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BBC: The Russians Fighting A ‘Holy War’ In Ukraine


What if they were Muslim?

By Tim Whewell, BBC

Even when the morning sun catches the gold domes of its Orthodox churches, the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, stronghold of the pro-Russian rebels, doesn’t look much like Jerusalem. Trolley-buses trundle through the dirty snow, past belching chimneys and the slag-heaps from the coal-mines on the edge of town.

But through the smoke and grime, Pavel Rasta sees a sacred city – and he’s fighting for it, Kalashnikov in hand, just like the Crusaders fought for the heart of Christendom centuries ago. He may be a financial manager – most recently working in a funeral parlour – who’s never held a gun before in his life, but he sees himself as the modern version of a medieval knight, dedicated to chivalrous ideas of Christian purity and defending the defenceless.

And the defenceless, for him, are the citizens of eastern Ukraine, mainly Russian-speaking, who are under attack, as he sees it, by a ruthless Ukrainian government intent on wiping them out culturally, or even physically.

Ukraine_Russian_Orthodox_Christian_CrusadersPavel, from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don – a tall man in his late 30s with a fashionably trimmed beard and a bookish air – is just one of hundreds, perhaps as many as 1,000, Russian volunteers fighting in Ukraine.

The conflict around the self-proclaimed separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk has now dragged on for eight months – with at least 4,600 killed, even by the most conservative, UN, estimate. Despite Kremlin denials, evidence from intelligence sources, and Russian human rights groups, suggests thousands of regular Russian troops have also been fighting there, alongside a larger number of local rebels. But men like Pavel say they aren’t there under orders, or for money, but only for an idea, the idea of restoring a Russian empire. It would be Orthodox, like the empire of the tsars, including Ukraine and Belarus.

“Why do I say Donetsk is Jerusalem? Because what’s happening here is a holy war of the Russian people for its own future, for its own ideals, for its children and its great country that 25 years ago was divided into pieces,” Pavel says.

We’re sitting on his narrow, squeaky bed in a barracks in Donetsk, our conversation interrupted periodically by the boom of shelling and the crackle of gunfire. Like the other Russians here, he says he’s paid for much of his equipment and travel arrangements himself. Some kit and food comes from donations channelled through Russian nationalist organisations, while their weapons – in this unit, mostly rifles – are from the rebel military authorities, originally captured from Ukrainian forces or supplied by Russia.

Few Western journalists have been allowed to meet the volunteers before – revealing any Russian involvement in the war is sensitive – and some of his comrades in this unit of Russian and Ukrainian volunteers are nervous about our presence.

They’re a mixed bunch: some are retired professional soldiers hardened by Russia’s wars against the Chechen rebels, some former policemen – and possibly, secret service agents – who later went into business, some youngsters who’ve never even served in the army. And their cultural reference-points are bewilderingly eclectic. The image of Orthodox Crusaders sits uneasily with the emblem of the brigade they serve in – a skull-and-crossbones – and their motto: “The more enemies – the more honour.”

Badge on uniform

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  • Uğur Dinç

    It was in the name of Christianity then, and in the name of a faith of secularism blended with Christianity now.

    Bosnians even speak the same Slavic language as the Serbs and are genetically either identical or very similar. If there were any invaders, it was the whole Slavic population of the Balkans, who moved there in the 7th century, only 3 centuries before the Seljuk-led Oguz (i.e. ancestors of the Turks of Turkey) arrived in Anatolia (Asian Turkey) and only 5 to 6 centuries before the latter arrived in the Balkans. Even we “ethnic Turks” have been genetically proven to be natives of Anatolia and the Balkans. It seems that only 5 to 30 per cent of our genes may have originated in Central Asia before 1071 AD (and the actual AVERAGE proportion is probably much closer to 5 per cent than 30). [Unfortunately people of Turkey themselves nowadays, particularly younger generations, aren’t aware of this since they’ve been brainwashed by the ridiculous nation-building myths of 1930s which claimed we were direct descendants of not only the Kipchak looking Oguz but of the very Mongol-looking Gök/Kök Türk people who made the Orkhon inscriptions, which are now situated within the borders of Mongolia (Gök Türk means the Blue Turks, but the term is nowadays often erroneously understood as Celestial (!) Turks due to the change in the meaning of the word Gök/Kök from blue/green to “sky, heavens”).]

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