A well-informed Serbian observer of the events in East Ukraine got in touch to talk about this fellow countrymen’s involvement in the conflict. He prefers to remain anonymous.
In the first part of this interview we talked about Bratislav Zivkovic’s activities in the Crimea and the media storm when he returned home. In parts two and three we looked at Serb sniper Dejan Beric who became a celebrity with his YouTube videos.
Now the conversation has moved on to an American of Serb background who assisted the separatists in propaganda and humanitarian projects. Together with two other English speakers, Zack Novak was the public anglophone face of Novorossiya.
My interviewee’s opinions are his own. If you have corrections or elaborations then get in touch. The truth is not a monopoly business.
1.What happened when Zack Novak arrived in East Ukraine?
Novak was given hero’s welcome from the day he showed up at a Novorussian checkpoint. In Serbia not a single media outlet wrote anything negative about him. In addition, he got many positive comments from his former comrades in Bosnia and Russia.
In 1992 he had sacrificed a lot to join the Serbian forces and now he left well-paying jobs (security personnel at the airport, soccer coach, and private investigator) to help with humanitarian work and to train the Novorussian special forces. In early 90’s the FBI had harassed his family but Novak was still able to return home and live his life for the next 20 years. This time around Novak thought it could be one-way ticket and he might never be allowed to see his family in America again.
2.Were there any other Americans active in Novorossiya?
A man with a very different background teamed up with Novak. His name was Russell Bonner Bentley III, nicknamed ‘Texas’. The two Americans connected right away. For both men events in Ukraine were an apocalyptic battle between good and evil, and both were hardcore critics of the Obama administration.
We know that Russell comes from a wealthy Texan family and was very rebellious in his youth. He was also a member of US Army for two years where he got special training as an explosives expert. His military training has proved to be a very beneficial for the Novorussians. We also know that he spent 5 years in jail for smuggling marijuana from Mexico to the US. After his sentence he became a musician and later in life, before going to Ukraine, he was a well paid tree surgeon.
Some journalists tried to portray Bentley as a madman, a former drug lord, and a communist terrorist. They asked him all kinds of provocative questions during his interviews. Bentley used his newfound media notoriety to his advantage and began producing his own media for the Novorussian cause. Some people in America started sending him money to continue doing propaganda and humanitarian work.
3. What motivated Novak and Bentley to join the Novorossiyan cause?
While in America both men had followed the YouTube channel of controversial British blogger and journalist Graham Phillips. At first he published reports and posted videos on Maidan protests, and later did stories on crimes against civilians in Donetsk. Many Ukrainian nationalists did not like the way Phillips reported about Maidan events. He was arrested several times and his life was threatened.
Phillips has worked for RT and the Russian military channel Zvezda but eventually parted company with them. He claimed it was because he didn’t always follow their instructions on how report stories, although RT says he was just a temporary local stringer.
Phillips greatly benefited the Novorussian government because he presented himself as an independent. He did some stories from the standpoint of an average citizen of Donetsk suffering constant shelling by government forces, and lack of food and medical supplies. That was a view not often seen in the Western media at the time.
The English-speaking trio of Novak, Bentley, and Phillips became a cornerstone of the Novorussian government propaganda campaign against their opponents in Kiev.
4. What was happening to Serb sniper Dejan Beric at this time?
Beric’s life’s after his military accomplishments at Marinovka went downhill. In his next big battle at Saur Mogila he suffered a bad injury. His ribs were broken when an artillery shell fell near his positions and he along with other wounded men needed immediate medical attention.
The Battle of Saur Mogila was one of the most bloody events so far in this the war and Beric and his men were sent to drive the Ukrainians back so they could transport the wounded Novorussian soldiers. But Beric got injured and lost several close friends due to accurate artillery strikes. Somehow, Novorussians managed to transport the wounded out of the battlefield.
Beric was among the group of about 20 men in civilian clothes heading towards the Russian border when a Ukrainian tank blocked their path. He was captured.
Find out more about Serb volunteers in part five.
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