How I Got to Know One of the Heavenly Hundred

Bohdan Solchanyk (1985-2014), photo shared on Facebook by Iryna Kmet, February 20, 2014

It was the morning of February 20, 2014, and I was checking the news on Facebook about what had happened to Kyiv’s Maidan. It was another horrifying day of shootings. Dozens of people had been killed on Instytutskyi Street. Many of them were from western Ukraine, including the city of Lviv, where I had worked and taught for four years. Then I saw on my news feed this photo of a man who was in his late 20s, a former history student at Lviv National University. He had majored in archival studies. His name was Bohdan Solchanyk. He was a sociology instructor at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He had become a promising young scholar.

Immediately, I realized that I must have known this man. I had taught history for two years at his university, and my best students had majored in archival studies. He was a student already when I last taught there during the 2003-2004 academic year.

It had been nearly a decade since I had last taught Eastern European history there. I tried to think who Bohdan Solchanyk could have been. Was he the guy with glasses who knew all the details about interwar Polish leader Jozef Pilsudski that I should have known? No, that was “Sasha.” There were some bright Yaroslavs. There was a really bad Yaroslav whom I’d failed at the end of my last year at the university.

I gave up guessing. What mattered was that I probably knew this former student, or at least had passed him by in the hallways that linked all our history classrooms on the third floor. It was one of our students. Ours. And he had been killed by snipers on Instytutskyi Street, on the bloodiest day of fighting between protestors and police backing the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych.

As a professional historian of Ukraine, I had become drawn to the Euromaidan protests in late November 2013. They represented a chance to change a political system that had produced great social inequality and appalling instances of corruption. I had gotten to know this corruption firsthand, when a gang fatally beat up Maksym, a promising archival studies major who was applying to grad school in Armenian studies at Oxford. It happened just a few days before he was supposed to graduate. The police did nothing to investigate. I had gotten used to people telling me not to depend on the police whenever trouble happens.

The system had to change. I wound up traveling to Ukraine twice, in December and then in January, to observe the protests and support them. Yet I knew that I needed to keep critical distance. So I visited counter-rallies that the Yanukovych regime had organized and talked to their participants. I went to Donetsk and spoke with people who opposed the Euromaidan protests.

I could not stay on the sidelines for long. When Yanukovych signed the so-called Dictatorship Laws that made virtually any public protest illegal, I helped a friend spread protest leaflets in the Kyiv metro stations. We called on everyone to meet at Kyiv’s Maidan at noon the next day, January 19, to protest terror and “restore the constitutional order.” That mass rally backfired. Crowds upset with opposition leaders’ inaction attacked police barricades on Hrushevsky Street. Soon police shot and killed demonstrators, and hired thugs kidnapped and tortured activists. Then on February 18, confrontations between police and demonstrators near Parliament led to even more demonstrators killed and the headquarters of the protests, the Trade Unions Building, burning to ground as police laid siege to the Maidan.

And now Bohdan Solchanyk was dead.

I no longer could be impartial. I shared Bohdan’s photo and his obituary on Facebook. “Viktor Yanukovych must not stand up for elections,” I said, referring to the presidential elections scheduled for 2015. “Not only must he resign, but he must go to prison, not exile in Moscow.”

The Yanukovych regime fell a couple of days later. Yanukovych made it to Moscow. Russian forces invaded Crimea, and so-called “separatist” rallies sprang up all over eastern and southern Ukraine. In the meantime, I took a look at my university planner for 2003-2004. Bohdan Solchanyk’s name was there. He had taken part in a student debate guest lecturers and I had organized in December 2003. Students were to debate whether or not separatism was a viable political option for Galicia, the western province Lviv belonged to.

My Lviv National University planner for 2003-2004, where Bohdan Solchanyk and other students signed up for a debate held there December 12, 2003

In the days after the February Maidan shootings, I felt lost. I had been among those calling on people to restore the constitution, and the crowds that had demanded it wound up getting into bloody battles with the police. The violence culminated with those February 20 shootings, leading to over 100 deaths and the term “The Heavenly Hundred” for the revolution’s martyrs. I read biography after biography of the dead on Facebook. I asked a friend what I could to amid all the sadness. “Dedicate your book to Bohdan,” said a friend.

