Russian people's militias in Ukraine

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Russian people's militias in Ukraine
Народная милиция ДНР (Russian)
Narodnaya militsiya DNR
Народная милиция ЛНР (Russian)
Narodnaya militsiya LNR
DPR Ministry of Defence logo.jpg
DPR Ministry of Defense emblem
Patch of the People's Militia of Lugansk People's Republic.svg
LPR Militia emblem
Current form16 September 2014[1]
Supreme Commanders-in-ChiefDonetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin
Luhansk People's Republic Leonid Pasechnik
Commanders of the People's Militia DirectorateDonetsk People's Republic Major General Denis Sinenkov[2]
Luhansk People's Republic Guards Colonel Yan Leshchenko[3]
Active personnel~44,000 (2021)[4]
Foreign suppliers Russia[5]
Related articles
HistoryRusso-Ukrainian War

The Donetsk People's Militia and Luhansk People's Militia (formerly also called Russian separatist forces in Donbas) are militias and armed volunteer groups that are being integrated into the Russian military. Before Russia's claimed "annexation" on September 30, 2022, they were affiliated with the former Russian-recognized regimes in the occupied territories of the Donbas region of Ukraine: the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR).

They have been fighting the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Russo-Ukrainian War. They are designated as terrorist groups by the Government of Ukraine.[6]

The Donbas People's Militia was formed in March 2014 by Pavel Gubarev, who was elected "People's Governor" of Donetsk Oblast.[7] The Army of the South-East was formed in April 2014 in Luhansk Oblast. They were originally involved in taking control of Ukrainian government buildings in the oblasts. Tensions increased to the point of the Ukrainian government launching the Anti-Terrorist Operation against the militias, triggering the War in Donbas. The militias were accused by the Ukrainian government of culpability in shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, but the separatist leaders denied it.[8] In September 2014, the militias of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics merged under the umbrella of the United Armed Forces of Novorossiya (Russian: Объединённые Вооруженные Силы Новороссии; acronym NAF),[1][9] which was to be affiliated with the unrecognized political union of Novorossiya (New Russia). The two militias became the DPR 1st Army Corps[10] and LPR 2nd Army Corps.[11] However, the Novorossiya project was suspended in May 2015 due infighting and conflicting spheres of influence.[10]

It is widely believed that the separatists are supported by the Russian Armed Forces.[12] Ukraine, the United States, and some analysts consider 1st and 2nd Army Corps to be Russian formations under the command of the 8th Combined Arms Army,[13][14][15][16] which was formed in 2017 in Novocherkassk, Rostov Oblast. Although in 2014 the Russian government often denied direct involvement, saying their soldiers were there voluntarily and not under orders, some of them had been captured with documents that said otherwise.[17] The separatists have admitted receiving supplies from Russia and being trained there. BBC reported that separatist ranks are composed of thousands of Russian citizens.[17][18] Registered Cossacks of the Russian Federation are also supporting the separatists. DPR head Alexander Zakharchenko claimed in August 2014 that there were around 3,000 to 4,000 Russian volunteers fighting for his militia, which included serving and retired Russian Army servicemen.[19] It is alleged that since September 2015, the separatist units, at the battalion level and up, are acting under direct command of Russian Army officers, with former local commanders sometimes serving as their deputies.[20]

With the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Donbas separatist forces started a process of forcible mass mobilization which saw large swaths of the Donbas' men population conscripted to fight for Russia.[21][22] Upon the "annexation" of Ukrainian territories on 30 September 2022, Russian occupation officials started forcible conscription of Ukrainian civilian men in occupied parts of Kherson oblast, and were reportedly ready to mobilize 3,000 in occupied Zaporizhzhia oblasts.[23][24]


Pro-Russian rally in Donetsk on April 6, 2014

On 3 March 2014, during the 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine, groups of protesters took control of the regional administration building in Donetsk.[25] An armed opposition group named the Donbas People's Militia, led by Pavel Gubarev, participated.[25] This happened when 11 Ukrainian cities with significant populations of ethnic Russians erupted in demonstrations against the new Ukrainian government.[25] On 6 April 2014, 2,000 pro-Russian protesters rallied outside the regional administration building.[26] On the same day, groups of protesters in Eastern Ukraine stormed the regional administration building in Kharkiv, and the SBU headquarters in Luhansk.[7] The groups created a people's council and demanded a referendum like the one held in Crimea.[26][nb 1] Within a few days, several government buildings in cities such as Kramatorsk and Sloviansk were also stormed.[35][36] On 12 April, the supporters of the Donetsk People's Republic and members of Donbas People's Militia set up checkpoints and barricades in Sloviansk.[37][38][39] The same day, former members of the Donetsk "Berkut" unit joined the ranks of the Donbas People's Militia.[40]

