Former Ukraine rebel head starts support group for Russian fighters
A former leader of pro-Russian separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine on Thursday announced he was launching a support network for Russian volunteers who fought in the conflict and the families of those killed.
“A lot of people lost their health, lost their jobs, there are the families of the fallen,” Alexander Borodai said at a news conference in Moscow.
Kiev and the West say that Russia is deploying its regular troops to eastern Ukraine to back up the pro-Russian separatist region.
Moscow insists that its citizens fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region are all either volunteers or troops on leave from their jobs.
The new Union of Donbass Volunteers will be for “all of those who took part in defending Donbass in one way or another. Everyone who was there,” Borodai said.
“They all need help, we need to help them. For that we need to unite,” said the former self-proclaimed prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.
He estimated that “between 30,00 and 50,000 Russian volunteers” fought in eastern Ukraine.
The organisation aims to gain the same status and benefits for volunteers who fought in eastern Ukraine as for veterans of military conflicts, Borodai said.
“The ideal would be if we could at some point get volunteers equated with veterans of military action,” he said.
“We understand it’s very complex, that the government didn’t send people there and therefore isn’t obliged to answer for them… That’s a long-term task.”
Borodai, a Russian citizen, is returning to the public eye after quitting as ‘prime minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in August last year in favour of a local man, Alexander Zakharchenko.
The new veterans’ organisation will have offices in Moscow, the Crimea peninsula and in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Borodai said.
He added it was currently being registered by the Russian justice ministry and would hold its founding congress in September.
Borodai said the group would not be collecting public donations on the street.
He did not specify how the organisation would be financed, but said it would recruit a number of “serious” donors.
Former rebel leader Igor Strelkov, also a Russian citizen, already heads a Moscow-based group called Novorossiya that raises funds for Donbass.
Strelkov is frequently critical of the current rebel leadership as well as the Kremlin and the new organisation seems to be designed to deflect attention from his.
Borodai’s union “should give volunteers legal status and unlike (Strelkov), it won’t criticise the authorities in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics,” a rebel source told Gazeta.ru news site.