Pavel Sheremet, Oksana Kovalenko, UP _ Friday, May 30, 2014, 20:53
The commander of Donbas Battalion of the Territorial Volunteer Defense Forces (DFD) never takes his balaclava off when talking to journalists. Nobody knows for sure if Semion Semionchenko is his real name or just an alias. He does not want extra fame, yet he continues to reports all main activities of the unit in the social media. Now he came to Kyiv to form a new battalion of the National Guard. Every day, there are about 100-150 calls from potential volunteers. They are screened and shortlisted, then they undergo a physical, and are sent off to the Internal Troops boot camps.
Semion, a father of four, is fairly young. He was born and raised in Donbas, never prepared himself for any political activity, and could never imagine that one day he would have to take arms and defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity from the just the same Russians as himself. Still, the Donbas commander stresses that he fights not Russians as such, but rather, the followers of the Russian fascist ideology and criminals who are crawling out of everywhere.
Ukrayinska Pravda (UP): You are masked all the time. Why don’t you show your face?
Semion Semionchenko (Semion): The commander of Luhansk battalion the Ministry of Interior was kidnapped, he continues to be detained in the SBU building [EMPR: the Security Service of Ukraine] in Luhansk [UP: the SBU building was seized by insurgent militants. Now the terrorists take all their prisoners and captives there.]
Vasyl Budik who was supposed to form the still non-existent Yarosh’s battalion, is now held in the Horlivka basements by Bes [UP: Imp, the call sign and alias of Igor Bezler, one of the terrorists’ commanders.] He was spotted in quite a few pictures hugging Yarosh, so he got pinched the very next day.
Other battalions of the Ministry of Interior have not enough people to form a platoon. They had to be combined into one. Nobody really wants to join them. As for us, we are actually forming three battalions. One is formed of the National Guard field strength, the second one is a border guard territorial defense unit in Luhansk oblast, and the third battalion is a volunteer unit.
I believe I have the right and the reason to such a whim as walking around in a mask.
UP: Is Semion your actual name – or just a call sign?
Semion: No comment.
UP: Where were you born?
Semion: I was born in Donetsk. And I’m an ethnic Russian. I ran a small business before the war. I dealt with security systems, video surveillance, and other things like that. But after Maidan my business went under because I let it slide for two months.
UP: Did you take part in Maidan?
Semion: Yes. We started Euromaidan in Donetsk.
UP: How did you come up with the idea to create territorial defense units?
Semion: I am surprised that nobody else came up with it. I just wanted to stop all this criminal mayhem. More so because we were a part of the Self-Defense [EMPR: Maidan-related militia units] of Donetsk oblast, and saw what was going on in our region and in the pro-Russian groups.
Now there is no such thing as true separatism in Donbas. There are the local branch of the Party of Regions and possees. Russia got involved at the second stage. I saw the police step aside, and people at pro-Ukrainian rallies killed, and I realized that we needed to launch real search operations when all that started getting into a full bloom.
Formation of a territorial self-defense battalion was blocked in our region. The General Staff of the Armed Forces was wary about arming what they termed almost the contender state’s units, and the local authorities had no use of them. And later, those local authorities went way too far with toying with the separatist ideas until the reaction spinned out of control.
So when I saw this whole process messed up, we decided to have a go at it ourselves. We went to Dnipropetrovsk. I realized that we have to launch the formation there, it was already too late to do it in Donetsk. Those who were drafted there were getting beaten. I drove up [EMPR: to Dnipropetrovsk] and posted a call on the Facebook to come straight to the Administration building. We didn’t discuss it with anyone in advance. People were just showing up, and gradually, we started the dialogue.
UP: Is DFD formed only of Donetsk folks?
Semion: They make about 70-80%.
UP: Does Kolomoiskii have anything to do with your unit?
Semion: Kolomoyskiy is just a chairman of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast administration. He allocated us a former children’s summer camp. Actually, it wasn’t him specifically, but rather the Oblast council gave the camp based on his request. That’s all. Moreover, we do not want any special relationship.
