The Freedom of Russia Legion (Russian: Легион «Свобода России», romanized: Legion "Svoboda Rossii"; Ukrainian: Легіон «Свобода Росії», romanized: Lehion "Svoboda Rosiyi"), also translated as the Freedom for Russia Legion, is a legion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, formed in March 2022 to protect Ukraine against the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine during the Russo-Ukrainian war. It consists of defectors of the Russian Armed Forces, as well as other Russian and Belarusian volunteers who have not previously been members of military formations.
|Freedom of Russia Legion|
|Russian: Легион «Свобода России» |
Ukrainian: Легіон «Свобода Росії»
|Founded||10 March 2022|
|Branch||Territorial Defence Forces, Armed Forces of Ukraine|
|Type||Foreign volunteer legion|
|Size||Two battalions (as claimed by the Legion)|
|Part of||International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine|
|Motto(s)||For Russia! For freedom! (Russian: За Россию! За свободу!)|
|Website||Freedom of Russia Legion on Telegram|
According to the Legion, the unit consists of two battalions. Oleksiy Arestovych said that "dozens participate in conflicts, hundreds at training and up to 4000 candidates", and that 250 new members joined the Legion in June 2022.
According to UNIAN, the "Freedom of Russia" Legion was formed from a company of the Russian Army (over 100 people), who voluntarily defected to the Ukrainian side. According to the company commander, on 27 February 2022, with the help of the Security Service of Ukraine, they joined the Ukrainian side to "protect Ukrainians from real fascists". He also called on his compatriots, soldiers of the Russian army, to join the "Freedom of Russia" Legion, in order to save their own people and the country "from humiliation and destruction".
The first volunteers of the "Freedom of Russia" Legion began individual preliminary training in late March 2022. In particular, the personnel of the legion under the guidance of instructors from the Ukrainian Armed Forces studied the peculiarities of the Swedish-British portable anti-tank guided short-range missile NLAW. The commanders of "Freedom of Russia" units got acquainted with the operational situation on the frontlines. The Legion's stated goals are to repel the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ultimately depose the regime of Vladimir Putin.
The official Telegram channel was created on March 10th of 2022, and the first post, in which the author calls to join the armed struggle against the "war criminal Putin". On 5th of April, a conference was held in the office of Interfax-Ukraine, during which the masked men in uniforms who introduced themselves as members of the legion and said that they got into the legion after being in Ukrainian captivity. They refused to call their names ("for security"), to answer whether or not does the legion report to the Ukrainian General Staff, and to give any explanations about the interaction with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and they didn't specify information about the Russian units in which they served. They also said that they had already completed tasks of detaining sabotage groups of the Russian army, although later the Telegram channel stated that the Legion advanced to the war zone only on April 29.
The Freedom of Russia Legion has reportedly fought alongside Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Donbas during the Eastern Ukraine offensive. The unit allegedly also organizes arson and sabotage acts inside Russia.
On 11 June 2022, it became known that Igor Volobuyev, Ukrainian-born ex-vice-chairman of Gazprombank, who left Russia during the outbreak of the invasion, had joined the "Freedom of Russia" Legion.
On 1 June 2022, the Legion's official Telegram (and YouTube) channel posted a video of a Russian tank ostensibly being captured by the Legion. On 29 June, they wrote that have captured a Russian POW in the Lysychansk area.
Around early July, the Legion allegedly made a statement that it has withdrawn from active fighting, stating on 13 July that they had withdrawn from fighting in order to "restore combat capability". Since then, the official "Freedom of Russia" Legion's YouTube channel has made multiple videos of the legion's soldiers exercising.
On 31 August, the "Freedom of Russia" Legion, alongside the National Republican Army and the Russian Volunteer Corps signed a declaration of cooperation in Irpin called the "Irpin Declaration". The organizations also agreed to create a political center, the purpose of which is to represent their interests before the state authorities of different countries and organize a joint information policy. Ilya Ponomarev will lead the political center.
Symbols and ideologyEdit
The Legion uses the white-blue-white flag which is being used by the Russian opposition on the sleeve insignia instead of the official white-blue-red flag of Russia. According to the manifesto of the Legion, published in their Telegram channel in April, they "carry the values of the Free Man of New Russia - freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to choose your future", and their main goals are the overthrowing Putin's regime and "struggle for the New Russia". The letter L, the first letter of the words Legion and Liberty, is also used by the Legion as one of its symbols. On the right sleeve, the Legion wears the flag of Ukraine (like other Ukrainian foreign legions).
On July 20th, the official Telegram channel posted the two messages, in which the authors quoted the Tsarist official Pyotr Stolypin and wrote that the Legion sees "the preservation of a united and indivisible Russia within the borders of 1991" as one of its goals and opposes separatism, and that "the most humiliated and disenfranchised among all the peoples of the Russian Federation is the Russian people".
The Russian government has probably noticed the news about the Legion. On 22 June, Nikolay Okhlopkov, a local anti-war activist from Yakutsk, was arrested: the authorities alleged him of 'wanting to join the Legion'. The Legion denies its connection with Okhlopkov. On 14 July, Putin enacted a new law (along with 99 more), under which Russian citizens can be imprisoned for up to 20 years if they "defect to the side of the enemy during an armed conflict or hostilities."
