By Alon Reznik. published on PZM Magazine (Israel), Sept 3, 2015. Original article here . Translation to English by Joshua Tartakovsky.
Thousands of innocents killed, East versus West, neo-Nazis against the Communists – the civil war in Ukraine is a bloody and tough battle scene, although it is almost unheard about from the media. One Israeli, a mother of two, became aware of the horrors taking place in the east of the country and decided to go and help the separatists in Ukraine. “How could I respond differently to the phenomenon of Nazism that is thriving here”?
“They arrested a civilian in one of their check points and cut off all his internal organs. I saw with my own eyes a fighter who returned from captivity with his nose cut off, an ear severed the tongue amputated, without one eye, and when he took off his clothes, when he undressed completely, his entire body had carvings of swastikas . These cases speak for themselves, even though the Israeli media does not talk about them.”
When one first hears these things, one can imagine that this was a testimony of someone returning from Iraq or Syria and saw the horrors of ISIS. But these difficult words were uttered by Inna Levitan, an Israeli citizen of the age of 37, a mother of two girls, who left everything behind and went to the front of the civil war in Ukraine. She joined the pro-Russian separatists, not to fight Ukraine but to combat the phenomenon of Nazism growing in the country. “I came to destroy fascism. Not Ukraine.”
From Tel Aviv to Ukraine
Until a year ago, Inna, a native of Azerbaijan, did not know what was going on between Russia and Ukraine. “I knew that something was happening there, as most Israelis,” she says. We are carrying out the conversation with her while she is in the East of Ukraine, at the heart of the conflict.
“One day, someone I knew very well told me that he is going to Ukraine. My immediate reaction was – ‘for what?’. He started to explain to me about the neo-Nazis there, but I did not listen to him so carefully. The man left and disappeared, although he promised to stay in touch every day. I decided to find out what’s going on there and searched online for information from both directions.”
The information Inna discovered online shook her to the core. She read about severe cases of abuse of innocents, of innocent citizens who were left without a shelter after their homes were bombed and entirely destroyed, of a difficult economic situation and of entire villages existing in primitive conditions, all following the aggressive actions of the Ukrainian army. As a result, she decided to pack a few of her belongings and get on a plane in an attempt to find the same friend. At first she arrived in Russia and was told that he was killed, but finally she went to the center of Ukraine and managed to locate him.
After two weeks, she returned to Israel with her heart restless. After a month and a half, she decided to return to Ukraine, this time to the east and for an unlimited period of time. “I wanted to see for myself what is really going on here. If everything said about the Nazis and their actions was indeed the truth”.
“I am unable to kill”
Inna joined a Communist brigade by the name of “Prizak” (Ghost), which fights in the eastern city of Lugansk and contains between 100 to 120 soldiers who are citizens of Ukraine, Russia and other countries. She says that they purchase by themselves the improvised uniforms in stores, unlike weapons and ammunition, whose origin she understandably refuses to disclose. “I’m not fighting with weapons, absolutely not. I am also unable to kill,” she said when recounting succinctly about her job in the front as a gatherer of intelligence.
“You have no idea in what conditions people live here here. Before I came I did not imagine that it was possible. It is a level where an old woman needs to calculate whether she can afford herself to buy sugar so she can have sweet tea, and finally comes to the conclusion that she has no such option,” she says when explaining the difficult conditions.”By the way, I gave to that woman whatever was left of my money, but we are not discussing here just one woman, it’s an entire nation.” Moreover, she also talks about the good people who surround her, her friends at the brigade: “many people were gathered here from many places in the world. Here no one regards your nationality or religion and every person accepts the other as he is. For example, they know I do not eat pork and try to get myself kosher food, as much as possible “.
If there is one thing which she is determined about, it is the claim about assistance of Russian military forces on the front – which she says has no connection to reality. “There’s no Russian army here. There are some people here, some of whom never served in a military, who do not accept that any financial consideration and they arrived there just the principle,” she explains.
In all the conversations with her, she reiterates and emphasizes that she did not go to fight against Ukraine but against fascism and Nazism. She tells of cases of horrific atrocities to which she exposed, which awaken the most difficult feelings: “I talked to a woman who told me about how she received the body of her 14 years old daughter in a wooden box, she was raped by a group of Nazis, underwent torture (it was clear from viewing the body) and after that her genitals were filled with foam of concrete. I do not know where this woman is now, I do not know if she is even alive, I just know that this was not an isolated incident. I heard a lot of things, also from people who are with me and who witnessed such cases.”
It should be noted that the evidence of similar horror stories, can be found in a wide range of horrific images running online.
