A few weeks back I wrote a post about a Serb mercenary who fought in Ukraine and died in Syria. Someone got in touch with more information. An interview came out of it.
My interviewee is a well-informed Serbian observer of the events in East Ukraine. He prefers to remain anonymous. His opinions are his own; feel free to comment or message me if your own views differ.
In the first part of the 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. Part four dealt with Zack Novak and other English-speakers working on Novorossiya’s propaganda campaign. Part five looked at the various motivations that drove Serbs to Novorossiya.
We’re coming to the last few sections of the interview. Here we talk about how media controversies, rumours of assassination plots, and mistreatment by separatist authorities led to many Serb volunteers returning home.
1. What happened to the sniper Dejan Beric after his capture by troops loyal to Ukraine’s government?
Beric has spoken a lot about his days in captivity. Some things he said definitely do not make sense. He claims that his group was taken to an improvised prison where one of the Ukrainian soldiers recognised him. He says this guard had previously been a prisoner of Beric’s ‘Northern Wind’ unit and exchanged in prisoner swap. The guard had been treated well so he advised Beric to hide his sniper status and come up with some story during interrogation, and also to claim his broken ribs came from a bar fight.
Later, the people running the prison sold everyone to the Aidar Battalion. Beric’s friend, a Ukrainian living in Russia, sent money for his release. In every interview this sum changes: initially it was $14,000, later closer to $19,000. Sometimes Beric speaks of Euros.
In addition, pictures of Beric as a prisoner circulated in the Serbian media for days before his release. The Ukrainians don’t live in the Middle Ages and cannot have to failed to identify a sniper of his reputation. Whatever happened, Beric returned to Donetsk and then went to Russia, supposedly to find work and pay back his debt to the Ukrainian who got him released. This is the official story and I do not believe in it. Some very powerful forces got him out of prison and they were not imaginary Ukrainians.
2. What other Serbs served in Novorossiya and who recruited them?
One group of Serbs that are mentioned rarely in the media are people with war experience who performed diversionary actions and returned home after a short time. We have an example of soldiers came from the 63. Parachute Brigade. Their names and images were not published but well-known volunteers mentioned them in their comments. One we do know something about is a former member called Dejan Vujic.
Beric also trained a girl from Serbia who used the nickname Bagira. She stayed for some time in the war, but because of pressure on her family by Serbian police decided to leave the war zone. She speaks in an interview with the Russian media about the religious reasons for her involvement in the conflict. She was involved in the Battle of Debaltsevo. Later, she helped the civilians in the hospital.
Another Serbian of great military reputation joined Novorussians in 2014. His name was Nikola Perovic. We know he was born in France and that he had served a tour in Afghanistan with his Mountain Infantry Brigade. Perovic and his group had previously sent some cheap but useful drones to Novorussians from France and promised to do more to help.
The arrival of his group was a great media spectacle. We know that they belonged to the organisation called Unité Continentale. They had some funding from this organisation and were able to buy airline tickets for another 5- 10 inexperienced Serbs to join them. Among them was a controversial TV host named Radomir Počuča.
Počuča quickly realised this could be an opportunity to profit by sponsoring young and naïve Serbs to come and fight in Ukraine. We know he teamed up with a man called Goran Gerovac who was living in Moscow. Goran was a veteran in desperate need for money. Together they devised a plan to create a unit named the Serbian Hussar Regiment.
They worked together to find sponsors in Russia. Several members of the clergy gave them nice amounts of money, along with some rich citizens. It is rumoured that they misused those funds and spent some of the money on themselves while the young Serbs they recruited could barely afford clothing.
Later there was a mysterious affair when Počuča and another Serb volunteer called Vlada Stanic were arrested for allegedly attempting to kill Beric and Vujic. The would-be assassins were arrested and expelled from Donetsk. It is claimed that the Serbian intelligence services were involved somehow.
3. What role did Dejan Vujic play in Novorossiya?
Dejan Vujic was a member of Serbia’s elite 63. Paratrooper Brigade. When the fighting began in East Ukraine, he was working in Belorussia as supervisor on construction site at a monastery near Minsk. He claims he couldn’t see the people in Doncek suffer any more so drove all the way to Donetsk in his car.
