The Ukrainian Armed Forces have formed a battalion of soldiers made up entirely of Russian citizens who want to fight against president Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Bloomberg reports.
The Sibir (Siberia) battalion includes dozens of Russians and people from ethnic minorities in Russia who came to Ukraine via third countries to join the Ukrainian army, officials at their training camp said.
Unlike volunteer groups such as the Freedom of Russia legion that support Ukraine, the Sibir battalion is part of the regular Ukrainian army.
They include people from groups such as Yakuts and Buryats in Russia’s vast eastern Siberian region "who said they wanted independence from Russia and viewed Ukraine’s victory in the war as a step toward that goal," per Bloomberg.
"If people want to fight for Ukraine, for our borders, for the collapse of this Russian soviet regime, why not? It is their choice and it shows that not all Russians support Putin," said Batya, the battalion’s Ukrainian instructor and commander.
"We need to destroy the Kremlin regime," a 29-year-old Yakut with the call sign Vargan told Bloomberg, adding that he wants Yakutia to be a free democratic country.
"It is a very rich country but people are so poor. Only state officials who serve Putin are flourishing," Vargan added.
A Russian from the Moscow region, call sign Gandhi, said he had left Russia shortly after the full-scale invasion and travelled to Ukraine via Poland "to fight against the crimes committed by my country."
"I realise I can be killed in the first fight, but for me it is much more scary to feel that I am an accomplice of the evil that comes from my country," he added.
Martin, a 29-year-old engineer from Moscow, said that Russia is an empire that "must collapse" so that people in different parts of the world’s largest country can "determine themselves how to live".
The battalion includes 60 soldiers, Bloomberg reports, and none are recruited from among Russian prisoners of war. They were thoroughly vetted to ensure that they were supporters of Ukraine and then signed a military contract.
Ukrainian officials said that they expect to attract more Russian citizens, particularly from the country’s minorities, to join the war. Kyiv also wants to speed up background checks that can take as long as a year in order to encourage more Russians to join their ranks.