Veterans of Novorossia—which stays afloat on Kamayev's pension and income from a small business Shchinkorenko co-owns, according to the men—at least provides a place where volunteers can meet and discuss employment opportunities.
But with Russia’s economy still struggling and few options available to them, many admit they have been forced to take jobs in Russia’s shadow economy after failing to acquire remunerative employment. Some said their only work option was to take mercenary work in other war zones, such as Syria.
On the day I visited, Vitaly, a Russian who declined to give a last name but said he fought as a volunteer for three years before returning home with a wife from Donetsk, dropped in to discuss prospective work, among other things. He said many of the guys try to find employment in Moscow as construction workers, or try their luck in Kerch, the Black Sea town on the annexed Crimean Peninsula where Russia is building a bridge from the mainland.
Some of the most desperate ones go back to Ukraine.
'Symbol Drenched In Blood'
Kamayev said there are many fewer volunteers willing to go to Ukraine and fight these days. Public support and crowdfunding to aid a cause isn’t what it was three years ago. Word has spread to prospective recruits that it is not worth the risk, and the guys who fought and came back are disappointed that they failed to achieve their goal of capturing Novorossia. “Novorossia is a symbol drenched in the blood of our close friends,” Shchinkorenko said.
That the war has entered a stalemate of sorts and the fighting has become less intense has actually turned off some of those looking for serious combat experience, although the death toll among soldiers and civilians in the first six months of 2017 was double that over the same period of 2016, according to figures from the Ukrainian military and the Organization for the Security and Cooperation (OSCE).
Asked about official military support, Kamayev grew tense but suggested that, yes, that, too, has ebbed.
A New Fight
Veterans of Novorossia has its eyes on a bigger prize—the NGO wants to persuade the government to grant Russians who fought in Ukraine state status. It’s a long shot, but one that could shape the fighters’ futures.
The effort has yet to really get off the ground, however. Kamayev admitted that to push hard for such status now would be ill-advised, given that it would mean formal recognition by Moscow of having a hand in the war. “The less we will demand for ourselves, the more the state will probably respect us,” he said.
Even without formal recognition, however, his deputy, Shchinkorenko, believed Russia’s Donbas volunteers will eventually be seen as heroes. “We are the good guys,” he said, conceding an important fact. “It depends on who will be in power [when the war ends] and who will write the history books.”
This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.