On 13 April, the newly established Ukrainian government gave the separatists a deadline to disarm or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist campaign" in the region.[41] Later that day, the first reports came in of fighting between the people's militia and Ukrainian troops near Sloviansk, with casualties on both sides.[42][43] On 14 April, members of the Donbas People's Militia blocked Ukrainian military KrAZ trucks armed with Grad missiles from entering the city.[44][45] On 15 April, a full scale "Anti-Terrorist Operation" was launched by the Ukrainian government with aim of restoring their authority over the areas seized by the militia.[46]

Sloviansk city council under control of Russian Registered Cossacks[47] on 14 April 2014

On 16 April, the militia entered Sloviansk with six BMD airborne amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicles[48][49] they had obtained from elements of the 25th Airborne Brigade[50] who had switched allegiance.[51][52][53] A Ukrainian military column was disarmed after the vehicles were blockaded by locals in Kramatorsk.[54] The militia also received a 2S9 "Nona-S" self-propelled 120 mm mortar.[55][56] On April 20, an unidentified armed group in civilian clothes attacked a militia checkpoint at the entrance to the city of Sloviansk. Three attackers and three members of the militia were killed.[57] On May 14, eight members of the militia seized an IMR armored vehicle from Novokramatorsky Mashinostroitelny Zavod.[58]

On May 15, the Donbas People's Militia sent an ultimatum to Kiev. They demanded the withdrawal of all Ukrainian troops from Donetsk oblast.[59] On May 17, several members of the militia seized two BRDM unarmed armored vehicles from Severodonetsk and Lysychansk (Luhansk Oblast)[60] On May 22, the Federal State of Novorossiya was declared. On May 23, several members of the people's militia seized another BRDM-RKh unarmed armored vehicle from Loskutovka (Luhansk Oblast)[61]

Pavel Gubarev's chosen flag of Novorossiya that was used by DPR/LPR forces mainly from 2014 to 2015 as a war flag

In July 2014, the estimated manpower of the separatists was around 10,000–20,000.[62][63]

The militia were widely suspected to have been involved in the downing of a civilian airliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, on 17 July 2014.[64][65]

On August 8, the militia claimed that after battles near the Russian border, they had captured 67 pieces of equipment in varying conditions (serviceable equipment without ammunition and fuel, with faults, damaged in battle and completely unusable), including 18 "Grad" multiple rocket launching systems, 15 tanks and armored personnel carriers, howitzers, MANPADS, etc.[66] As of August 12, the militia had at least 200 armored vehicles.[67]

The months of July and early August were disastrous for the militias, with many analysts saying they were on the verge of defeat, before a sudden counteroffensive, which the Ukrainian government said was supported by Russian troops, encircled thousands of Ukrainian troops and forced them into a retreat.[68] The militias soon re-captured several strategic positions such as Savur-Mohyla and Luhansk International Airport.[69] The armies of both the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) merged on 16 September 2014 to form the "United Armed Forces of Novorossiya".[1][70] It was formed under the command of Lieutenant General Ivan Korsun as commander-in-chief.[71]

On 2 February 2015, Head of the DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko, announced that there would be a general mobilization in the DPR of 10,000 volunteers, and he aimed to eventually expand the NAF to 100,000 soldiers.[72]

In March 2015, the estimated manpower of the separatists rose to 30,000–35,000 personnel.[73]

On 20 May 2015 the leadership of the Federal State of Novorossiya announced the termination of the confederation 'project'[74][75] but the United Armed Forces was retained as the joint armed service of the DPR and LPR.[76]

The Ukrainian government in mid-2015 claimed there were about 42,500 fighters on the separatists' side, which include 9,000 Russian soldiers.[77]

Separatist forces with captured Ukrainian weapons during the 2022 Russian invasion.

