Human rights association

Russian army: predetermined cruelty. Chapter 4. “People’s militia” of separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk region (ORDLO) and volunteer battalions


The investigation of war crimes committed by the Russians in the occupied territories showed that not only professional servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces were involved in the inhumane treatment of the civilian population. In many cases, the murders and torture of civilians were committed by persons who previously had nothing to do with the official armed forces.

In February 2013, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Valery Gerasimov, formulated and supplemented the Russian military doctrine with the concept of “hybrid war,” which, in particular, provided for the active interaction of regular army units with irregular armed formations – volunteer units, private military companies, sabotage groups, units of collaborators, etc. In 2014, Russians successfully tested this tactic when they seized Crimea and separate regions of Donbas. During a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin applies similar tactics, using a hybrid combination of regular forces and irregular units to carry out the intervention. And since the alienation of territories and the replacement of the leadership of Ukraine by the power of collaborators required the performance of not only military but also punitive and police tasks, units of the Russian Guard, special police units, and employees of the FSB of Russia are additionally involved in the occupation.

Thus, the occupation contingent is not a monolithic collective of military personnel but an artificially created community of armed people with different military skills, combat experience, motivation, attitude to discipline, and ideas about military ethics.

The transition of the war into a long-term phase, the high intensity of hostilities, and the growing losses at the frontline required the rapid replenishment of the army’s regular and irregular components. It was difficult to restore human resources solely by recruiting contract servicemen – due to the risks of being killed or wounded in the war, contract service lost popularity among Russians. In turn, sending conscript soldiers to the front could spread anti-war sentiments within Russia and decrease public support for the so-called “special military operation.”

In order to prevent a crisis, the Russian authorities were carrying out an unprecedented military recruitment campaign in several stages: separatist groups of the so-called “people’s militia of the DPR and LPR” were increasing by means of mass mobilization; in different regions of the Russian Federation numerous volunteer battalions were created and sent to the frontline; comprehensive support is provided to the strengthening of private military companies and paramilitary groups; “institutions of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia” staffed by local collaborators were formed and began to operate in the occupied territories; in September 2022, “partial” mobilization was announced in the Russian Federation.

For Russia’s outdated conscription system, the need to quickly send a large number of people to the frontline has become another problem that the military commissariats solved in the usual way – by lowering the quality requirements for the people selected for the army. Faced with the shortage of reservists, the military leadership is betting on recruiting people from the poorest and the most marginalized groups of the population. The occupation contingent is mainly replenished with propaganda-incited supporters of the “Russian world” and representatives of the bottom of society – criminals, extremists, the unemployed, adventurers, and those who simply want to improve their financial situation at the expense of the war. Men who lived in the midst of violence, got used to violence, committed violence, and perceived it as the norm are going to Ukraine with weapons.


  1. “People’s Militia” of ORDLO

Illegal paramilitary formations in the territory of separate districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (ORDLO), which Russian propagandists named “people’s militia of the L/DPR” since 2014, were the primary tool of Russia’s military aggression during the first stage of the war in eastern Ukraine. And although the Kremlin denied its direct involvement in supporting the “people’s militias,” the separatists themselves repeatedly admitted and even boasted that they received supplies from Russia, received training there, had thousands of Russian citizens in their ranks, and acted under the direct command of Russian army officers. The complete dependence of the separatist formations on the political will of Russia is also confirmed by the conclusions of the Netherlands court in the MH17 case [1], during the investigation of which numerous pieces of evidence were obtained that the Russian Federation, in general, exercised control over the so-called DPR and LPR. It should be noted that during 2014-2022, the so-called “international brigades,” formed with representatives of both ultra-right and ultra-left radical organizations from abroad, fought on the side of the “people’s militia” of ORDLO against Ukrainians. United by the common idea of hatred for the “collective West” and Ukraine’s pro-Western orientation, they significantly influenced the general ideological climate and behavior of the separatist fighters. “Residents of territories under the control of armed groups are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses (…) they live in an environment characterized by the growth of parallel governance structures, a complete absence of the rule of law, reports of arbitrary detention, torture and incommunicado detention, and no access to real redress mechanisms,” the UN OHCHR report in March 2016 indicated [2].

On February 19, 2022, 5 days before the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Russian troops of Ukraine, the leaders of the self-proclaimed “DPR” and “LPR” announced a general mobilization in the territories controlled by their authorities and cynically called on “all those capable of holding weapons” to stand “in defense of all Russian people” [3]. Despite the fact that Article 51 of the Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War prohibits the forced mobilization of residents of the occupied territories into military service, the mobilization processes have taken unprecedentedly violent forms. The “hunt” was on for men of conscription age at the place of residence, at workplaces, in educational institutions, in public places, and right on the streets, they were then detained and sent to the units of the “people’s militia of the DPR and LPR” [4]. According to the “Eastern Human Rights Group,” more than 100,000 people were mobilized from the ORDLO in this way [5].

