Hundreds of foreign volunteers have joined Ukraine’s eastern separatists in the last few years. The Kiev government claims they are puppets of Putin, used to expand the Russian empire. The volunteers describe themselves as modern versions of the International Brigades from the Spanish Civil War.
Serbs, Czechs, Poles, Spaniards, Brazilians, and others can be found in the ranks of separatist militia units. Despite the guns and uniforms, few get to see the front lines. The separatists prefer to put them to work in ruined villages away from the fighting where they soak up Novorussia propaganda and take pictures of homeless refugees. They tell their compatriots back home about the horrors of a united Ukraine in internet chats and interviews.
The volunteers are men, mostly young and right-leaning despite the rhetoric about fighting fascism. Margarita Kaempfer-Seidler is a rare female volunteer. This blonde 45-year-old German former paramedic has been all over the internet condemning Kiev, fascism, NATO, the EU, and America.
Who is she and why does she support Ukrainian separatism?
The Privileged West
Margarita Kaempfer-Seidler was brought up in Wittenberg, a university town then part of Communist East Germany. She was 19-years-old when the Berlin Wall came down and democracy washed into the former Soviet Bloc. During the 1990s she spent her days as an ambulance crew paramedic and her leisure time doing extreme sports.
By the end of the decade she was looking to improve herself. Seidler moved to Munich and began studying medicine, aiming to be a surgeon. The spiritual life intervened.
“But one day I came to an Orthodox church there,” she said, “and my life changed. I became a strong Orthodox Christian believer; my whole life has been devoted to the church and the holy Rus, which is a very important word to me.”
She dropped the surgeon dream and in 2002 moved to Ukraine where her Orthodox contacts had got her a job in the Pochayev Lavra, a convent near Ternopol, west Ukraine. For Siedler, the Orthodox Church was inextricably linked with Russian nationalism and conservative politics. After two years she quit the convent and moved to Kiev as a member of Narodny Sobor (Народный Собор -People’s Convention).
“A non-governmental union,” says the organisation’s website, “composed of more than 200 movements and organizations supporting the unity of the Russian nation and the protection of our traditional values: patriotism, family, culture, honour and faith. Our movement uses effective social and legal methods as well as informational technologies against hostile, destructive and anti-Russian forces.”
Siedler worked on the organisation’s newspaper. The German expatriate felt politically and spiritually fulfilled.
Then came Maidan Nezalezhnosti.
After The Flood
In 2014 crowds began gathering in Kiev to protest the pro-Russian policies of President Viktor Yanukovych. The government had shied away from a trade deal with the European Union in favour of stronger links with Russia. Months of rallies, riots, repression, and mysterious snipers culminated in the overthrow of the government and a new administration.
The west called it a triumph of democracy. Russia’s supporters saw a fascist coup.
“Our office was located on Grushevsky Street, where the bitterest fighting took place,” said Siedler. “We shared our building with the pro-Yanukovich Party of Regions, so when the people whom the Western media called ‘the heroes of Maidan’ stormed that building and even set it on fire, I was saved just by a happy coincidence – I was not in the office that day. A woman secretary in the Party of Regions’ office was murdered then and the head of our office was beaten nearly to death by metal bars.”
She didn’t feel safe in Kiev and headed for Crimea, still a bastion of pro-Russian feeling. When the peninsula held a referendum on whether to rejoin Russia, Siedler’s Narodny Sobor contacts asked her to help supervise the voting.
No-one was surprised when Crimea became Russian but the vote inspired areas in the wealthy industrialised east of the country to declare their own independence. Igor Ivanovich Strelkov (aka Igor Girkin), a historian and Russian nationalist active in the Crimean referendum, was an important figure in Donbass separatism. His political adviser was Igor Druz, the head of Ukraine’s Narodny Sobor branch.
Soon Siedler was in Donbass with camouflage fatigues and an AK-47.
In the spring of 2014 Kiev and the eastern separatists went to war. By late June Ukrainian forces were besieging the Donbass town of Sloviansk. A desperate Strelkov appeared in Youtube videos begging Russia for help. Among his soldiers was Margarita Siedler.
The internet would make a lot of noise about a female soldier in the separatist forces, both pro (Interview with Margarita Seidler, a German Freedom Fighter in Donbass) and against (Bloody ‘Hen Party’ on the Donbass). Despite the gun and uniform, Siedler served as a medic and journalist documenting damage to the town.
“I did not shoot or hurt anyone,” said Siedler. “What I did was something that the Western media would later describe as ‘information war.’ I was filming the damage to the city and to its people from the Ukrainian artillery and aviation. I put this information on the internet; I distributed it to the Western media. Would I use arms if the worst came? I think the answer is yes. Before going to Donetsk, I had some training in handling weapons.”
Strelkov’s group escaped from the city before the Ukrainian tanks rolled in. When they reached separatist territory, Siedler discovered she had become a celebrity. The blonde German was in demand for interviews and articles. She became a full-time media activist, turning out journalism or propaganda, depending on which side you support.
These days Siedler lives in Sebastopol in Crimea. Russia granted her political asylum. She writes articles, gives interviews, goes to church. Her upbringing under communism and conversion to Orthodoxy have fused themselves into a Greater Russia mindset which sees the cloven hoof of fascism in both Kiev and NATO.
“Look at the history of Russian church,” says Siedler. “Look at the biographies of St. Alexander Nevsky, St. Sergius of Radonezh and many other saints who had to take up arms or to encourage warriors. Without these people, Russia would have been colonized and our faith would have disappeared long ago. In Slavyansk, we were not fighting against individual people; we were fighting against the evil idea that you can kill civilians in the name of ‘united Ukraine.'”
She has no plans to revisit Germany any time soon.
To find out more about the Ukraine see my posts on foreign volunteers serving with the eastern separatists and the Kiev government. Also check out the assassination of Stepan Bandera, a hero to many Ukrainians.
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