During the prelude to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republic started a process of mass mobilization of its population in order to build an army for the Russian invasion. As there weren't enough volunteers in the separatist army, and the Russian government wasn't willing to start mobilization of its own population, men from ages 18 until 65 from any background were conscripted to form the separatist army.[21][22] Groups of DPR/LPR officers roamed the streets searching for men at the age range, arresting and sending to conscription offices any they found.[78] Most of the Donbas conscripts are unexperienced, received little-to-no training and were badly equipped, and suffered from morale issues and heavy casulties.[79] The role of Donbas conscripts by Russian forces has been described as "cannon fodder".[80] There were reports of conscipts beign issued World War I-era Mosin–Nagant rifles.[79]

The mass conscription has been considered a war crime by some, as the Article 51 of the Fourth Geneva Convention bans the forceful conscription of soldiers from occupied territory, but Russian authorities claimed they are part of the independent sovereign nations of the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic.[81]

After the leaders of the Russian proxy republics signed treaties of annexation with the Russian president on September 30, 2022, the Russian State Duma approved legislation on October 3 mandating the integration of the "people's militias" into the Russian military, backdated to the date of annexation.[82]


DPR troops in Donetsk during a rehearsal for the 2015 Victory Day parade
Oplot Brigade troops with their flag during a rehearsal for the 2015 Victory Day parade

The militias consist of different armed groups, sworn to the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic. Militant groups which refused to do so were disarmed as gangs in the DPR.[83] Other groups are autonomous forces.[84]

According to Ukrainskyi Tyzhden, a Donetsk Operative Command set up in May 2016 by Russia coordinates the military efforts of the Donetsk People's Republic.[85] The tank battalions they claim Russia can deploy include the DPR Diesel Battalion, and LPR August Battalion.[85] Euromaidan Press reported in September 2018 that the United Armed Forces of Novorossiya comprised two army corps: the 1st Corps, called the "People's Militia of the DNR" and the 2nd Corps, called "People's Militia of the LNR".[86]

On 28 December 2018 commander of the Ukrainian Navy Ihor Voronchenko claimed that the DPR had created a flotilla stationed at Novoazovsk, made up of about 25 converted fishing boats.[87] According to Voronchenko, the DPR had named this flotilla the "9th Regiment of the Marine Corps".[87]

Combat forces

Flag of the Vostok Brigade
Flag of the Sparta Battalion
Flag of the Somalia Battalion

Donetsk People's Republic

DPR Ministry of Defence logo.jpg DPR People's Militia (Russian: Народная милиция ДНР), or 1st Army Corps – Formed on 14 November 2014.[88]