We now rely more on ordinary people, we have now sufficient funding. It is because ordinary people believe in us. And we actually as of now can satisfy all our needs from the donations, the only exception being weapons and arms.
UP: And what is attitude of Mr. Taruta, Donetsk Oblast governor?
Semion: Russian propaganda shows it in the way that we are local fascists and Semen Semenchenko is the “right hand” of Yarosh. Unfortunately, there are some people on the patriotic side assisting the Russian media.
As for Taruta and company, they have already recognized us. Recently we were at the Donetsk administration in-exile in Kyiv, and they promised to assist us. They are to buy exclusive arms and weapons, thermal imagers and other needed things. They’ve already granted us an old bus. So they recognized us already. However, unfortunately, it was too late, for they had been kicked out of the region.
UP: When do you think the turning point happened? When did the authorities lose control over Donetsk? It is relevant to both Taruta, Akhmetov, and the Kyiv authorities.
Semion: The turning point was with the entry of the Chechens, the Crimean former special riot police Berkut, and Crimean special security units Alpha; they are the professional scoundrels. It happened right after the beginning of the May holidays. I had several meetings with Taruta. It seemed to me that he sincerely believed that he could handle it.
And at that time in the summer camps of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the militants were freely getting prepared. And now they’re just coming out. When we were ambushed close to Karlivka village a few days ago, we accidentally saw the Chechens, and saw so many of them. Before that we did not see them for some reason; it’s likely they were hiding on the bases.
UP: And before that, when in March in Donetsk the thugs beat Euromaidan activists and killed Dmitry Cherniavsky …
Semion: We just guarded the rally…
UP: In your opinion, were the local authorities flirting with the separatists at that moment?
Semion: They created this separatism. The local authorities clearly were the creators of all this separatist movement from the beginning.
Criminals, the Party of Regions, local businessmen and entrepreneurs, who all used mayors, used human resources, were bringing people from all around the region to create a crowd for pro-Russian rallies. And then a chain reaction started. That is, in fact, the problem, it was generated from inside the region. And Russia joined it later…
UP: And Akhmetov?
Semion: I do not have all information about Akhmetov, I do not know. But if I were him, I would not let these things happen. Since he had not stopped them, then there is some hidden agenda. And I know that many others apart from Akhmetov were surely were involved in this. In the offices of the Party of Regions many attributes of the pro-Russian side were found, e.g. packs of St. George ribbons.
UP: You say that you guarded the pro-Ukrainian rally in Donetsk…
Semion: Yes. And in fact the police let many individuals with bats, axes, chains, and even weapons go through. The number of pro-Russian attackers was several times greater than the pro-Ukrainian rally participants. We were just smashed. This entire resource was pulled together specifically to suppress the will of the people to resist. Then people began to fear to even express their beliefs and attitudes.
The last demonstration was, as I recall, in May. It ended with a beating of the pro-Ukrainian participants. After such an event, no one dares to pop out. Now we have a so-called insurgent war. In its first stage, it is a war against the population and infrastructure. In other words, it aims to create pressure on the populace and form the image of a liberator. Once the percentage of support becomes acceptable, the second stage of the operation starts, as it is right now: troops or militants are introduced.
During the first stage, an information war was going on, assisted by this criminal structure from the Party of Regions, local thugs and some businessmen. How do I know this? Because we cleaned out such people in these four districts that we took under control. By the way, no one died. But after some people were spent a while in the basement, it all calmed down immediately…
Russia supporters represent only 15-20% of the population. The rest is only an artificially created TV picture. But it so happened that the creators of this puzzle just lost control over it. And this is what we see now.
UP: Is your family from Donetsk?
UP: Does your family stay there? Did you relocate your family?
Semion: I put on my first balaclava four months ago. It was pretty clear to predict what was coming, if people are able to predict their actions and actions of their opponents. Especially given that state machine is dilapidated and not able to give resistance. It needs to be changed. We win only after changing it. Until then, there will be many months of tramping, sacrifice, blood, etc. it is a disappointing forecast, but a realistic one.
