An article I pitched to news outlets, but failed to sell ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Though the third and most recent ceasefire agreement began at the stroke of midnight 15 February, the sound of Ukrainian incoming and pro-Russian outgoing artillery fire can still be heard through the populated city center of the rebel-controlled Donetsk.
Two Americans stay in the city center for a short rest and recuperation after almost two months of constant fighting at the heavily contested Donetsk Airport; an $8 million facility that has been reduced to rubble during the conflict.
A good use of tax money.
They are in a pro-Russian unit called “Sut Veremeni”, which is Russian for the “The Essence of Time”, and subordinate to the Vostok Battalion headed by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic – reputed to be full of communists. Operating under the nom de guerre, “Texas” and “Jackhammer”, they entered Donbass in December. While they were here, the Donetsk airport fell from Ukrainian Army control to rebel control on the 21st of January. At the same time, Ukrainian Forces ceded ground in Mariupol, near the Azov Sea, and Debaltseve, the mid-point between the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
“Ceasefire? What ceasefire?” they asked, with a cynical laugh, as they listened to the sounds of artillery in the distance.
“We lost a lot of guys, and I am lucky to be alive,” said Jackhammer, 35, as he brandished his Russian passport. Though he was born in Moscow, he spent High School, College and his adult life in Austin, Texas where he did contract work for the Police Force. He speaks with a slight Russian accent and the drawl of a southern cowboy and he jokes, “everyone can recognize me by my voice.”
When he entered the dormitories in which we lived, he immediately began cooking for everyone present and chatted up a storm. It was like breaking the dam, and the opinions of this war came gushing out.
Jackhammer is largely apolitical, though he has fond memories as a child in the USSR. He says that he would put his weapon down and leave eastern Ukraine the moment the Kiev-led Army ceases operations, specifically artillery strikes, on the civilian population, “They use white phosphorous right over residential areas. I saw it night after night.”
The illegal use of munitions has not been confirmed, but the pro-Russian rebels accuse the Ukrainian forces of committing war crimes such as using illegal weapons like white phosphorous and cluster bombs over civilian areas, where many pro-Russian rebels set up their bases.
“They shell all day and all night,” Jackhammer explains, “They find a huge quadrant on the map, and just keep hitting it. Whoever is in that quadrant is basically screwed. My objective as a fighter is to stop the insanity and the murder of civilians who, largely, aren’t fighters and haven’t done anything except for live in Donbass and not have the means to flee to Russia or to other parts of Ukraine.”
Texas, 54, from the southern part of the state that is his namesake near the Mexican border, wears a cowboy hat, and brown leather western boots. In the past couple of months, he has lost about ten kilos. Now, his clothes drape off his shoulders and waist, which he attributes to a diet of kasha, a thick Russian porridge common among soldiers at the front lines. Texas, with a background as an Army engineer in the 80’s works as an explosives expert, neutralizing explosive munitions that land in their part of the airport.
“First, let me be clear, there are no Russian troops here,” he says in a slow, south Texas drawl. I detect no sarcasm or irony in his voice, “But we have Columbians, Italians, other Americans and other nationalities here who believe in fighting against the Kiev junta.”
Texas is a communist, he explains, “Because I was always passionate about finding the truth. I found that mass media wasn’t giving me all of that, so I read a lot, and found the information for myself. So communism just makes sense.”Texas and Jackhammer do not believe that they will ever be able to go back to the United States, citing western media bias (and me as a part of it) for not properly portraying the plight of the Donbass people in the two breakaway republics.
“They think we are terrorists,” Texas says in frustration, “When it’s the Nazis in Kiev and Lviv that are the terrorists, killing civilians!”
When asked of the status of foreign fighters in Donbass, they claimed that there were many people driven to the Novorussiyan cause by conviction. Jackhammer and Texas said that they knew of Serbians, Columbians, Brazilians, French, some Germans, Swedes and other nationalities, and ominously warned that “more are coming.”