    • 1st Slavyansk Brigade (Russian: 1-ая Славянская бригада) – Brigade formerly commanded by Igor "Strelkov" Girkin. He was the Minister of Defense of allied separatist militias in the DPR and LPR from 16 May to 14 August 2014. Strelkov's name was later revealed to be Igor Girkin, a Moscow-born Russian, Ground Forces veteran and former FSB agent.[89][90]
    • AA Regiment[88]
    • Danube Group[88]
    • Diesel Battalion SSI.png Diesel Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Дизель») – Separate tank battalion formed in 2015, equipped with Soviet equipment, including T-72B1s.[85][91]
    • Dome Group[88]
    • Horlivka Group[88]
    • Oplot 5th Separate Infantry Brigade or Oplot Brigade (Russian: Батальон «Оплот», meaning "Bulwark Battalion") – First commanded by Alexander Zakharchenko.[92][93] Originally a Donbas People's Militia battalion, it expanded to a brigade by September 2014 during the DPR militia restructuring.[94]
    • Kolchuga Group[88]
    • Russian Imperial Legion (Russian: Имперский легион) is the military arm of the Russian Imperial Movement, a Russian white supremacist Orthodox nationalist organization that has recruited thousands to fight for the separatists.[95][96][97] Imperial Legion and RIM have been recognized as a terrorist movement by Canada and United States for their links to neo-fascist terrorists.[98]
    • Novoazovsk Group[88]
    • Oplot Group[88]
    • Reconnaissance Battalion[88]
    • SSI of the Sparta Battalion.svg Sparta Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Спарта») – Special forces battalion formed and led by Arsen Pavlov, known as Motorola, until his assassination in 2016. His successor was Vladimir Zhoga, from Sloviansk, and known by Voha.[99] Zhoga was killed in battle in March 2022 during Russia's invasion of Ukraine.[100]
    • SSI of the Somalia Battalion.svg 1st Separate Battalion-Tactical Group "Somalia" or Somalia Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Сомали») – Tactical group led by Lieutenant colonel Mikhail Tolstykh, known as Givi until his assassination in 2017.[101] In 2022 the Battalion's leader was Lieutenant Colonel Timur Kurilkin.[102]
    • Typhoon unit[88]
    • 1st Battalion Khan[88]
    • 3rd Battalion[88]
    • DSHRG Rusich (Russian: ДШРГ «Русич») – Special forces-type company affiliated with the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group[103] and commanded by Aleksey Milchakov, a Russian Neo Nazi.[104] Made up of far-right Russian and other European volunteers.[105] On July 10, 2015, Milchakov announced that the Rusich Company would be withdrawing from Donbas for retraining and refitting.[106] In April 2022, it was reported that Rusich had returned to eastern Ukraine, this time as part of the private military company Wagner Group.[103]
    • Patch of the Kalmius Brigade.svg Kalmius Brigade (Russian: Бригада «Кальмиус») – Special forces brigade commanded by Sergei Petrovskiy.[107]
    • Rapid Response Team[88]
    • Vostok Brigade SSI (2015).png Vostok Brigade (Russian: Бригада «Восток», meaning "East Brigade") – Special forces brigade founded and led by Alexander Khodakovsky.[108][109] It has foreign volunteers including Russians and North Ossetians.[110] Begun as a battalion, as of June 2014 it had about 500 men, according to Khodakovsky.[110] It later expanded to a brigade.[111]
    • Engineering Battalion[88]
    • Patriotic Forces of Donbas[112] (Russian: Патриотические силы Донбасса)
    • Electric Warfare unit[88]
    • Steppe Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Степь»)[113]
    • DPR Republican Guard (Russian: Республиканская гвардия ДНР) – Elite unit created by Alexander Zakharchenko on January 12, 2015.[114][115] Commanded by Major-general Ivan Kondratov, and composed of six battalions that total more than 3,000 fighters.[115]
    • ReceBogaSwargi.svg Slavic Unification and Revival Battalion or Svarozhich Battalion – formed by members of the Rodnovery (Slavic native faith) movement, at its peak 1,200 fighters, now part of the Vostok Brigade.[116][117]
    • Repair Battalion[88]
    • International Brigade "Pyatnashka" (Russian: Бригада «Пятнашка», meaning "15th Brigade") – International brigade commanded by Akhra Avidzba, known by Abkhaz. DPR positions in Marinka are held by this unit.[118]
    • Support Battalion[88]
    • Mariupol-Khingan Naval Infantry SSI.png Mariupol-Khingan Naval Infantry (Russian: Мариупольско-Хинганский морская пехота) – Formed in 2016. The name is based on the Soviet World War II 221st Infantry Mariupol-Khingan Red Banner Order of Suvorov Rifle Division.
    • Vikings Battalion – Motorized infantry unit formed in 2015.
    • DPR Security Service Battalion (Russian: Батальон службы безопасности Донецкой народной республики) – Security Service of the Donetsk People's Republic.[107]
    • Horlivka Group[88]
    • 1st Battalion[88]
    • 2nd Territorial Defense Battalion "Miner's Division" (Russian: Шахтёрская дивизия) – Reorganized into a territorial defensive battalion after September 2014.[88]
    • 3rd Battalion[88]
    • 4th Battalion[88]
    • 5th Battalion[88]
    • 6th Battalion[88]

Luhansk People’s Republic

Patch of the People's Militia of Lugansk People's Republic.svg LPR People's Militia (Russian: Народная милиция ЛНР), or 2nd Army Corps – Formed on 7 October 2014.[88]