Several claims have been made that the "Freedom of Russia" Legion is not an actually existing formation, but a Ukrainian PR project (this version is also being spread by state-controlled Russian media and pro-Kremlin Telegram channels, which call the Legion a fake or alleging it was created by Ukrainian intelligence), mostly because of the lack of the information. Illia Ponomarenko, defense and security reporter at The Kyiv Independent, commented to The Moscow Times: "There might be some [Russian] fighters, but whether it is organized in the way it is presented remains an open question... It’s clearer with the International Legion — there is a large number [of foreign soldiers] and they did take part in combat, for example, in Irpin, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. But little is known about the [Freedom of Russia] legion." The Moscow Times also cited the report in Harper's Magazine which "described how Ukraine did not have the capacity to process and deploy foreign fighters who flocked to the country in the weeks after the invasion, and suggested foreign units were more PR than reality." According to Holod, an independent Russian media, founded by journalists of Meduza, supporters of this claim use the following arguments:
- Lack of information about the participation of legionnaires in real hostilities and statements by Ukrainian officials;
- Difficulty to verify photos and videos, the "small-scaleness" of video materials is criticized - the fighters of the legion practically do not interact with other units of the Ukrainian army (there are exceptions: for example, the most popular post on the channel of the legion of all time is a photo that depicts a legionnaire from Freedom of Russia, Ukrainian soldier and member of a volunteer unit from Belarus);
- "Linguistic features", according to which, as some of the internet users think, Russian is not the native language for the authors of texts on video messages;
- Individual inconsistencies in the actions of the Ukrainian leadership: for example, five days before the first announcement of the creation of the Legion, the portal of the President of Ukraine announced the launch of a website with detailed instructions for foreigners who want to defend [Ukraine]. At the bottom of the site there are cells with the names of countries, by clicking on which you can get useful information for communication. However, when choosing Russia, instead of contact details, there is still an inscription: "Russian warship, go fuck yourself."
- @nexta_tv (31 July 2022). "Legion Freedom of #Russia declared that its unit now consists of two battalions" (Tweet). Retrieved 31 July 2022 – via Twitter.
- Cole, Brendan (30 March 2022). "Former Russian Soldiers Join Ukraine Against Putin's Invasion, Kyiv Says". Newsweek. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
- Coles, Isabel; Trofimov, Yaroslav (7 April 2022). "Belarusians, Russians Join Ukraine's Military, Hoping for Freedom at Home". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 10 April 2022. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
While the Belarusian opposition has long been inspired by Ukraine’s resistance to Russia and attempts to impose authoritarian rule, the arrival of Russians willing to fight against their own compatriots is relatively new. The uniforms of the Freedom for Russia unit have the white-blue-white patch, in the colors of a new Russian flag favored by some opponents of Mr. Putin.
- Johnson, Sabrina (9 April 2022). "Russians 'who want to fight Putin in Ukraine' given own battalion". Metro. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
- "Охочих вступити до легіону "Свобода Росії" багато — представник легіону" [Many people want to join the Freedom of Russia Legion - a representative of the Legion]. Інтерфакс-Україна (Interfax-Ukraine) (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 2022-04-06.
- "День сто восемьдесят пятый. Беседа с @Alexey Arestovych Алексей Арестович". YouTube.
- "Правда ли на стороне Украины воюют россияне?". 24 July 2022.
- "Російські військові з легіону "Вільна Росія", які воюють за Україну, дали брифінг (відео)" [Russian servicemen from the Free Russia Legion, who are fighting for Ukraine, gave a briefing (video)]. www.unian.ua (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 2022-04-06.
- "Добровольці легіону "Вільна Росія" воюватимуть за Україну: триває підготовка" [Volunteers of the Free Russia Legion will fight for Ukraine: preparations are underway]. Волинські новини (Volyn news) (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 2022-04-06.
- "The Russians Fighting Putin in Ukraine". Time. 2022. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
- "Russische Soldaten gegen Putin: im Donbass kämpfen, in Moskau Feuer legen". Berliner Zeitung. 4 May 2022. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
- "Former Gazprombank executive Igor Volobuev joins the Freedom to Russia Legion within the Ukrainian Armed Forces". Novaya Gazeta. 11 June 2022. Retrieved 12 June 2022.
- "'I could not be part of this crime': the Russians fighting for Ukraine". The Guardian. 14 June 2022. Retrieved 14 June 2022.
- "Легион "Свобода России" - YouTube". YouTube.
- "Россияне, воюющие на стороне Украины, подписали совместную «Ирпенскую декларацию»". Журнал «Холод» (in Russian). 2022-08-31. Retrieved 2022-09-01.
- "Российская оппозиция начинает вооруженное сопротивление Путину: подписано декларацию". Главком | Glavcom (in Ukrainian). 2022-08-31. Retrieved 2022-09-01.
- "Граждане РФ заявили о вооруженном сопротивлении Путину". ВЕСТИ (in Russian). 2022-08-31. Retrieved 2022-09-01.
- "Легион «Свобода России»".
- "Легион «L» — россияне, воюющие на стороне Украины". NETGAZETI.ge (in Russian). Archived from the original on 2022-06-04. Retrieved 2022-05-09.
- "Легион «Свобода России»".
- "Russian Duma toughens laws, classifies information on luxury real estate and goes on vacation".
- "Vladimir Putin enacted more than 100 new laws today. Here are the ones you need to know".
- "Switching Sides: The Elusive 'Russian Legion' Fighting with Ukraine". 8 August 2022.