I had already started writing what I hoped would be a history of the Euromaidan protests in December. There was no time to waste. I went to Kyiv for Spring Break to interview those who had witnessed the violence. I took off the next semester, without pay, to conduct oral history interviews in Ukraine and write. That is when I interviewed Bohdan’s famiy and friends.

I’d had the hardest time remembering who Bohdan was. Was he the guy with long black hair who had borrowed some books I had on Stalinism? No, that was spring 2003; he would not have been as old as that student then. Bohdan’s friends from graduate school in Warsaw had photos, but they had all been recent ones.

Then in early December, Bohdan’s friend Volodymyr met me in a café in Kyiv. He showed me a photo album he and friends had published. I asked him to show me a photo of Bohdan from 2002, or 2003, or 2004, “when I would have known him.”

Volodymyr showed me a photo of him with Bohdan in the spring of 2002, when both had been in a nationwide school history competition representing the Lviv Region.

I recognized him immediately.

Переможці весна 2002 Рівне

Bohdan and Volodymyr, Rivne, Spring 2002

It was the tall skinny kid with big eyes, black hair, and a slightly elongated face, talkative, energetic, and a bit naïve, who had been in one of my second-year seminar courses. As I figured out later, it was Spring Semester 2003. I was teaching lessons in post-1945 Ukrainian history for my friend, who was away in Canada for a couple of weeks defending his dissertation. Bohdan sat with Oleksandr, another tall skinny kid, but with shaved hair and traces of acne. I only had a couple weeks of lessons with them, but I remembered distinctly that both were reliable students who could fill up the class with time (each class had to be comprised of students answering my questions at length, and my greatest fear then was minute after minute of awkward silence).

Then I remembered a student debate Bohdan had taken part in back in May 2003. One of my other students had invited me to come and watch. It was a student led, student organized debate on Viktor Suvorov’s book on Stalin on the eve of World War II. I thought the debate was crazy. Suvorov’s book argued that Stalin had plans to attack Nazi Germany already in 1939. The theory sounded ludicrous. Stalin reacted to Nazi aggression; he didn’t provoke it. “Why, guys, are you wasting your time on this?” I thought as one team battled the other.

At one point the debate got out of order. Two or three guys started arguing about weaponry. It was not Bohdan’s turn to speak, but he was among the students objecting to what the student from the opposite team was arguing. At one point, he asked me, “Mr. William (Pane Viliame in Ukrainian)! You know about the United States tanks during….?” Suddenly I, the cultural historian who was studying youth cultures and dissent in Ukraine, was a military historian? And a historian of the U.S. military? “How am I supposed to know!?” I exclaimed, sort of irritated, sort of amused. I thought to myself, “Just because I’m an American, you think….?”

I couldn’t remember anything specifically Bohdan had said at the student debate we lecturers had organized later that December. The one student who had taken part couldn’t remember a thing about it, except that they had studied a lot for it and started asking questions about Galician Ukrainians and their role in Ukrainian politics. I remembered being terrified of publicizing the debate in twon, because the local press suggested that proponents of “Galician separatism” (a marginal group that got together at the Blue Bottle Café in downtown Lviv) were being financed by Moscow. When I put up a sign announcing the debates in the park on the city’s main avenue, Freedom Boulevard, I tried to make a run for it when an old man, peering at the sign I had just finished putting up, asked, “So what’s the good word today?”

I did remember that the team supporting Galician separatism had a lot of difficulties proving that Galicia could exist as a separate state like Slovakia, provoking some laughter from the audience. My diary entry mentioning that day only noted, “Natalia (one of our judges) noticed that the arguments weren’t as coherent and striking as they could have been.” I do remember Bohdan’s friend Oleksandr refusing dozens of times to respond to rebuttals from the other side (“I decline to respond!” “I decline!” “I decline!”).