    • 1st Separate Mechanized Brigade "August" or August Battalion – The only tank battalion in the LPR People's Militia.[85]
    • 2nd Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade named after Kliment Voroshilov.[119]
    • 4th Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade[88]
    • 6th Separate Cossack Motorized Rifle Regiment named after Ataman Matvei Platov.
    • 7th Chistyakovskaya Motorized Rifle Brigade[88]
    • Patch of the Zarya Battalion.svg Zarya Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Заря», meaning "Dawn Battalion") – First commander was Igor Plotnitsky.[120] Commanded by Andrei Patrushev.
    • AA Battalion[88]
    • Artillery Brigade[88]
    • Command Regiment[88]
    • Всевеликое войско Донское (шеврон).png Cossacks Motorized BrigadeDon Cossack volunteer group commanded by Rashid Shakirzanov.[84] The group has over 4,000 fighters and access to armor and artillery.[84] From May to November 2014, the group was commanded by Ataman Nikolai Kozitsyn.[84][121] Kozitsyn was forcibly removed from power in November 2014 and replaced by Shakirzanov.[84] The group's headquarters is in Antratsyt, and their rule expands to Krasnyi Luch.[84] Initially, this group was identified as Russian Special Forces by the U.S. State Department following the takeover of the Sloviansk city council.[122] In November 2014, the group instated capital punishment in Perevalsk to deter crime.[123] Kozitsyn stated that there is no more marauding, burglaries or car-jacking in the city.[123] They refused to join the LPR's military command, but cooperate with them, remaining autonomous and controlling territory.[84]
    • Dawn Battalion[88]
    • Tank Battalion[88]
    • Repair Battalion[88]
    • Support Battalion[88]
    • First Cossack Regiment SSI.png First Cossack Regiment (Russian: Первый казачий полк) – Don Cossack volunteer group commanded by Ataman Pavel Dryomov. The group has around 1,300 fighters, and its headquarters is in Stakhanov.[84] Originally part of Kozitsyn's Cossack National Guard until it split in September 2014.[84] Dryomov denounced the LPR's leadership as corrupt and "pro-oligarchic".[84] Dryomov was killed on 12 December 2015 when his car was blown up by an unknown perpetrator the day after his wedding.[125]
    • File:Flag of The Other Russia.svg Interbrigades – Russian volunteers – national-bolsheviks,[126][127] members of The Other Russia.[128][129]
    • 7th Motorized Brigade[88]
    • Mechanized Brigade "Prizrak" or Prizrak Brigade (Russian: Бригада «Призрак», meaning "Ghost Brigade") – Mechanized infantry brigade commanded by Yuri Shevchenko, formed and led by Aleksey Mozgovoy until his assassination on 23 May 2015.[89] The group keeps its distance from LPR authorities and is based in Alchevsk and the surrounding district.[84]
    • AA Battalion[88]
    • Continental Unit (French: Unité Continentale) – French, Serbian and Brazilian volunteer group.[130][131]
    • DKO (Russian: ДКО – Добровольческий коммунистический отряд) – Volunteer Communist Detachment, an international organisation commanded by Piotr Biriukov.[132][133]
    • Artillery Brigade
    • 17th Battalion[88]
    • Ataman Battalion[88]
    • Kulkin Battalion[88]
    • Lishi Battalion[88]
    • Poid Battalion[88]
    • Prizrak Battalion[88]
    • Rim Battalion[88]
    • USSR Bryanka Battalion[88]

Former units

Illustration of the uniforms of the DPR Army
  • File:Flag of the Army of the South-East.svg Army of the South-East (Russian: Армия Юго-Востока)[134][135][136][137] – Main militia forces of the Luhansk People's Republic from Mid April to 16 September 2014.
  • Cossack Army[138] – An international organisation that recruits volunteers from Ukraine and Russia.[139]
  • Death[88]
  • Luhansk People's Militia (Russian: Народное ополчение Луганщины)[140]
  • Donbas People's Militia (Russian: Народное ополчение Донбасса) – Main militia of the Donetsk People's Republic from 3 March to 16 September 2014.
  • Russian Orthodox Army (Russian: Русская православная армия) – A senior commander of the unit is Alexander Verin.[93] One of the armed groups which control Donetsk, mostly firmed from locals from coal mine towns.[141] It reportedly had 100 members at its founding. According to Ukrainian sources, in June 2014 it had at least 350 fighters.[142] According to independent sources, as fighting between separatists and the Ukrainian government worsened in Donbas, membership rose to 4,000.[143] In September 2014, the ROA changed its format and merged with the newly created Oplot 5th Separate Infantry Brigade of the DPR People's Militia.[94]
  • Pyatnashka[88]
  • Miners' Division (Russian: Шахтёрская дивизия) – Founded shortly after the rebel withdrawal from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, commanded by Konstantin Kuzmin. Fighters range from ages 22–60. Composed of former coal miners.[144] Reorganized into a territorial defensive battalion after September 2014.
  • Novorossiya Humanitarian Battalion (Russian: Гуманитарный батальон «Новороссия») – Non-combat unit involved in protecting the delivery of humanitarian aid.[145]
  • DSHRG Ratibor (Russian: ДШРГ Ратибор) – Group that was formed by Russian nationalists.
  • Ratibor
  • United Battalions of the DPR and LPR.[146]
  • Patch of the Kalmius Brigade.svg Kalmius Battalion (Russian: Бригада «Кальмиус») – Special forces battalion commanded by Sergei Petrovskiy.[107] Formerly a subsidiary of the Miner's Division, until they split post-September 2014.
  • Consolidated Orthodox Battalion "Voshod" or Voshod Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Восход», meaning "Sunrise Battalion") – Formed in June 2014, it had 300 fighters.[147]
  • North Battalion (DPR) (Russian: Батальон «Север») (unofficial)[148]
  • Jovan Šević Detachment (Serbian: одред «Јован Шевић») – Serbian Chetnik-led group commanded by Bratislav Živković, with 450 fighters.[149]
  • Bulgaria Orthodox Dawn (Bulgarian: Православна Зора) – Bulgarian nationalist volunteer group.[150]
  • Legion of Saint Stephen (Russian: Легион Святого Иштвана) – Hungarian subgroup of international battalions.[151] The group espouses a Hungarian nationalist platform, demanding self-determination for the Hungarian minority in Zakarpattia Oblast,[152] and has been accused of being close to the far-right Jobbik party in Hungary.[153]
  • Carlos Palomino International Brigade (Spanish: Brigada Internacional Carlos Palomino) – Spanish antifascist volunteer group.[154]
  • Varyag Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Варяг»), meaning "Varangian Battalion," and named for a Russian volunteer Nazi[155] brigade – Volunteer battalion commanded by Alexander Matyushin, a neo-Nazi and former head of Donetsk Russkiy Obraz.[156][157][158]
  • Rapid Response Group "Batman" or Batman Battalion (Russian: Группа быстрого реагирования «Бэтмен») – Commanded by Alexander Bednov until he was killed in an attack on his convoy on 1 January 2015.[159] Members of the group said that the attack was ordered by head of the Luhansk People's Republic Igor Plotnitsky.[159] According to them, Bednov and his fighters were killed "by order of Plotnitsky" because he was "ordered to sweep all intransigent commanders."[160][161] Following this attack, the LPR arrested some of Bednov's men, and dissolved the battalion.[105] Some of its personnel were dispersed into other LPR units, while DPR field commanders Givi and Motorola invited former members to join their battalions.[105]
  • Patch of the Odessa Brigade.svg Separate Brigade of Special Purpose "Odessa" (Russian: Отдельная бригада особого назначения «Одесса»)
  • Patch of Interunit.svg Interunit – A far-left military political unit build inside the Prizrak Brigade composed of internationalist volunteers formed in 2015. The bulk of the volunteers came from Spain,[162] while was commanded by an Italian fighter called "Nemo".[163] It was operational until 2017.


