the point was in the fact that the name of developments was fascism. The filthiest cheapjack lies broadcast from the screens of Russian TV channels, terror that is being used… [ellipsis as published]

They have already begun massacring families. I constantly get recordings of tortured people on my telephone. These sounds, this terror, and then actions themselves much resemble fascist actions.

Have a look, here is a typical SMS: Get ready, we shall massacre your family. Death to fascists. Allah akbar [God is great in Arabic]. People of this kind have come to our home.

I constantly see these supporters of separatism in social networks, for example, [self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic (DPR) leader Pavlo] Hubarev with fascist swastika. He previously was a Russian National Unity [nationalist party] member. This is real fascism, though not classical one, like in Spain or Italy. It is cinematographic kind that we imagine: suppression of people’s will, aggressive attacks on basic freedoms and others. I do not wish to have a fascist country here.

I do not much like Ukraine as it is now, but I somehow imagine the way it may be after Maydan, and I am ready to fight for this.

Situation in Donetsk is very serious

[Correspondents] Where, it your opinion, is the situation graver: in Donetsk or in Luhansk Region?

[Semenchenko] Graver in terms of what? In military terms?

[Correspondents] In military terms, and in general, from the point of view of possibility of restoring order.

[Semenchenko] Of course, in Donetsk. This is a million-plus city. There may be many victims there… [ellipsis as published] Imagine the number of snipers that can be placed on all floors there. But it is very dangerous with our army which, unfortunately, knows about planning only from hearsay.

[Correspondents] There is the impression that there is presently no Ukrainian rule in Luhansk at all.

[Semenchenko] Luhansk is the most depressed region of Ukraine. There is a large number of drug addicts and high suicide level there… [ellipsis as published] People were recently given an ephemeral hope to become new [Cuban revolutionary of Argentinian origin] Che Guevara, new mayors, presidents and so on. They will actually fight till the end.

But pay attention to the sentiments of local residents, those supporting Ukraine, and they are in the majority. They rejoice and point with their fingers at photographs from morgues full of bodies: crumble more of them. The same voices are from the opposite side. This means we are currently moving towards quite huge brutality.

[Correspondents] Are you afraid of this kind of people’s brutality?

[Semenchenko] Already not. We have also psychologically crossed a certain line. But I am not delighted with this for sure, and I absolutely dislike this. The reason is that it will be very difficult to socialize these people later on, after the war. We all saw films about Afghan syndromes and Vietnamese syndromes.

Even if we now suppress the armed resistance of militants (in reality, local residents make up a small share of these units), then this conflict will last for many months and many years, since they will make reprisals, and a son will follow the career of his father-terrorist again.

This means that [former Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin have committed a great evil: they have planted so many seeds of hatred in people’s souls that it will take very much time to root them out. Of course, we shall finally win, but… [ellipsis as published]

[Correspondents] What should be done then?

[Semenchenko] We should have a clear understanding that we should win, despite any sacrifices. The victory will be possible only if the Ukrainian state forms the army, the police and the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] anew. Then it will be necessary not to stop, but to restructure the state. Then these sacrifices will be at least somehow justified, since we shall decay further for a very long time without them.

[Correspondents] Do you have confidence in victory?

[Semenchenko] Yes, actually. If I did not have confidence, I would definitely not be here.

[Correspondents] A very strange event happened in Donetsk yesterday [on 29 May], when the East [pro-Russian battalion, aka Skhid in Ukrainian, Vostok in Russian] came to the region state administration and ousted the people who had initiated all this. What is this, in your opinion?

More and more from Russia fighting

[Semenchenko] This is the next phase. See, now they seize everything in single hands. First, strategic facilities are taken under tough control. Second, struggle for mobilization resource is under way. In their opinion, the local DPR is too spineless. This is why very serious actions will follow now.

[Correspondents] You say they. Who are they?

[Semenchenko] They are Caucasians. A purely Russian operation has already started.

[Correspondents] Do you think Russia already runs the show there?

[Semenchenko] I think this may be not the state of Russia, but people originating from Russia, it may be said certain clans. This is because we have information not from hearsay: we take part in these operations ourselves. Previously there was bowing in favour of local criminals, but now it is Russia alone.

[Correspondents] You say they regard the present-day DPR leadership as too spineless. What, in your opinion, will they do next?

[Semenchenko] Next they will call out maximum conscription to the DPR army, they will quickly bring up Red Guard-level units to the Red Army level [parallels with the 1918-20 civil war in Russia], and they will use everything the same way they did in Dagestan: an assault rifle will be squeezed in a man’s hands, and if he does not take it, he will be executed. Full-fledged terror and subversive actions will begin.

[Correspondents] How do you assess the current condition of Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies?

[Semenchenko] I may not appraise. I think everyone draws his conclusion on his own. Since I am already involved in these entities, I may not appraise them. (It was announced some days ago that Semenchenko’s unit became part of the National Guard – editorial note)

[Correspondents] Do you work in a team with the Interior Ministry, Defence Ministry and SBU, or are these independent units?

[Semenchenko] There is no state in Ukraine now: there is just a chain of patriots and a chain of villains. What is the chain of patriots? Let us say, there is a certain high-ranking official from the SBU, from the Interior Ministry, there are certain journalists, medical workers and volunteers. People make acquaintance among themselves in social networks, they try to stick to each other and they try to pull Ukraine out of the bog into which it is falling. But there is a chain of villains: many of them pretend to be on your side, but in reality they just hinder you with their actions.

We are actually establishing coordination namely with this chain of patriots today. As regards work with official entities, we are presently organizing one battalion on the basis of the National Guard. We are working on this, and therefore I am already within the state entity.