UP: Why are you so selflessly fighting for Ukraine?
Semion: It is trivial. Because my grandfathers fought for it as part of the Soviet army. Though the separatists prefer to say that their “grandfathers fought”. But I have the impression that they fought with the police and collaborators. Grandparent-heroes cannot produce grandchildren who torture, kill, and kidnap.
I was brought up on Soviet patriotism. I believe that if you took an oath which says you are to defend the country until the last drop of blood, then you must somehow fulfill those promises. It is clear that there are not many such people. But, thank God, we accumulated enough for a battalion. More than half of us are ethnic Russians. And I like Russia; I also feel fine about the Soviet Union.
But what is being built in Russia currently has no relation to the Slavic world, to the “Russian Spring”, the Soviet Union, it has nothing to do with that. It’s some kind of mixture of orthodoxy with fascism… it all is wrong. We have many ethnic Russians and Belorussians, even ordinary citizens of Russia and Belarus, and Georgia. “Very many” means up to 20%. The majority of the battalion is still either locals or from neighboring regions, Zaporizhzhya.
UP: And how about your children? How many do you have?
Semion: Four. But I’m not ready to talk about children. These can be used for identification
UP: But you are responsible for your four children. Maybe it’s better to guard own children than to protect the country?
Semion: First, it’s too late. Secondly, actually, I do not see any great danger that hangs over them. Everything is decided by professionalism. I took enough precautions. I made it clear to the people on the other side what would happen if, God forbid, something happens to my family. Clearly, I’m worried. But I think that I took adequate measures.
UP: And what will happen?
Semion: Something similar will happen to their families. But it’s a different story.
UP: Did your wife blame you, call you to go home?
Semion: At first she did. Then, when she saw where it all was going she realized that I was right. At first she said “What is the difference in what country we live in, Russia or Ukraine?” I explained to her that it is not about Russia or Ukraine, but about fascism being the only adequate word for the things that are happening. The most vile of lies flowing from the TV screens of Russian channels, the terror that is used…
And now entire families are killed. I receive many records of tortured people to my phone. These sounds, this terror, then the actions themselves are very similar to the action of fascism. Here is a typical SMS: “Get ready, we are coming to kill your family. Death to the fascists. Allah Akbar.” These people came to our home.
I see constantly these supporters of separatism in the social networks. For example, Gubarev (the leader of NovoRosiya) wearing a swastika. He is a former member of Russian National Unity. It’s really fascism. And it is not the same as in Spain or Italy, not a classic one. A cinematic one: a suppression of the people’s will, an aggressive attack on the fundamentals of freedoms and other basic civil rights. I do not want Ukraine to become a fascist country. I do not particularly like Ukraine the way it is now, but after Maidan I somehow can imagine the way it can be. And for this I am ready to fight.
UP: In your opinion, where is the situation more difficult: in Donetsk Oblast or in Luhansk Oblast?
Semion: Difficult in which sense? In the military one?
UP: From a military viewpoint and in terms of restoring order?
Semion: In Donetsk, of course. This is a city with a population of over a million. There may be many victims… Imagine how many snipers there can be spread on all these levels. And with our army, which knows very little about planning, it is very dangerous.
UP: It seems that there is no Ukrainian government in Luhansk now.
Semion: Luhansk is the most depressive region in Ukraine. There are many drug addicts, a high rate of suicides … People were given the ephemeral hope of becoming new Che Guevaras, new mayors, new presidents, etc. And they really will fight to the end.
But look carefully at the moods of these local residents. Most of them favor a united Ukraine; they are the clear majority. They rejoice, pointing at photos from morgues full of bodies, “kill them more”, and the other side has the same voices. So we are approaching large-scale violence.
UP: Are you afraid of this violence from people?
