The Current Thing is the war in Ukraine. Maybe not the most current thing pending Roe v. Wade, but the full force of propaganda is an ongoing pressure campaign. One of the features of this propaganda campaign is that nothing happened in Ukraine until Putin decided to invade. Quick online searches reveal what a fraud that is, but how much does anyone know of the fighting that began in the aftermath of the Maidan Revolution? Even as one who followed the events in Ukraine in 2013-14, I was unaware of how wild the action in the Donbas in 2014. If you want to fill in the blanks, buy 85 Days in Slavyansk.
This book is a war memoir by a Russian who volunteered to fight with the pro-Russia separatists in the Donbas in 2014. It relies on a collection of primary source material, interviews with fighters and even collections of Internet posts. It walks you through the fighting in Slavyansk from the initial entry of 52 men to the evacuation of the city by the drastically expanded fighting force that fought for freedom from Ukraine’s new post-Maidan regime. I was surprised by the number of maps and pictures of key figures and locations, which are a boon to the reader. Western readers will find these useful.
The narrative itself is pro-separatist with a nice introduction early on to explain why the separatists had the desire to break away and just how manufactured the Ukrainian nationality is. One must keep in mind that the Euromaidan movement sprang to life immediately after Ukraine’s president pivoted towards Russia with an economic agreement. For that infraction, he was ousted in a color revolution and his replacement cabinet was a mix of Ukrainians, Americans who received Ukrainian citizenship days prior to becoming cabinet members and random, tie eating failed presidents of Georgia. These are not exaggerations. Ukraine did become a full-fledged US State department puppet regime culminating with a president whose path would be like Jon Stewart becoming president in 2008.
The memoir goes into details on what daily fighting was like. It is not glorious. There is bluffing. Skirmishes are often punctuations in boring days. Artillery is a killer of partisans and civilians. Many men die due to sacrificing themselves to provide cover for more troops to evacuate. Frankly, this book, had it been translated sooner, would have been a perfect preview for what fighting is like for near peer forces using artillery and actual tank on tank fighting. The new phase of the Donbas War was never going to be an Iraq or Afghanistan fight, and it feels a little more Korean War in action. Had this come out six months ago, there might be more redditors alive today. The outrageous lies of today’s Ukraine fighting like the Ghost of Kiev were already there in the Donbas in smaller form and not given the media spotlight. The action and behavior of 2022 was there only lacking a proper American media treatment.
Wonderful passages in the memoir cover militiamen named Brick, Gypsy, North, Bear and the most interesting Motorola. These men had humble backgrounds prior to the conflict but left a legacy after their contribution. Motorola had no military background but became a capable leader and tactical commander. He was also a capable propagandist and psyop manipulator. It made me think of the chest thumping by American militia guys who weigh 250 lbs at 5′ 9″ and talk of a shooting civil war. The saviors of a new conflict would likely be more like Motorola. Men who are moved by passion for the fight who in the moment shine as the eons of warfare within the DNA activate. He was an average man who activated dormant capabilities. Many men said no, and others could not be properly equipped, but the call to arms pulled in an odd array of unlikely soldiers.
The figure who stands above it all is Igor Strelkov. If not for his band of 50 odd men, a band so small a large coach bus could carry them, the Ukrainians would not have had much to worry about in the Donbas. His words both in interviews and via writing or posting pepper the book. He was a strategist, a fighter, an inspiring speaker and a true alpha: a leader of men. He also reveals some finer details of what was going on in 2014, and some of the confusion on his side. They expected quick support from the Kremlin. Putin did not intervene quickly as he did in Crimea, and the pro-Russian forces suffered for it. Within the greater view of geopolitical events, it might have been because Putin’s clique was setting up the intervention in Syria at the same time and did not seriously plan for the Donbas on short notice. Russia may have not wanted to be stretched too thin. Russia can kick off a war now in Ukraine because their commitment to Syria is massively scaled back.
One would be a failure to not mention that this memoir is only available because of the translation by the Twitter user @Peter_Nimitz. He is the man who made this happen. I could not help but see that dour profile pic in my mind while reading this as if Wrangel was reading along with me. This work puts the 2010s Ukraine conflict in better context. It also provides English readers with a better understanding of the forces behind the current mess. The memoir is a church bell reminding you that just 52 men can make the difference in an entire conflict. It was not just about holding out in one city, but in holding out in one city to protect an entire region. They held off the faux sovereign for 85 days who was being supported by the global empire. To understand those few men and to pay them proper respects, purchase this book and light a candle for the men only known by callsigns who gave their life for their nation or even just the idea of a home.