Swastikas sponsored by the Ukrainian army
Nazism in the Ukrainian army, for example in the Aydar Battalion, is a familiar phenomenon. The same fighters wave Nazi flags and have swastikas tattooed on their bodies, and you can easily find an endless number of photos and videos of them making the Nazi salute. They are not concerned and do not even try to hide the fact that they are Nazis, which clearly signifies their burning hatred for the pro-Russian separatist communists, and the other way around. We shall note that in recent weeks, the Internet is full of disturbing news about the intensification of the phenomenon – we hear about neo-Nazi summer camps, and run into shocking videos as the one seen this week in which a little girl is making the Nazi salute and is holding an enormous knife.
However, even though they boast of being Nazis, those “Ukrainian patriots” do not hesitate to accept into their ranks Islamic militants – and even Israeli Jews. A year ago, the Israeli media exposed the story of a former Golani fighter, who was drafted to the same extreme right-wing brigade and did not even hide his identity. In the interview, he recounts the horrors committed actually by the Russian opponents, who rob, rape and murder civilians. He also described how his friends in the battalion respect him despite his identity and how they worship the Israeli army and wish to hear more about it. The combat background of the same Golani fighter – himself of Russian origin – is the reason he receives respect from these fighters and not due to their love of Israel. In the Ukrainian army, which takes on major hits in the battle with the separatists, there are also Arab Muslim fighters, and the Israeli soldier recounted in the same interview that they are also respected as they are. It would be interesting to see what kind of treatment they would have received if they were not wearing the Ukrainian uniform.
The Aidar battalion was recognized as part of the Ukrainian army only in August 2014, when its fighters received uniforms and more sophisticated equipment. Earlier, it was a volunteer unit composed of Ukrainian right-wing extremists who wanted to fight the Russian invasion of their country. The same patriotic battalion which was financed by one of the world’s richest people, who, it must be said, is a Jew, is accused by human rights organizations of committing violent war crimes. Despite this, when the same Russian-Israeli-Ukrainian individual heard accusations regarding this and regarding a severe violation of human rights, he explained that in a war, everything happens and that they, the extremist right-wing battalion, earned their good reputation because they are lethal.
The global media does not discuss too much, if at all, the horrors that Inna describes. These horrible crimes, unlike those committed by ISIS, are not done in front of the camera in order to create a PR effect, but quietly, apparently even in chilling spontaneity.
Inna recounts that only in the past several days did foreign journalists begin to enter the conflict zone, and a Russian channel even interviewed her by Skype. After the full interview was put on YouTube, she encountered Israelis online who responded with threats: “Just come back here, whore”, one of them wrote, while others sent her private messages and wanted to know where her daughters are located. “One of them wished me I will be left without a hand and a leg, and that I will live as a crippled person all my life,” she says.
“I also got a message where I was told that surely I must know that once I get back, they will break my arms and legs. With these people I lived for 25 years? It this the Israeli people?”
‘People here are very simple but with very different ideologies’
When delving deeply into what is taking place in Ukraine, one understands that at its core, the confrontation does not necessarily stem from a conflict over territory or due to national or ethnic differences, but also, and perhaps especially, it is an ideological war which hatred and racism only accompany it.
Alexei Marko (Dobri), one of the founders of Prizrk brigade which Inna joined, argues that the war is not even being waged between Russians and Ukrainians, as most of the world believes. “Many people think that the war here is being waged between Russia and Ukraine, but it is far from the truth. On both sides there are very simple people, but with very different ideologies. The war being waged here is between a Western pro-Nazi and pro-Fascist ideology and a Eastern pro-socialist and Communist ideology, even though there are Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Arabs, and even Armenians, Italians and Hispanics on both sides. ”
According to Inna, the goal is not to destroy, but to build. “I did not come here to kill. I believed that just as Israel was built from scratch at the time, it is possible to build here too a more fair state.”
You have two daughters at home. Are you not afraid that something may happen to you? “Some of my friends were killed, mostly by mines, but I do not even think about such things. I went through many crises in my life, ever since childhood, but I always had complete faith that everything will be alright in the end. Here too – I have within me the same faith.
I grew up and was raised in Israel. You tell me as an Israeli, after all, I’m sure you commemorate the Holocaust every year on Holocaust Day by standing when the siren is played, I stand, everyone stands, why did they educate us in this way? For beauty? How could I react differently to the phenomenon of Nazism that is thriving here?”
But beyond her iron principles, behind which she stands one hundred percent, very difficult personal concessions accompany the challenging step she took. Following her decision to leave for Ukraine, she basically lost almost everyone dear to her in Israel. “The most heavy price paid is the connection to my daughters. I lost contact with my family and friends. They do not understand and do not support me”.
Finally, Inna requested just one thing: “I will be more than happy if you manage to open people’s eyes. Then they will forget eating fast food and watching reality TV for a moment and begin to think for a moment for themselves.”