“Everyone well remembers when men were illegally mobilized allegedly for curfew squads to distribute humanitarian aid in the “liberated” territories. Men were taken directly from their workplaces without a medical commission, many were sick, and many were of pre-retirement age. The situation has reached its peak: now they are being forced to take the oath to the Russian Federation, although they do not have a Russian passport,” the relatives of conscripts complain in the Telegram channel “Mobilization in the DPR” [6].

“Now you can go out for bread and end up near Mariupol,” a resident of Donetsk told reporters [7].

Despite the fact that the mobilization was carried out under the slogan “defense of the home and Donbas,” conscripts were sent to participate in joint military operations for the occupation of Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv regions of Ukraine [8].

Even pro-Russian military reporters indicated the unsatisfactory discipline and “low moral and psychological level” of the soldiers of the “people’s militia” [9]. Forcefully removed from peaceful life, people who had been under the influence of Russian propaganda for eight years blame Ukraine and its people for their problems. Hatred towards Ukrainians and everything Ukrainian is constantly fueled by the radical statements of the separatist leaders, who openly call for violence and murder.

“We will defeat everyone. We will kill everyone. We will rob everyone we need! Everything will be as we like!”. – Maksym Fomin (Vladlen Tatarskyi), one of the ideologues of separatism and a military commander, declares in his video message from the Georgiivski Hall of the Kremlin [10].

“If you (Ukrainians) don’t want us to convince you, we will kill you. We will kill as many of you as will be needed. We will kill a million, five million, or even kill you all,” Pavlo Gubarev, the former “people’s governor” of the Donetsk region, head of the mobilization department of the Ministry of Defense of the DPR, says in an interview [11].

“We will burn your houses, kill your families, take away your children, and raise them as Russians,” [12] – threatens the commander of the “LPR” military unit and propagandist Ihor Mangushev. He is known for his performance on the nightclub stage with allegedly a skull of a Ukrainian soldier in his hand and with the words “All bearers of the Ukrainian idea must be destroyed” [13].

The notion “You were silent for eight years when they bombed Donbas,” which was popularized by Russian propagandists through the media, incited separatist fighters to revenge and was used as a justification for using violence against peaceful citizens. In their testimonies, residents of the occupied territories recollect with horror the brutality of the “people’s militia.”

“On the morning of March 4, the “LNR” militia came to Oleksandr V.’s house in Liptsi, Kharkiv region, on three armored personnel carriers. They took the man outside, put him face down in the snow, and started beating him. While Alexander was lying on the ground, the soldiers took everything out of the house. His wife didn’t pay any attention to it, as she was listening to the thud sounds of her husband being beaten” [14].

“They were mostly beaten with stun guns and rubber batons. They called those batons “rubber polygraph.” Well, probably because the abbreviation (in Ukrainian) for rubber batons is “PG,” Yevhen, a Balaklia, Kharkiv region resident, told reporters. – They beat hard. They held me for 12 days in a captured local police station. While I was there, no one died, but some of those beaten in this police station died at home after 2-3 days. The station was mostly staffed by people mobilized from “L/DNR.” In the building, there are bottles of vodka left with marks “made in the “LPR” [15].

“When I opened the door, he immediately punched me in the face. He knocked out two of my teeth and broke my nose. I was covered in blood. He started hitting me in the chest and head with the butt of the machine gun. I didn’t understand what I did wrong. He grabbed me by the hair, threw me on the couch, and started choking me. After that, I could not swallow water for two weeks. He took off my clothes and raped me. And he also cut my stomach – I still have scars,” Ludmyla, a resident of the Myrolyubivka village of the Kherson region, recalled the horrifying story. The rapist then threatened that if she told about the rape, he would come back and kill her. Lyudmyla indicates that the rapist was a separatist [16].

On December 31, 2022, the illegal formations of the “people’s militia of the L/DNR” officially joined the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation as separate army units. As a symbol of recognition of their services to Russia, the commanders received battle flags personally from the hands of Vladimir Putin.


  1. Volunteer battalions

In the spring of 2022, efforts started in Russia to create and send to the war against Ukraine name volunteer battalions, which were formed on a territorial basis. The Kremlin publicly approved and controlled the process: presidential press secretary Dmitri Peskov called the battalions “an initiative that deserves the highest praise.” For the regional authorities, recruiting as many fighters as possible was the best way to demonstrate their loyalty to Moscow. And as of August 2022, there were at least 52 battalions in 33 subjects of the Russian Federation established [17].

