Striding through headquarters, Todor Panevsky gleefully announced that comrades in his self-defense unit had detained a pro-Russian separatist sympathizer in this picturesque port city.
“We’ll ask him a few questions and then we’ll hand him over to the security services,” said Panevsky, a portly part-time opera singer who has refashioned himself as the commander of an armed patriotic vanguard against secessionist sentiment in Odessa.
Odessa lies more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) west of the front line in east Ukraine, where government troops are mired in a war of attrition against Russian-backed separatists. Still, anxiety about a second front emerging here is fueled by regular news of arrests of people suspected of plotting militant anti-government activities.
Panevsky says authorities aren’t doing their job and units like his are stepping in. “The fight against separatism should be carried out by the security services, which are completely corrupt and compromised,” he said.
His organization comprises 300 active volunteers, but that he can draw on hundreds more in the event of mass unrest, Panevsky said. The hardcore members of the unit gather for light arms training at a camp outside Odessa at the weekend.