Semion: Not anymore. We also crossed a certain line psychologically. But I do not admire it, that is for sure, I do not like it. Because then, after the war, these people will be very hard to socialize. And our people too. We all watched the movies about Afghan syndromes, Vietnam syndromes. Even if now we suppress the armed resistance of the fighters (and the locals really constitute a small portion of these groups), then later the conflict drags on for many months and many years. Because there will be revenge, and son will again pursue the career of his father-terrorist.
That is why Yanukovych and Putin produced a very big evil. They planted in the hearts of so many people the seeds of hate and it would take long time to uproot them. In the end, we win, of course, but…
UP: What should be done then?
Semion: We should firmly understand that we must win no matter what sacrifice. And victory is possible only if the Ukrainian government re-creates the army, the police and the Security Service. And we should not stop there, we need to re-build the state. Then the victims somehow will be justified. Without these changes we may be rotting for a long time.
UP: Do you have confidence in victory?
Semion: Well, I do. If I did not, then I would not be here for sure.
UP: Yesterday in Donetsk there was a very strange situation when the Vostok battalion (part of separatists) came to the regional administration building and threw out the people who started it all. In your opinion, what is it about?
Semion: The next stage. You see, now they take everything into one hands. First, the strategic objects were transferred under strict control. Second, there was dispute over the opportunities to mobilize resources. According to the Vostok battalion, the local “Donetsk People’s Republic” is too pathetic. So now they call for very serious action.
UP: You say “they”. Who are they?
Semion: Caucasians. A purely Russian operation has already started.
UP: Do you think that now Russia is already running the process?
Semion: I think maybe not Russian state, but immigrants from Russia, I would say separate clans. I can say because I have specific data, we see the indicators during our activities. Before it was skewed towards local criminals, but now it is purely a Russian operation.
UP: You have said that they consider the current separatists’ governors as too pathetic. What they will do next, in your opinion?
Semion: Then they will declare a maximum mobilization to the army of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and bring the soldiers from the “Red Guard” to the level of the “Red Army”. It is going to be similar to Dagestan — they will shove guns into people’s hands, and if they do not take them up, they will be shot. And then full-scale terror will begin.
UP: How do you assess the state of Ukrainian law enforcement units?
Semion: I cannot evaluate. I think that everyone can make their own conclusions. Since I am already part of these units, I cannot evaluate them. [A few days ago it was announced that Semenchenko’s units became part of the National Guard – UP].
UP: Are you working in conjunction with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Defense, and the Security Service of Ukraine? Or are you an independent group of volunteers?
Semion: In Ukraine at this moment there is no state, there is only a network of patriots and a network of villains. What is a network of patriots? There are some high officials at the Security Service of Ukraine, at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, some journalists, physicians, volunteers. People are getting together, including in the social networks, trying to keep together, trying to drag Ukraine out of this swamp that it is falling into. And there is a network of villains, many of them seemingly on our side, but in fact their actions only hurt.
At present we cooperate with this network of Patriots. As for working with the official authorities, we have organized one battalion as part of the National Guard of Ukraine. So in this way we are already part of the state structure.
Our volunteers remained in the region. They were and will be there. The second battalion, based on our second volunteer group in Luhansk Oblast, is being formed based on the Ministry of Defense. But I clearly explained to everyone there: if you intend to engage in bureaucracy again, if you keep us on the bases, not give us the opportunity to act, we will simply train ourselves and return to the forest. I think that they heard and understood it.
UP: You have very strong opponents: well-armed and trained Caucasians and Russian military. And you just took up arms. Do you think the forces are comparable?
Semion: Let consider the first fight close to Karlivka: we have 5 killed, 6 wounded; they have 11 killed, 5 wounded. And note that we got into an ambush. They had two APCs, fully automatic century-series grenade launchers, heavy weapons, antitank grenade launchers, equipped snipers positions. We had one sniper rifle and small arms. We lost a 62 year-old, a 58 year-old, and 36 year-old patriots.
Here professionalism is not the most important thing. Professionalism grows with time. The key component is the will, the readiness of a person is ready to die the need comes. As it turned out, we have such people. Therefore, I do not think they are superior to us. Maybe when it comes to atrocities they are. But believe me, they scream from pain in exactly the same way as the people they torture.