The main motivation for the service is the profit – volunteers are promised a deferment of loan payments and the accrual of financial support in a double amount (both from the federal and local budgets). The amount of compensation must be indicated in the advertisement about recruitment to the battalions. Usually, it is $53 per day plus an additional eight thousand rubles (approx. $97) for each day in the zone of active hostilities. In addition, a one-time monetary reward of 150 to 300 thousand rubles (approx. $1800 – 3600) is promised, depending on the region [18]. The possibility of easy earnings during the war is actively promoted in the media and social networks, and joining a volunteer battalion is advertised as a way to increase one’s social status instantly.

“How to feed the family? How to buy your son a bicycle? How to pay housing debts? Hoping for success and waiting for things to change someday? All this is unreliable. But Sasha was able to break out of the vicious circle and change his life. He took fate into his own hands and signed up as a volunteer. Now he has a salary that he never dreamed of, a new profession, new friends, career growth, and benefits from the state. And additionally, the status of a combat veteran. And therefore respect – he is a real man. Well done! Be like Sasha – sign up as a volunteer and change your life for the better!” – this is how men are encouraged to participate in aggression against Ukraine in the video [19].

“In Russia, the entire country is now in debt. The population is impoverished, everyone has a dozen of loans. People take one loan to pay off another. People have no money, they have to feed their families somehow, they have to live somehow, they have to pay the utility bill” – a captured military serviceman who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for torturing people in the occupied Kharkiv region explains his motivation to fight in Ukraine [20].

Recruitment of volunteers is the most successful in depressed regions of Russia with significant unemployment and crime rates. People who not only share the Kremlin’s anti-Ukrainian ideological stereotypes but also have issues with the police or consider a war of aggression in a foreign country to be an acceptable way to solve their financial problems are enlisting. Even during the volunteers’ stay in Russia, it becomes clear that moral principles do not burden this category of people, they have no respect for the law and are ready to use violence both for seeking their own personal gain and just for fun.

“My main motivation for participating in the war is to remove supervision so that I can live peacefully afterward. Every third volunteer is a former convict under probation or with a criminal record,” explains a volunteer of the “Akhmat” battalion volunteer. He was assured that “any problem with the state can be solved” and the authorities could expunge his criminal record for participating in the war [21].

“The village of Mulino in the Nizhny Novgorod region is known as a training center for volunteers to be sent to Ukraine. According to local residents, they became afraid to go out after dark: soldiers drink, brawl, provoke fights and molest girls. “Their behavior is disgusting. And these people will defend Russia?! People recruited by advertisement? They have been drinking and lying drunk on the street since the very morning and every day!” a local resident said resentfully [22].

The Russian TV channel NTV appealed to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation with a complaint that in the occupied city of Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia Region, fighters of the Akhmat Battalion raped the channel’s reporter Olga Z. and brutally beat her cameraman Artem Ye. when they were on a business trip and were supposed to cover the “liberation mission” of Russia. The document stated that the victims complained to the military prosecutor’s office and the police, but they were denied the launch of criminal investigation and the clarification of the circumstances of the crime” [23].

Evidently, Russian volunteers, who demonstrate criminal behavior towards their own citizens, will not restrain their criminal habits in their treatment of the residents of the country they occupy.

“Now we will not go to the city. In short, the woman was raped there. They say either the deserters or volunteers did it” (interception of a telephone conversation of a Russian serviceman who was stationed near the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region) [24].

Seven soldiers of the “Akhmat-Naftopolk” detachment broke into the home of a resident of the village of Makiivka, Luhansk region, under the pretext of “clearing” the settlement. The perpetrators stole household appliances and money from the victim’s apartment, and the woman was tied up and taken to the premises of the village gymnasium. There they demanded “confessions” from her in her activities for the benefit of Ukrainian troops. The victim was electrocuted and beaten with a metal-plastic pipe. Then she was handcuffed to the battery for several hours [25].

Chechen units were identified as the perpetrators of some crimes in Bucha, where they terrorized the peaceful Ukrainian population from the moment they entered the city [26].

(to be continued)


The 1st chapter, “The Objectives of War” of the series “Russian Army: Predetermined Cruelty,” can be found here.

The 2nd chapter, “The Ideology of War” of the series “Russian Army: Predetermined Cruelty,” can be found here.

The 3rd chapter, “The Discipline” of the series “Russian Army: Predetermined Cruelty,” can be found here.


The material was prepared by experts of the Association UMDPL within the project “Documentation of war crimes committed by the Russian Federation” (The project is carried out with the financial support of NED).

We remind you that Association UMDPL is working on creating a “Black Register of Executions, Tortures and Cases of Inhumane Treatment of the Civilian Population in the Territories Temporarily Occupied since February 24, 2022.” More details here (in Ukrainian).



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