Vujic quickly rose through the ranks in Novorussian army and became a respected officer. Later he worked for the Ministry of Interior in the Donetsk People’s Republic as commander of a unit responsible for ‘anti-terrorist’ activities. He recently went public about all the corruption in Doneck, which led to many Serbs becoming disillusioned with the separatists.
What kind of corruption was Vujic talking about? From his interview we can find out some very important truths about the conflict. He says that no party honoured their dead. For example, on one occasion he went to the command room to see Motorola and another famous commander called Givi. There was tons of alcohol in the room and about 7-8 naked girls. They sent people to death while they were partying in that room. He was shocked at what he saw.
According to Vujic, if his unit was sent to arrest disobedient comrades, as he said happened in Gorlovka city, discipline was so bad that there was a chance his men would be killed trying to make the arrests. He also claims commanders like Givi and Motorola were killed because of disputes between rebel groups – no Ukrainians were involved in their deaths.
Vujic says the worst things about Chechens. He says that these people did not respect Islam, they were angry and robbed people. They barely managed to get them out of the Republic. He also says the Ukrainian side did not want to collect their own dead and said via radio that these people were not worth anything because they were killed. He personally saw 300 dead Ukrainian soldiers whom nobody wanted to bury. They had to use the captured soldiers for that.
4. What is the connection between Novorossiya and Syria?
One of Počuča’s young and naïve Serbian volunteers was Sasha Karan from a small town in Bosnia called Foca. His opponents liked to mockingly call him Turkish because of his surname. But the Karans originated from Saxon miners who had immigrated centuries ago to Serbia and Bosnia.
Karan and his group of Hussars barely knew how to carry weapons but in media sphere they have become an ‘elite unit of fearless Serbs‘. Počuča and Gerovac needed more of these young men to join, and possibly die, so they could ask for more money from their sponsors in Moscow and across Russia. Karan was only member of that group that lost his life. Not in Ukraine, but in Syria.
The Russian government sponsored many of those volunteers from Ukraine to go and fight for their interest in Syria. Most of them never returned home. They were used as cannon fodder in foreign lands.
5. What was the trigger for many Serbs leaving Novorossiya in 2015-16?
The death of a Serb volunteer was an important factor in many volunteers leaving. His name was Vladimir Stanimirovic and he left a newborn son and Russian wife. Not a single Novorussian official attended his funeral and Donetsk People’s Republic leader Alexander Zakharchenko said only during a briefing that ‘some Serb got killed today‘, not even bothering to learn his name. This was complete shock for Serbian volunteers in Ukraine.
Combined with Vujic’s revelations about corruption, the mystery surrounding Beric’s release, and the alleged Počuča assassination scheme, many Serb and other foreign volunteers left the war zone.
6. What happened to Serb volunteers after the war?
The majority of Serbs who returned to Serbia got suspended sentences. They are deeply disappointed not only in the events of the east of Ukraine but also with the situation in Serbian society. They were arrested, their families mistreated by the police, and 3 volunteers were deprived of their liberty.
Beric is famous across Russia and from time to time appears on popular television shows. He is an enemy of Strelkov, who gave his would-be assassins protection in Moscow for about one year. Počuča returned to Serbia and was arrested but immediately released. Another of the would-be assassins joined the Communist Party of Russia and was hailed as a great hero. Beric is good friends with Graham Phillips although it is rumoured that Phillips has become disillusioned with separatists despite being a journalistic superstar across the Russian-speaking world.
Russell Bentley got married to an English teacher in Donetsk. Novak is also still there. From the video I saw he does not have a bathroom in his new housing. He spent lots of personal funds to help people but is unable to travel to Serbia, fearing arrest.
7. How many Serbs fought in Novorossiya?
In my personal opinion in Ukraine there were no more than 100 Serbs all together from the beginning of the war to the present. From media reports we can conclude that very few Serbs currently remain in Ukraine.
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