- Volunteer groups claim sabotage attacks on Russian soil
- Putin calls the fighters involved in the raids “terrorists”
- Ukraine denies engaging in border skirmishes
- Four fighters killed on Russian soil are buried in Kyiv
KYIV, March 7 – At a memorial service on Tuesday for the four Ukrainians killed last year while carrying out attacks on Russian territory, ordinary soldiers crossed paths with volunteer fighters from the Brotherhood Battalion where they were killed.
Ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Michael’s historic golden dome in central Kyiv, underscores the murky relationship between the disorderly group and the formal Ukrainian armed forces fighting against Russia.
The group’s role in the war has become the focus of increased scrutiny, after videos purporting to show cross-border sabotage attacks into Russian territory have surfaced and the Kremlin has raised its alarm over the security threat.
Reuters has not independently verified the video.
Russian President Vladimir Putin branded the saboteurs “terrorists” and urged his security services to beef up defenses along the border.
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The four members of the Fraternity Battalion who were later buried in Kyiv were Yurii Horovets, 34, Taras Karpiuk, 38, Maksym Mykhailov, 32, and Bohdan Liagov, 19.
They were killed on December 25 last year, according to Russia’s FSB security service, which said at the time that they were armed with foreign-made weapons and four improvised explosive devices.
Ukrainian authorities did not comment on the raid, and later denied involvement in attacks claimed by a Ukraine-based group on Russian soil.
Last week, for example, a different group called the Russian Volunteer Corps, which is led by an exiled Russian nationalist opposed to Putin’s government, said it had taken control of a small village on the border.
Putin condemned the attacks in a televised speech, saying: “We will crush them”. Ukraine described it as a bogus “provocation” by Russia to justify its full-scale invasion.
Later the same day four members of the Russian National Guard were injured when their car hit a mine in the village of Sushany, just across the border from Ukraine, said Alexander Khinstein, a senior federal lawmaker.
The raids presented Kyiv with a dilemma. If regular troops were involved, it would represent a significant escalation in the war which has so far been fought almost exclusively on Ukrainian soil.
But Ukrainian officials also called the attack, which so far involved a small armed group on a limited mission, as a sign Russia might take up arms against their leader.
“Maybe Russia will start to wake up,” said Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov in response to the operation claimed by the Russian Volunteer Corps.
Ukraine is believed to have attacked deep inside Russia on several occasions using drones, although officials refuse to confirm this.
‘Pain and Pride’
At the memorial for Brotherhood fighters, whose bodies local media said were returned to Ukraine in late February, hundreds of soldiers and civilians crowded into the cathedral’s ornate interior to watch priests bless the coffin.
Mourners lit candles and a man sobbed over one of the coffins.
Outside, as the coffin was carried into the cathedral, the leader of the nationalist Brotherhood movement associated with the Battalion said he felt “pain and pride”.
“They were one of the bravest to die in battle,” Dmytro Korchynsky, a controversial figure in Ukraine for his ultra-nationalist views and devout Orthodox Christian, told Reuters.
“Our goal is to bring war to Russian territory. It’s too bad that the current war is only happening in our territory, it must extend to the enemy’s territory as well.”
Korchynsky carefully distinguished between the battalion’s activity in Ukraine, including areas occupied by Russia – where he said members coordinated with the Ukrainian armed forces – and those on Russian soil.
“While we are on Russian territory, we act independently,” he added.
Ukraine’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its relationship with the Brotherhood Battalion, which is called “Bratstvo” in Ukrainian, and the armed forces.
The conservative nationalist Brotherhood movement started about 20 years ago to promote Christian values. Western media reports say they have been active in sometimes dangerous combat missions since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Korchynsky said most of the Brotherhood’s volunteers were Christians, and the number “kept growing.
“The battalion has several hundred fighters,” he said. “We cannot disclose exact figures, as the battalion is taking part in investigative and reconnaissance activities.”
Reported by Mike Collett-White and Stefaniia Bern; Edited by Alex Richardson
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