Current Commander-in-Chief of the DPR, Denis Pushilin
Current Commander-in-Chief of the LPR, Leonid Pasechnik

Donetsk People's Republic Donetsk People's Republic

Luhansk People's Republic Luhansk People's Republic


Flag of the Rapid Response Group "Batman"
Vikings Battalion infantrymen with Russian military equipment in July 2015

According to Armament Research Services (ARES), the rebels mostly used equipment that was available domestically before the Ukrainian crisis. However, they were also seen with weapons that were not known to have been exported to Ukraine, or otherwise be available there, including some of the latest models of Russian military equipment, never exported outside Russia.[170] According to the Donetsk People's Republic, all of its military equipment is "hardware that we took from the Ukrainian military".[171] However, according to the Ukrainian government and the United States Department of State, this is a false. They claim the separatists have received military equipment from Russia, including multiple rocket launch systems and tanks.[5] Although Russian officials deny supplying arms to the militia, substantial evidence proves supports this.[170][5][172] In August 2014 Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said the proof for the weapons supply from Russia was that the fighters of the Donbas People's Militia were using Russian-made weapons never used (or bought) by the Ukrainian army.[173]

Separatist forces advancing during the Battle of Lysychansk at the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine

Such exclusively Russian equipment seen with pro-Russian separatists includes Russian modifications of T-72 tanks (particularly T-72B3 and T-72BA seen destroyed in Ukraine[170][174]), BTR-82AM infantry fighting vehicle (adopted in Russia in 2013),[175][176] BPM-97 armored personnel carriers,[177][178] sophisticated anti-aircraft system Pantsir-S1,[179][180] multipurpose vehicle GAZ Vodnik (adopted in Russia in 2005),[177] Russian modifications of MT-LB, rocket-propelled flamethrower MRO-A, anti-tank missile Kornet, anti-materiel rifle ASVK, suppressed sniper rifle VSS Vintorez and others.[170][175]

Military training

Higher Combined Arms Command School

The Donetsk Higher Combined Arms Command School (Russian: Донецкого высшего общевойскового командного училища) is a higher level institution in the ideological training of cadets.[181] People from both the DPR and LPR can enroll at the school.[182] It prepares future command cadres in four areas: reconnaissance, tank forces, infantry, and political officers.[clarification needed] Upon graduation, the cadets are commissioned as lieutenants. Since the fall of 2016, the Military Lyceum is affiliated to the DHCACS.

Military-Physical Training Lyceum

Lyceum students on parade.
Members of the lyceum in their white dress uniform.

