In the summer of 2017 a young Serbian man died in Syria. He was the first Serb to die fighting Islamic State. The international news didn’t notice. His fellow supporters of football team Vojvodina Novi Sad put up a tribute on Facebook.
Dimitrije Sasa Karan (Димитрије Саша Каран) was 24-years-old when he stepped on a landmine. He had a wife and a young son.
His path to the battlefield started in the terraces of Novi Sad. Born in the Bosnian town of Foča, Karan moved to Serbia as a child to avoid the civil war that wrecked Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He got involved in the Novi Sad football scene as a teenager.
The team had a fanatical fan group called the Firma (Фирма). Chanting, flares billowing smoke, drinking, expensive casual clothes, nationalism, the occasional fight. A Serb version of Italian ultras and British hooligans.
Karan loved the life. He became a Firma leader.
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?
When the ambulance crew got there they found Stepan Bandera dead on the block’s third floor landing outside his apartment. The crew guessed the fifty-year-old Ukranian had died from a fall. Bandera’s crying wife insisted he had been murdered. It was Thursday 15 October 1959.
It took until the following Tuesday for the coroner’s report to reach Munich police. The Ukrainian had traces of cyanide in his stomach. Now it looked like suicide.
‘We are completely in the dark as to the motive,’ a police spokesman told reporters.
I wrote a previous post about foreigners fighting for the separatists in East Ukraine. Here’s some information about their opposite numbers on the side of the government.
Most journalists tended to focus on the far-right volunteers who turned up in Kiev and demanded a gun (here’s an article from George Soros’ Eurasianet.org about foreigners in the Azov Battalion) but around 100 Chechens, many Muslims from other nations, and several hundred Russian and Belarussians are also fighting for the Ukrainian government.
The fighting in Ukraine has attracted a lot of people with a ideologies some might think contradictory. They have one thing in common: hatred of Putin’s Russia.
Vice News is either the bleeding edge of contemporary journalism or a bunch of craven hipsters who’ve never been in a fight. Opinions differ. But they have the corporate investment to send reporting teams all round the world.
Here’s a short 2015 Vice video made in East Ukraine back when the Kremlin still allowed separatists to call it Novorossiya. The video contains brief interviews with Serb mercenaries (motivated by pan-Orthodox sympathy), Frenchmen (Front Nationale supporters), a Brazilian (anti-American), and a Spaniard (Communist). There’s also footage of rubble, bad roads, and spartan housing.