Our volunteers remain in the region. They will stay there in the region, the same way as they used to. The second battalion founded on the basis of our second squadron in Luhansk Region will be soon formed on Defence Ministry’s basis. I clearly explained to everyone: if you bureaucratize it again, if we are kept at base without letting us act, we shall just train and go back to forests. I think they have understood and heard us.

[Correspondents] Well-armed and well-trained Caucasians and Russian military are against you. But you have just taken guns in your hands. Do you think you are equal adversaries?

[Semenchenko] We had our first battle near Karlivka: we have five dead and six wounded, while they had 11 dead and five wounded. Take into account the fact that we were the ones who had fallen into an ambush. They had two armoured personnel carriers, full set of under-barrel mounted machine guns of series 100; they had heavy weapons, light anti-tank weapons and sniper positions. We had one sniper rifle and small arms. Our victims were 62, 58 and 36 years of age.

Professionalism is not of primary importance here. It comes. A man’s will and readiness to lose his life, should anything happen, are important here. Our people have turned out to be ready. Therefore, I do not think, anyhow, that they will overcome us. They do, as regards the level of cruelty. But believe me: they shout in pain the same way as the people tortured by them.

[Correspondents] There is the impression that Donetsk is not under full authorities’ control any longer.

[Semenchenko] It is not controlled.

[Correspondents] Meanwhile, the airport is now reportedly controlled not by the DPR, but by our people. It is something of the kind of a patchwork quilt there now? How did you manage to recapture that airport?

[Semenchenko] Well, we had concentrated all available forces in a single fist, and nothing else. In addition, there was an element of unexpectedness. But they launched attacks in other points… [ellipsis as published] I may not speak about this. In general, the point is that all this will last for a long time if there are no changes in the army, SBU and police.

[Correspondents] But is this process under way?

[Semenchenko] We have come. So it is under way.

[Correspondents] Did you and your Donbass battalion coordinate its forces with the anti-terrorist operation [ATO] earlier?

[Semenchenko] We coordinated, and this one more sign of the level of collapse. We, a group of adventurers (he speaks ironically – editorial note) arrived there, at the base, and though it was unofficial in general, coordinated our actions. We visited Mariupol, Donetsk and Krasnoarmiysk. We were just accepted namely as a force, but not as a formal entity.

First, they did not let us do anything. We began seizing checkpoints on our own. They tried to hinder us… [ellipsis as published]

[Correspondents] Were these our ATO forces?

[Semenchenko] They were ours. For example, Berkut from Dnipropetrovsk blocked us… [ellipsis as published]

Many people believe that everything will be fine if Donetsk is yielded now. But friends, believe me, when a certain new DNR comes here, so many traitors will appear in Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk Regions that very many people will be astonished!

This is the problem for all of Ukraine. They will now take as much as we let them take!

First there was speculation that, should Crimea be yielded, everything would be fine. Now there are Donetsk and Luhansk. Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk will follow.

You see, I know the mood present among separatists. By the way, to tell you frankly, I even respect many of them as men because their risk is presently very high. They got in to the zone and left. They are worthy enemies, but they should be exterminated. Nothing can be done here.

[Correspondents] What do you think about fighters against separatists of the kind of [MP] Oleh Lyashko and his unit?

[Semenchenko] In view of the fact that Lyashko actually provides assistance in armaments, I want to say that I accept his activities positively. But let us stop here.

[Correspondents] You are from Donetsk. Do you have any acquaintances that are presently on the opposite side of the barricades?

[Semenchenko] Well, they exist, but I did not encounter them.

[Correspondents] In your opinion, why did this folly cover Donetsk and Luhansk? Why to people take weapons and say that Donetsk is not heard in Ukraine, while Ukraine was ruled exclusively by people from Donetsk over the course of four years?

[Semenchenko] You now take more information from a TV picture. It is not exactly like this in reality.

Let us take the East battalion and look at its social composition. Those who are not residents of the region make up 80 per cent of it, while half of the remaining 20 per cent stand there for money, and the other half has revolutionary romanticism.

More and more people are presently being pushed into it by force.

As regards the allegation that Donetsk is not heard, I am sorry: no-one spoke there in favour of Russia before Yanukovych’s downfall [in February 2014]. They just efficiently fulfilled their work. There was the cult of a tall man in a black jacket, Yanukovych, but now there is the cult of Putin. One idea was removed, and another one was put in its place.

Modern war is a war of educated people against uneducated ones. Uneducated people can be very easily manipulated, and Russia is very well-trained. I look at all these female presenters from Russia TV channels, and my hatred to them grows. They are so well-coiffed and beautiful women, but in reality they are worse than killers because people here take weapons and begin killing each other actually after their narrations and their pictures.

[Correspondents] Who actually controls the situation in the DPR?

[Semenchenko] They are field commanders. Everything is the same as in Dagestan and Chechnya.

[Correspondents] Does it mean that this is not Russian PR expert Aleksey Boroday who is presently their self-proclaimed prime minister?

[Semenchenko] No, those who actually have control are Strelkov [nickname of Russian Col Igor Girkin], Abwehr [nickname of Ukrainian military unit commander Serhiy Zdrylyuk] and Devil. This means, they are field commanders. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, as [Chinese Communist leader] Mao Zedong has said. I understood this when we liberated for districts ourselves. I saw how weak the power was and how easily it could be done.

We also had a temptation to organize the Ukrainian People’s Republic there. But this is not our job.

Source: Ukrayinska Pravda website, Kiev, in Ukrainian 30 May 14

 

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