Kyiv, Ukraine – When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, 31-year-old Johnny, from St Petersburg, set himself a purpose.
He needed to overthrow Vladimir Putin’s administration.
In reality, he would have preferred to kill the Russian president along with his personal arms, he instructed Al Jazeera in a restaurant at a distant petrol station on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital.
In October, Johnny joined different Russians fighting for Ukraine and in opposition to their homeland as a part of the Siberian Battalion, a unit shaped final summer time by the Civic Council, a Russian opposition group primarily based in Poland.
“We need to democratise Russia. And it received’t be doable within the present state. Russia should collapse into smaller items. I don’t care if it’s going to be small like Belgium. … Locations like Yakutia and Chechnya and different areas ought to be capable of secede in the event that they select to,” Johnny stated.
Based on Denis Sokolov, 54, the group’s coordinator, 50 fighters from the unit are at the moment in coaching or combating in Ukraine. One other 40 are being checked over by Ukraine’s safety companies as they wait to cross the border.
He stated there are literally thousands of different Russians prepared to hitch the combat in opposition to Moscow, boasting that the Civic Council receives as much as 10 functions per day.
Those that need to join should first depart for a 3rd nation for security causes. And from there, it takes months to course of an utility.
“Ukrainians don’t belief Russians, and there are causes for this. However this warfare was unleashed by the regime in our identify, and we’re obliged to finish it,” Sokolov stated.
On the time of publishing, neither Polish nor Ukrainian authorities had responded to Al Jazeera’s request for touch upon the Civil Council and Siberian Battalion.
For the reason that onset of the warfare, a whole bunch of Russians have turned on their nation and bolstered Ukraine’s forces.
Based on the Worldwide Disaster Group, their motives are various.
“A lot of the recruits from the Russian Federation hail from the North Caucasus – majority-Muslim areas which have an extended historical past of advocating for separation from the central authorities,” the group stated in October.
“There are additionally, nevertheless, ethnic Russians combating on behalf of Ukraine. Some are merely sympathetic to the Ukrainian trigger or see becoming a member of it as part of their very own battle in opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Others, nevertheless, are far-right activists who hope the warfare will finish with not simply the collapse of Putin’s authorities but in addition the creation of a brand new, ethnically homogeneous Russian state.”
The far-right fighters, the suppose tank stated, are the “most battle-ready of the Russian models”.
Russian troops are formally a part of Ukraine’s worldwide legion, combating with the permission of its defence ministry, and utilizing Ukraine’s weaponry.
Based on Russian legislation, the definition of excessive treason was prolonged in April to incorporate combating for enemies – a criminal offense that would lead to life imprisonment.
In distinction, the Kremlin has reportedly provided citizenship to foreigners who select to combat alongside Russian forces.
Johnny, which is a nom de guerre he adopted after becoming a member of the unit, waited for seven months to enter Ukraine.
The 2 teams have since parted methods.
The Civic Council determined to kind a brand new, extra inclusive unit that will settle for non-white and non-Christian Russian residents.
The Siberian Battalion is made up of an array of individuals and teams, together with anarchists, Muslims and members of the Free Ingria Motion combating for the liberation of the St Petersburg area.
“Individuals are completely different. We’re of various ages. Our values differ. However all of us need to defeat Russia. And we imagine that that is doable solely by armed means,” stated Johnny, who has not instructed his household about his combating or whereabouts.
The Siberian Battalion was named after the huge Russian area wealthy in pure sources, stretching from the Ural Mountains within the west to the Pacific Ocean within the east.
“We perceive that each one of Moscow’s wealth comes from Siberia and that Moscow – and the remainder of Russia – reside off of Siberian cash,” Sokolov stated.
“Taking these sources away from the regime is vital as a result of, first, with out them the empire will likely be much less aggressive. Secondly, the peoples of Siberia have the appropriate to handle their sources independently, not simply Indigenous peoples, however everybody who lives in Siberia.”
The Siberian Battalion accepts individuals from different areas too, like 26-year-old Sizy, the unit’s medic-in-training who was born in Moscow.
The previous customs official, who additionally ran his personal enterprise, arrived in Ukraine on the identical day as Johnny and heard in regards to the Civic Council when the organisation was recruiting for the Russian Volunteer Corps.
However Siziy, which is a nom de guerre which means “gray blue” in Russian, doesn’t affiliate with far-right nationalism.
In April 2022, he transformed to Islam.
His dad and mom came upon about his resolution when he was already in Ukraine. He has minimize contact with everybody he knew in Russia.
Whereas it was not straightforward to simply accept that her solely baby went to warfare, Siziy stated, his mom has not protested in opposition to his resolution.
“Everybody makes selections for themselves. I realised that there’s something extra vital than materials wealth on this life,” Siziy stated. “If there’s one factor to die for, it’s freedom. And Ukraine is combating for existence.”