The ghost battalion are proving they are much more than just soldiers in the war-torn districts of Lugansk and Donetsk as they strive to bring aid and hope to the local area through a variety of social projects designed to aid in the rebuilding of the community.
Despite the Minsk II ceasefire declared on February 15 2015 the situation in Ukraine remains unstable. Human Rights Watch claim that as of Autumn 2015 five million people in Eastern Ukraine are in need of humanitarian aid, with three million classed as “most vulnerable.”
A United Nations report on the Ukraine conflict dated February 2016 reported that just 57,300 of those in need were assisted this winter, with UNICEF also claiming that up to 1.3 million people have little or no access to clean water.
Commander Alexey Markov, a volunteer of Prizrak (ghost) brigade, has been based in Lugansk, the Russian-speaking industrial region of Eastern Ukraine since September 2014.
“I had never been to Ukraine before 2014. After seeing the terrible scenes in Odessa of crowds cheering behind piles of charred bodies, I realised that fascism had been revived. As a Communist, I could not accept the fact that Nazis were again slaughtering innocent people, so I left my home and job in Moscow and went to fight in the Donbass.”
“When I first arrived, the city was dead. There was no electricity, no people on the streets and no traffic. All the shops were closed and there was no public transport. People were living in fear for their lives, under constant attack from the Ukrainian side. The destruction was clearly visible on all the main streets of the city.”
“Over the past year the situation has improved, and although many people’s homes, schools and hospitals were destroyed, life in the city is getting better. The city looks almost peaceful. Almost.”
The brigade which has its headquarters in Alchevsk has a strong social dimension, and has from its inception organised free meals through canteens sustained by the volunteers for large families and those on low income in the area.
They have also provided products for schools and hospitals, as well as ensuring that the children of Alchevsk received gifts from the brigade at Christmas.
Although the work done by the brigade in the local community is invaluable, Markov is under no illusions as to the importance of international solidarity.
“It’s very important that the local people understand that they are not alone in the struggle against fascism. Help from abroad may not be materially significant, but it is very important in terms of morale.
Citizens are, however, in immediate need of medical supplies and equipment for the restoration of hospitals. It is also important that the reality of the war in Donbass is reported accurately in the West. It is imperative that European governments are encouraged to reassess their support for the Kiev regime.”
Despite the volatile situation in Eastern Ukraine, which has seen in the past year ceasefire violations from both sides, Markov still holds hope for the future.
“Unfortunately, it is impossible to reach an agreement short of a military victory. I hate war, but the alternative is even worse.”
“I hope the children of Lugansk will soon live in a free, independent and socialist republic where nobody will ever again dare to kill or harm them, or compare them to ‘beetle larvae’ as the Ukrainian nationalists do. They will have a chance to become full-fledged citizens, and not ‘occupiers’ in their own land.”
A spokesperson for the Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine (SARU) said:
“We are a labour movement campaign organised to pressure the government to withdraw diplomatic, financial and military support for the Kiev regime, and to help bring about an end to the civil war which has seen the death of over 10,000 civilians and the displacement of over a million people.”
“Since the Kiev government has also frozen all social security payments to the east, including those to pensioners, the unemployed and the disabled, it is vitally important that we confront this humanitarian crisis.”
Those wishing to show solidarity to the people of Lugansk can do so by contacting Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine (SARU) via email@example.com.