An American Shows Up in Donbass

A while back, I looked at the ethno-national make-up of those fighting the current government in Kyiv. Turkmen, Uzbeks, Chechens, Ossetians, and myriad Russians – non-Ukrainian citizens all – had managed to sidewind their way to eastern Ukraine. Some cited a Soviet legacy, pitching themselves as Moscow’s freedom fighters. Some pointed, a bit more obliquely, to a paycheck. All, it seemed, saw no reason to believe that their presence inherently weakened the legitimacy of Novorossiysski claims to territory and resource; all saw their fight as a rollback of liberast values and expansion, doing what they could to return to the heady days of ’78. (Whether it’s 1978 or 1878, no one’s really sure.)

While much of Russia-bred leadership has been demoted – see: Borodai and Strelkov – there’s been no indication that the wealth of Caucasian batallionists and Central Asian mercenaries have returned home, or that they have any designs on leaving anytime soon. The national makeup of those fighting against Kyiv remains a patina of post-Soviet states, bent on bringing another frozen conflict into the post-Soviet fold.

Now, though, we have evidence of a new nationality to toss into the mix. As Leonid Ragozin discovered, some … guy, some camo’d, flitty fighter, packed with stuffed pockets and a St. George ribbon, decided to reveal his identity to the world.

“My name is Hunter,” he shares, muffling through his balaclava. “Originally from the United States. … Illinois.”

An American. An American’s shown up in eastern Ukraine - there, he says, to help form an independent Novorossiya.

Unfortunately for the English-speakers he may be attempting to help recruit, Hunter's method of sharing his message will likely inspire only the deaf, dumb, or illiterate. In answering questions for the camera, Hunter comes across as a mix of confused and beguiled, and seems barely able to convey why he’s arrived, let alone an educated sketch of the geopolitical parameters into which he’s tossed himself.

“Been in the battalion about a month,” he says. “I arrived here to help New Russia, Novo Russia, become an independent state.” Novo Russia – Hunter’s attempt at pronouncing Novorossiya, seems – called to Hunter-from-Illinois, and brought him eastward.

Fair enough. If he’d stopped there, Hunter may have been able to mask his ignorance with silence. Unfortunately, the guy continues:

From what I know about the political situation in Kyiv is limited, but it seems that they want … the Kyiv junta wants to maintain control over this area, Donbass, and the people of Donbass want to be independent from the Kyiv junta. It seems to be a very simple, straightforward situation, and the Kyiv junta does not necessarily, I believe, reflect … they don’t consider the popular opinion of the people in Donbass, so that’s why this issue’s happening.

Hunter goes on to make a quasi-call for US ex-military types to join him, followed by a quasi-plea for peace, all through his quasi-awareness of pronunciation and situational realities. Between his bumbled responses and bungled facts, Hunter’s not quite the finest spokesman the separatists could have hoped to land, nor the inspiring presence some may eventually spin him. The likelihood of Hunter’s presence in eastern Ukraine recruiting other Westerners to Donetsk seems negligible, though remains nonetheless worth watching.

It’ll also be interesting to see how much play Hunter’s presence generates in Russian-language media. As the video was only uploaded on Sunday, there’s not yet been much fallout – but there’s every likelihood that this should rumble across certain platforms. The lone other American who’d landed in this war, 55-year-old Mark Paslawsky – aka @BSpringnote – generated more than his share of coverage, all the more after his death in August. (Paslawsky’s story was augmented all the further after he obtained Ukrainian citizenship.) Until “Hunter” feels comfortable sharing a bit more about himself, his background, and his penchant for unrefined awareness, it’ll likely only be Russian-language media expressing any interest in his presence, pronunciation and geopolitical literacy be damned.