In Yekaterinburg, the main city of Russia’s Ural region, retired army officer Vladimir Yefimov organizes army veterans to fight for Russia in southeastern Ukraine, more than 1,000 miles away. While Russia’s deployment of army troops and non-official Russian “volunteer” fighters in Ukraine is not news, Yefimov describes in new detail how Russian army vets are selected, organized and paid to join the war. His account underscores that the army of Russian “volunteers” is run with at least the tacit help of the Kremlin.
Yefimov is a former Special Forces (spetsnaz) officer who now heads the Sverdlovsk Oblast Fund for Special Forces Veterans. In an interview with Yekaterinburg Online, a local news website, he told of sending between 150 and 250 fighters to Ukraine’s Donbas war zone this year. While he says his fighters are “volunteers” rather than mercenaries, they are paid salaries: from $1,000 per month for a low-ranking enlisted man to $2,000-4,000 for officers. Yefimov did not answer the reporter’s question about who pays the salaries.
Ukraine’s government says more than 10,000 Russian mercenaries form the bulk of the Russian proxy forces that the Kremlin has used to sponsor the creation of the separatist “people’s republics” in parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk provinces. Many fighters are motivated by the propaganda of the Kremlin-controlled media, Yefimov says. “Our press and television present the dramatic facts. The Russian people cannot tolerate the terror that the fascists have staged there [in Ukraine]. Killing women, children and the elderly. Most of those who go [to fight] are sensitive and empathetic; they want to help. This is especially true for people from 40 to 60 years of age, who were brought up under Soviet traditions.” Other fighters go because they miss the adrenaline of war or to earn money, he said.