Sibir battalion: Ukraine’s army enlists Russians to fight and defeat Putin newsbhunt


Ukraine’s military has formed a battalion of soldiers made up entirely of Russian citizens who want to fight against President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
The Sibir (Siberia) battalion has brought together dozens of Russians and people from ethnic minorities in Russia who traveled via third countries because they wanted to join the Ukrainian army, according to officials at their training camp. Unlike volunteer groups such as the Freedom of Russia legion that have declared support for Ukraine, the soldiers are part of the regular Ukrainian army and expect to be sent into battle very soon.
They include people from groups such as Yakuts and Buryats in Russia’s vast eastern Siberian region who said they wanted independence from Russia and viewed Ukraine’s victory in the war as a step toward that goal.
“If people want to fight for Ukraine, for our borders, for the collapse of this Russian soviet regime, why not?” Batya, their Ukrainian instructor and commander, told Bloomberg News during a visit Tuesday to the group’s training ground. “It is their choice and it shows that not all Russians support Putin.”
Ukraine advertised the battalion’s existence as the war enters its 21st month with fierce fighting taking place in the country’s east and south. Russian forces attacking near the town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region are incurring “catastrophic losses,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday. Putin told reporters last week that Ukraine’s monthslong counteroffensive to reclaim occupied territory had “completely failed,” and that Russia had switched to “active defense.”
Thousands of Russians joined sporadic protests in cities across the country soon after the invasion began, though a massive security crackdown quickly suppressed any opposition to the war in the country of 143 million. Prominent critics of Putin were jailed or fled Russia as the Kremlin unleashed the harshest wave of repression in decades. That silenced many opponents of the invasion, though opinion polls have also shown widespread support among ordinary Russians for the war.
Ukrainian officials said they expect to attract more Russian citizens, particularly from the country’s minorities, to join the war against Putin. Those in the Sibir battalion underwent thorough security checks to verify they were supporters of Ukraine then signed a military contract, adopting army call signs to protect their identities.
“We need to destroy the Kremlin regime,” said a 29-year-old Yakut with the call sign Vargan, who admitted he had no military experience before traveling thousands of miles from the Siberian city of Irkutsk to try to join the Ukrainian army. Originally from Russia’s diamond-rich Yakutia region, he added: “I want Yakutia to be a free democratic country, it is a very rich country but people are so poor. Only state officials who serve Putin are flourishing.”
A Russian from the Moscow region, call sign Gandhi, said he left Russia shortly after the February 2022 invasion and traveled to Ukraine via Poland “to fight against the crimes committed by my country.” He chose his call sign linked to the Indian pacifist leader because he opposes violence but “I have the right to defend the lives of other people,” he said.
“I felt that as a Russian I am responsible for this,” the 41-year-old said, adding that his parents and some other family members in Russia were supporters of Putin. “I realize I can be killed in the first fight, but for me it is much more scary to feel that I am an accomplice of the evil that comes from my country.”
Russia is an empire that “must collapse,” so that people in different parts of the world’s largest country can “determine themselves how to live,” said Martin, a 29-year-old engineer from Moscow who worked in IT before coming to Ukraine in the summer. His family have no idea where he is “for their own safety,” he said.
All the members of the 60-strong battalion are volunteers and none are recruited from among Russian prisoners of war, said a Ukrainian army official. Ukraine’s military plans to speed up background checks that can take as long as a year in order to encourage more Russians to join their ranks, he said.
“It’s comfortable to work with them,” said Batya, the 36-year-old instructor. “They are responsible and they’re training well.”


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