The fighting in Ukraine continues. Many of the foreigners who joined the Novorossiyan separatists have gone home to face the media or the courts. Others remain.
The situation in Ukraine is complicated and deadly. Foreign volunteers who took part in the fighting were either tough combat veterans, shameless publicity seekers, or naive young men used by forces they didn’t understand. Like most wars.
Someone who knows a lot about the situation got in touch after reading my post on Sasha Karan, a Serb mercenary who died in Syria after previously serving in Eastern Ukraine. I asked some questions about Serbia and Novorossiya. He answered under condition of anonymity. His opinions are his own.
If you have any information that supports, contradicts, or expands what my interviewee says then get in touch. There are as many opinions about the Ukrainian situation as there are bullets flying over the battlefield.
Here is part one of our talk.
1. How does Serbia view the situation in Ukraine?
We must start our story from the very beginning. Its hard to analyze any war in Europe without looking at history first. In mid-1700s the Serbs, along other Orthodox Christian communities, settled in what is now Eastern Ukraine. The Russian Empire had multiple benefits from the Serb settlers. Most important was their war skills which they had obtained by serving in Austro-Hungarian military units and attending military academies.
The first well-known military officer who emigrated to today’s Ukraine was Jovan Sevic and in 1753 Serbs under his leadership formed an administrative region called Slavo-Serbia. Even today we have a city named Slovianoserbsk in what is now the Luhansk People’s Republic. Among other historic monuments is a statue that shows Serb, Russian, and Ukrainian warriors standing together. During the recent crisis someone came up with the idea of blowing up this monument, but luckily for us history lovers and thanks to the good people of the town the monument has been preserved.
Over 200 years later many people in Serbia watch with disbelief the Russia and NATO power struggle in Ukraine, to detriment of ordinary Ukrainian citizens.
2. Have any Serbs taken part in the fighting?
A handful of Serbian volunteers decided to actively participate in conflict. First a small unit of volunteers came to Crimea in 2014 under the leadership of Bratislav Zivkovic, a very interesting character. They claimed at the time that their unit, called ‘Jovan Sevic’, was over 200 strong and gave the Serbian and Russian media many fake stories about war victories. The reality was completely different.
This group of no more than dozen volunteers saw little to no fighting at all. They mostly set up roadblocks. Years later they claimed in a very popular talk show Cirilica how their task was to draw attention of Western media. Why was this important? Because the road blocks were located in mostly Tatar Muslim populated areas. The arrival of Chetniks had a psychological impact on anyone who opposed Crimean independence. The Western media covering their activities could not publish any stories claiming that the local population was being murdered or tortured as Zivkovic and his men only searched vehicles.
3. What happened to Zivkovic’s group?
The truth came out when Zivkovic failed to distribute the money evenly amongst all members. He kept most of the money while giving only a portion to a selected few. The rest got absolutely nothing. Well, it happened that one of those who got no money was wounded by Ukrainian grenade and was eager to publicly expose Zivkovic. He blamed him for his financial misery and told the public how this group ‘Jovan Sevic’ was on front lines only for 3 days.
On top of that Zivkovic and his group got into arguments with locals and some Russian Cossacks. Anyhow, Zivkovic continues to make fantasy stories in the Serbian media, but people make jokes about how Russian people are doomed if clowns like him are the ones defending them. This is not to underestimate Zivkovic’s propaganda tactics which he clearly mastered at the very beginning of the Ukrainian conflict. Photographs of the unit and media interviews drew much attention and many volunteers from Russia and elsewhere hurried to join the ranks of newly formed militia.
4. What about other Serb volunteers?
After this rather strange group returned home our public learned about some other Serbian men involved in the conflict. And this is where things get really interesting. A video surfaced on Youtube showing a Serbian named Dejan Beric carrying a sniper rifle and talking on camera. Instantly he became media sensation in Serbia and abroad. Snipers often hide their faces and identity, but here we had a man who freely expressed himself on camera.
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