UP: It seems that Donetsk is not fully controlled by the authorities.
Semion: Yes, the authorities do not control it.
UP: And at the same time the airport is now under control of the Ukrainian forces. It is like a crazy quilt now there, isn’t it? How did they manage to return control over the airport?
Semion: Well, they concentrated all their forces on one target, and that’s all. Or perhaps the element of surprise did it. But they began to attack other targets… I cannot talk about this. In general, without changing the army, the police and the Security Service the problem will go on for a very long time.
UP: And is this process going?
Semion: You see, we are here, so it is going.
UP: Did you and your Donbas battalion earlier coordinate activities with the anti-terrorist operation [Ed: hereinafter – ATO]?
Semion: Yes. This again shows the degree of the collapse. We, a group of adventurers came [said ironically – UP], completely unofficially, moved to its base and coordinated our actions. We were in Mariupol, Donetsk, Krasnoarmiysk. We were treated as a force, not as a formal structure. At the beginning we were not even allowed to act. We began to take control over checkpoints independently. There were hindering our actions…
UP: Do you mean our ATO forces were hindering?
Semion: Yes. For example, the Dnipropetrovsk Berkut riot police was blocking our activities… Many people believe that if we now give up Donetsk, everything is going fine. But, my dear friends, believe me – in both Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts after the separatist forces infiltrate, so many traitors will appear there that many people would be surprised!
And this problem pertains to Ukraine in whole. Now they are going to take as much as we allow them to take!
First they were saying that if we give up Crimea, everything is going to be fine. Now Donetsk, Luhansk. Next step will be Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk.
I know the moods of the of the separatists. And by the way, frankly, I even respect many of them as real men because they put many things at risk. They gathered their boldness and went forward. This is a strong enemy, but they need to be liquidated. Nothing can be done.
UP: What is your attitude to such fighters with separatists as Oleh Liashko and his battalion?
Semion: Due to the fact that Liashko really helps with armament, I positively appraise his activity. Let’s leave it at that.
UP: Since you are from Donetsk, do you have any people that you know that are on the other side of the barricades?
Semion: Well, surely there are, but I have not met them so far.
UP: What do you think why this separatism appeared in Donetsk and Luhansk? Why did people take weapons and say that Kyiv does not listen to Donetsk, although for the four previous years Ukraine was managed exclusively by Donetsk people?
Semion: You are presenting information provided by TV channels. The real picture is not so. If we consider the Vostok battalion and analyze its social composition: 80% of the people do not represent the region, 10% participate in the battalion purely for money, and 10% represent local revolutionary romantics. Recently more and more people have been recruited into the Vostok battalion by force.
And as per not listening to Donetsk — sorry, but before the fall of Yanukovych nobody publicly favored Russia there. I was just that the planning and execution were done perfectly. There was a cult of a tall man in a black jacket, i.e. Yanukovych, and now there is a cult of Putin. One idea was replaced by another.
Modern war is a war of the uneducated against the educated. Uneducated people are easily manipulated. And Russia is very well trained in such manipulations. When I watch Russian TV speakers I starting hating them fiercely. Such well-groomed, beautiful women, but they are actually much worse than murderers, because after their speeches, after their pictures people here actually decide to take guns and start killing each other.
UP: Who really does control the situation in the “Donetsk People’s Republic”?
Semion: Warlords. It is the same as it was in Dagestan and Chechnya.
UP: Does it mean that it is not the Russian PR manager Alex Boroday, a self-proclaimed prime minister?
Semion: Surely no. The governors are Strelkov, Abwehr, and Bes. They are the warlords. “The rifle grants the power,” Mao said. I realized this when we were freeing four districts. I saw how weak the authorities were and how it was easy to do.
In such circumstances there was a moment of temptation to proclaim a Ukrainian People’s Republic. But we are not people of this kind.
Translated by Ukrainian Volunteer Defense Force “Donbas”, Edited by Inga Kononenko and Alya Shandra
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