The body of Georgi Djanelidze, known as Satana, had been mined to kill or maim those who tried to recover his body. The 41-year-old soldier was shot to death after hoisting a Georgian and Ukrainian flag on territory controlled by the Kremlin’s insurgents.

While he gave his life fighting for Ukraine, his death was not even mentioned by Ukrainian officials the next day. Government military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said “no Ukrainian forces” had died in the battle. Asked about the Georgian’s death, Lysenko directed journalists to the Georgian Embassy.

The comments, dismissive of the ultimate sacrifice made by Djanelidze, put a cold distance between the official government line and foreign fighters who don’t have Ukrainian citizenship, required for legally serving in government-commanded units in the military structure.


Foreigner fighting for Ukraine got a break on the eveving of April 23 when parliament moved to simlified the procedure for them to obtain citizenship.

Despite denials by Ukraine’s central authorities, evidence mounts on the frontlines that dozens of foreigners are still among the ranks of fighters, without status, yet still killing and spilling their own blood on behalf of Ukraine.

Djanelidze was just one of many foreign citizens to take up arms and risk his life on behalf of the new Ukraine.

Georgi Kalandadze, a general with Georgia’s armed forces, said in comments to Ukrainian media that there are about 100 other Georgian citizens fighting alongside Ukrainian forces.

Artyom Skoropadksy, a spokesman for Right Sector, put the number of foreigners in his group at 40, noting that all of them were hoping to receive Ukrainian citizenship for their sacrifice.

“Most of them are from Belarus and Russia. There are some Europeans as well. They’ve all been placed on a list and are waiting to receive citizenship. We hope the president will recognize the need to give them citizenship for fighting on behalf of Ukraine. Many of them would be killed or thrown in prison if they went back home,” Skoropadsky said.


Mikael Skillt, a Swedish sniper who trains members of the Azov Regiment, came to Ukraine immediately after he saw footage of protesters being shot down on Maidan in Feburary 2014.
Skillt, who served in the Swedish Army and National Guard back home, left behind a girlfriend, a house and a job in Sweden to help volunteer fighters of Azov.

For him, the decision was easy.

“I saw young brave men with no military background trying to stand up for themselves and getting killed for it, and I thought I could help,” he said.

“I was promised citizenship back in August, but it’s Ukraine and things move slowly,” he said, noting that it would be up to President Petro Poroshenko to issue a corresponding decree to grant foreigners citizenship.

“It’s been like that since day one, basically. It’s just a legal issue, because according to Ukrainian law, it’s forbidden to let foreigners fight for Ukraine,” he said. “So they can’t acknowledge foreign fighters, because if they do, if they say, ‘Yeah we have some foreign guys in Azov or any other battalion,’ they are saying ‘Yeah we have a law but we don’t give a shit.’”


The Azov Regiment had stopped sending foreigners to the war front, he claims, out of respect for the Minsk II ceasefire agreement reached in February. If fighting intensifies again, however, Skillt said he’d be prepared to fight.

For a Slovakian fighter who goes by the nickname Bull, the motivation was much deeper. Bull joined the Donbas Battalion in August after the massacre of Ilovaisk, in which hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were slaughtered in a major defeat. He says he realized “there is a huge possibility the conflict will spill into other countries because of Russia using Russian minorities and supporters as proxies.”

Ukrainian Gen. Andriy Taran (R) and his Russian counterpart Aleksander Lentsov talk after holding a meeting of members of the Joint Center for Control and Coordination in Donetsk Oblast’s Shyrokyne, near the Azov Sea port city of Mariupol, on April 19.

He declined to give his real name for fear of repurcussions back home in Slovakia.

“I didn’t join just for Ukraine, but also for my country, because even after 20 years there are still people who would sell out their country if they got the chance,” he said, referring to his compatriots who are sympathetic to Russia.
Bull said joining the battalion was relatively easy, and military training was immediately provided.


“I was never offered any money or citizenship, though it would be nice to have official status. But Ukrainian politics are a bit slow in that area,” he said.

Noting that he’d met dozens of other foreign fighters in eastern Ukraine, he said many of them were dead now, with little publicity given to their deaths because they “tend not to advertise what they are doing for fear of threats to their families back home.”

“Europeans don’t brag about it because they see it as their duty,” he said.

The Russian side has also seen its fair share of foreign volunteers, with numerous videos going viral on YouTube in which Americans, Chechens, Serbs, Georgians and Spaniards pledged loyalty to separatist forces. Their motivations varied, from defeating “fascism” in Kyiv to protecting Orthodox Christianity.

Allegations of racism and far-right nationalism have abounded about volunteers fighting on both sides of the conflict, and the variety of volunteer battalions and lack of coordination have contributed to what some fighters have described as all-out chaos.

On the road to Shyrokyne in Donetsk Oblast, a commander from the Donbas Battalion who identified himself as Volfovich said he had to use snipers to prohibit entry to all civilian vehicles because “a bunch of different groups are running around (the town) and there is no management whatsoever, it’s chaos.”

Lysenko, the military spokesman, told the Kyiv Post that none of the foreigners taking part in fighting were recognized as official members of the armed forces, but they had the right to go through official channels and join if they wanted.


“Currently, we do not have any foreign citizens fighting in counter-terrorism zones in our structures,” he said when asked about Djanelidze’s death.

Editor’s Note: This article has been produced with support, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.

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