The Georgy Beregovoy Military-Physical Training Lyceum (Russian: Лицей с усиленной военно-физической подготовкой имени дважды Героя Советского Союза, летчика-космонавта СССР, генерал-лейтенанта Г.Т.Берегового) is an educational facility of the People's Militia, being akin to the Suvorov Military School or the Ivan Bohun Military High School. It was established on 15 May 1993 by decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine as the Donetsk Higher Military-Political School of Engineering and Signal Corps. From 1993 to 2000, the Lyceum was with a three-year form of study. Over two decades, 2,793 graduates graduated from the institution, more than 1,000 of them currently serve in officer posts in various power structures of Ukraine.[183] It was renamed and converted in 2014; since then more than 300 students have graduated.[184] The school is open to boys between 14 and 16 years old, many of whom come from military families. The cadets live at the school six days a week.[185]

Relationship with Russia

As the conflict intensified, the Donbas People's Militia was bolstered with many volunteers from the former Soviet Union, mainly Russia; including fighters from Chechnya and North Ossetia.[186]

According to the Ukrainian government and the United States Department of State the Donbas People's Militia has received military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers.[5] Russia has denied supplying weapons and has described the Russian citizens fighting with the Donbas People's Militia as volunteers.[5][187] The Donetsk People's Republic claimed on 16 August 2014 that it had received (together with 30 tanks and 120 other armoured vehicles of undisclosed origin) 1,200 "individuals who have gone through training over a four-month period on the territory of the Russian Federation".[188][189] Prime Minister of the DPR Alexander Zakharchenko said in August 2014 that it had not received military equipment from Russia; and all of its military equipment was "hardware that we took from the Ukrainian military".[171]

Some injured militia members received medical care in Russia.[186] In mid-August 2014, hospitals such as the Donetsk Central Hospital in Donetsk, Russia tended to between ten and twenty injured fighters daily.[186] The Russian Emergency Ministry assisted with treatment logistics.[186] Those questioned and registered by the (Russian) Federal Security Service[186] and treated in Russia during this period stated that they would not return to Ukraine if the Ukrainian army won the Russo-Ukrainian War,[186] but would, instead, engage in a partisan warfare campaign in Eastern Ukraine.[186]

According to various sources, the troops of the separatists forces are under direct control of officers of the Russian Armed Forces. Specifically the 8th Guards Combined Arms Army, which has been recreated for this specific task.[190][191]

Ideology of the forces

According to a 2016 report by Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI), Russian ethnic and imperialist nationalism has shaped the official ideology of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics.[192] During the War in Donbas, especially at the beginning, far-right and far-left groups played an important role on the pro-Russian side, arguably more so than on the Ukrainian side.[192][193] Afterward, the pro-Russian far-right groups became less important in Donbass and the need for Russian radical nationalists started to disappear.[192] According to Marlène Laruelle, separatist ideologies in Donbas produced an ideology composed of three strands of Russian nationalism: Soviet, Orthodox, and fascist.[193]


Members and former members of the National Bolshevik Party, Russian National Unity (RNU), Eurasian Youth Union, and Cossack groups participated in starting branches for the recruitment of the separatists.[192][194][195][196] A former RNU member, Pavel Gubarev, was founder of the Donbas People's Militia and first "governor" of the Donetsk People's Republic.[192][197] RNU is particularly linked to the Russian Orthodox Army,[192] one of a number of separatist units described as "pro-Tsarist" and "extremist" Orthodox nationalists.[96][192] In June 2014, the Russian Orthodox Army was accused of murdering four Pentecostals in Sloviansk. The men were accused of spying for the Ukrainian government,[198] but the case has been cited as part of a policy of religious persecution by the separatists.[199][200]

Far-right units such as 'Varyag', 'Rusich' and 'Svarozhich' fought for separatist ranks from early 2014, although some, such as Varyag, have since been disbanded.[156] 'Rusich' and 'Svarozhich' use Slavic swastikas on their badges.[192] 'Rusich' is part of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group in Ukraine which has been linked to far-right extremism.[95][201] Some of the most influential nationalists and far-right activists among the Russian separatists are neo-imperialists, who seek to revive the Russian Empire.[192] These included Igor 'Strelkov' Girkin, first "minister of defence" of the Donetsk People's Republic, who espouses Russian neo-imperialism and ethno-nationalism.[192] The Russian Imperial Legion, the fighting arm of the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist militant group,[95] has recruited thousands of volunteers to join the separatists.[96] Some separatists have flown the black-yellow-white Russian imperial flag,[192] such as the Sparta Battalion and the (now disbanded) 'Ratibor' unit. In 2014, volunteers from the National Liberation Movement joined the Donetsk People's Militia bearing portraits of Tsar Nicholas II.[194] Other Russian nationalist volunteers involved in separatist militias included members of banned groups such as the Slavic Union and Movement Against Illegal Immigration.[195] Another Russian separatist paramilitary unit, the Interbrigades, is made up of activists from the National Bolshevik (Nazbol) group Other Russia.[192] An article in Dissent noted that "despite their neo-Stalinist paraphernalia, many of the Russian-speaking nationalists Russia supports in the Donbass are just as right-wing as their counterparts from the Azov Battalion".[202]

