Sunday, April 24, 2022

Ethnic and Religious Minorities Playing Very Different Roles in Russian and Ukrainian Forces, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 15 – Members of ethnic and religious minorities are playing radically different roles in the forces of the two countries locked in conflict in Ukraine, Kharun Sidorov says. In Russia, they are exclusively part of government forces and organized from above. In Ukraine, they are part of those forces but also include formations created from below.

            That distinction reflects the more fundamental differences between the two countries, one a top-down authoritarian regime (Russia) and the other an open and democratic one where social groups take actions on their own to defend their homeland (Ukraine), the Prague-based commentator says (

            There has been much talk about ethnic minorities in the Russian forces not only because they appear to be suffering disproportionate losses and are increasingly unwilling to fight, but the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of Ukrainian forces deserves more attention because it highlights the progress Ukraine has made toward being a civil society.

            Among the most prominent of these ethnically-based groups on the Ukrainian side are the Crimean Company consisting of Crimean Tatars and representatives of other Muslim nationalities, Chechen volunteers (the Sheikh Mansur battalion), Jews, Russian-speaking Ukrainians and anti-Putin Russian nationalists in the Azov and Right Sector units.

            Coordinating these groups is Aleksandr Turchinov, secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council and a well-known Protestant pastor. But he is coordinating not creating these groups from above. They have arisen because members of these groups identify with the Ukrainian nation and state and want to defend their country. 

            Among the religious groups taking part in the defense of Ukraine are the Ukrainian muftiate whose leader fought in the defense of Kyiv, and a variety of Muslim groups. And there are other ethnic groups drawn from abroad: Erzyan volunteers from the Middle Volga, two units of anti-Lukashenka Belarusians, and anti-Putin Russians including Old Believers.

            Orthodox traditionalists have formed two battalions, and the Brotherhood Battlaion of Dmitry Korchinsky has pulled together both ecumenical Christians and Muslims. It is now called a “Muslim-Christian” unit. Ukrainian Catholics have their own Carpathian Sech, and the Azov battalion includes pagans from the Russian Federation.

            There are also volunteers from Azerbaijan and Georgia fighting independently on the Ukrainian side, Sidorov continues. And perhaps most striking is the fact that some Jews who emigrated to Israel from Ukraine in the past have returned to fight for Ukraine against Russia now.

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