Nationalists from other countries have also fought within separatist ranks, examples are the Hungarian nationalist 'Legion of Saint Stephen',[152] the Bulgarian nationalist 'Orthodox Dawn'[150] and the Serbian Chetnik 'Jovan Šević Detachment', these divisions have since been disbanded.[149] According to the Italian newspaper la Repubblica, well-known Italian neo-fascist Andrea Palmeri (former member of the far-right New Force party) has been fighting for the Donetsk People's Republic since 2014 and was hailed by Gubarev as a "real fascist" when he joined the DPR militias.[203] Professor Anton Shekhovtsov, an expert on far-right movement in Russia and abroad, reported in 2014 that members from Polish neo-fascist group "Falanga" and Italian far-right group "Millennium" had joined the Donbas separatists.[204][205] French Eurasianists, notably the far-right organization "Continental Unity", have also been accused of recruiting far-right extremists across Europe to fight in the Donbas.[206][207] Swedish and Finnish far-right groups such as the "Power Belongs to the People" party reportedly recruited volunteers to fight for the separatists.[208][209] Members of the neo-Nazi "Nordic Resistance Movement" were seen attending paramilitary training in Russia.[210][211] Other far-right foreign fighters from Europe and to a lesser extent North America have fought alongside the pro-Russian separatists in Donbass, including white nationalists, neo-Nazis, neo-fascists and christian nationalists. Motivations for these fighters have included the belief that they are fighting America and Western interests and that Vladimir Putin is a bulwark for "traditional white European values" who they must support against the "decadent West".[212]

In April 2022, news outlets noted that a video posted on Donetsk People's Republic's website showed Denis Pushilin awarding a medal to Lieutenant Roman Vorobyov (Somalia Battalion), while Vorobyov was wearing patches affiliated with neo-Nazism: the Totenkopf used by the 3rd SS Panzer Division, and the valknut. However, the video did not show Vorobyov getting his medal when it was posted on Pushilin's website.[213][214]

While far-right activists played a part in the early days of the conflict, their importance was often exaggerated, and their importance on both sides of the conflict declined over time. The political climate in Donetsk further pushed far-right groups into the margins.[192]


Flag of the Prizrak Brigade

Far-left volunteers have also gone to fight for the pro-Russian forces, accusing the Ukrainian government of being a "fascist state" and thus seeking to engage in an "anti-fascist struggle". However, leftist volunteers have co-operated with far-right groups and foreign fighters in Donbass.[212]

A small amount of Spanish socialists have travelled to Ukraine to fight for the separatist forces, with some explaining their decision to join the war by saying they were "repaying the favour" to Russia in reference to the USSR's support to Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War.[206] Spanish fighters have established their own unit, known as the Carlos Palomino International Brigade, which fights under the flag of the Second Spanish Republic. In 2015, it reportedly had less than ten members, it was later disbanded.[154] Latvian communist of Ugandan and Russian descent Beness Aijo was arrested in Donetsk in 2014 for fighting with separatist forces and the National Bolshevik Interbrigades.[215][216] A female member of the Israeli Communist Party had also reportedly went to fight for the separatists in 2015.[217] Other examples of far-left groups fighting for the separatists are the 'DKO' (Volunteer Communist Unit) detachment and the Interunit, both composed of foreign communist volunteers. the Interunit has been inactive since 2017.[133][162]

War crime allegations

An 18 November 2014 United Nations report on eastern Ukraine stated that the DPR was in a state of "total breakdown of law and order".[218] The report noted "cases of serious human rights abuses by the armed groups continued to be reported, including torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, summary executions, forced labour, sexual violence, as well as the destruction and illegal seizure of property may amount to crimes against humanity".[218]

In September 2015, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) published a report on the testimonies of victims held in places of illegal detention in Donbas.[219] In December 2015, a team led by Małgorzata Gosiewska published a comprehensive report on war crimes in Donbas.[220]

See also



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