It all looked silly back then, but these were second year students, and as I think about those debates now, students like Bohdan and Oleksandr displayed genuine enthusiasm, asking questions that maybe I should have asked. I doubt I could have made highly convincing arguments for Galician separatism back then, either.

Most importantly, I started to learn a lot more about Bohdan and Oleksandr. In less than a year after those debates on Galicia, both organized student protests that led to Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004 that overturned the illegal election of Viktor Yanukovych as president. While he seemed naïve when I knew him, Bohdan later immersed himself in graduate studies in sociology. He began working on a dissertation about the Sovietization of his home town, Staryi Sambir, making use of oral history and archival research. His whole life, Bohdan read and read. He knew some of the classics of Ukrainian poetry by heart.

A lot of Bohdan’s life reminded me of my own. While he had won national history awards in school, I had won a scholarship in a U.S. high school history contest in Ohio. His brother was more talented, but he was more industrious and determined to succeed. He did oral histories in Staryi Sambir; I did them in Lviv. His desire to acquire books resembled my apartment and office severely overcrowded with them. And as I found out about his incomplete dissertation – only the introduction had been written before his death – it brought back memories of another Lviv student’s academic dreams cut short, those of Maksym.

I went to see Bohdan’s grave in Staryi Sambir in mid-December. His brother Stepan and Stepan’s brother-in-law drove me to the cemetery. The car slowly crawled up a muddy dirt road that went up the cemetery’s hill. “I bet you don’t have roads like this in America, do you?” said Stepan’s father-in-law. “Not really,” I answered. Still, the cemetery and its dirt road reminded me of the cemetery where some of my U.S. ancestors were buried, on a hill overlooking the Ohio River, reached only by a mud trail through cow pastures.


Bohdan’s grave and OUN-UPA memorial complex, Staryi Sambir


The foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, Staryi Sambir

Bohdan’s grave overlooked the town of Staryi Sambir and a railroad line. From here, we could see the beginnings of the Carpathian Mountains. The grave was at a memorial erected for Organization of Ukrainian Nationalist (OUN) activists and Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) soldiers killed by the Soviets after World War II.

These men’s bodies had been dumped in a valley below, but after Ukraine received its independence, Bohdan’s father and other town activists reburied them here, on the hill. They erected a bell tower with all the names of the dead and the replica of a house, where people could place candles. That house had a plaque marking where they had placed soil from the grave of Stepan Bandera, founder of the OUN, in Munich, Germany. At the entrance gate, two flags flew, one for Ukraine, the other for the OUN.


Entrance to the OUN-UPA memorial complex, Staryi Sambir

It had not been a year since Bohdan’s death, so the grave was still this mound covered with wreaths, their ribbons indicating relatives, friends, and organizations that had come to pay their last respects.

I lit a candle at the memorial, and I prayed.

In the distance, a van passed by, broadcasting an announcement on a loudspeaker that offered to buy scrap metal and nuts. There was a train whistle sounding in the distance. Otherwise, it was quiet.

That year, as I volunteered for a Kyiv news organization, I used to pass by memorials to the Heavenly Hundred all the time when I left the metro station and went to the Hotel Ukraina. Every morning I passed by a set of photos of the Heavenly Hundred, where people lit candles and laid flowers. I always stopped by Bohdan’s photo, sometimes as a form of greeting, sometimes as a sign of respect, but often to remind myself why I was here volunteering for a semester in Ukraine.


A memorial to Bohdan and others from the Heavenly Hundred, near Hotel Ukraina, Kyiv, late June 2014

Here, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, I was still asking myself the same questions I used to ask on Instytutskkyi Street: Why had this happened? Why weren’t the perpetrators punished? Would I have been willing to run up that street and die? Was it worth all the lives lost?

Despite getting to know a lot about one of the Heavenly Hundred, I still don’t have the answers.


Traditional red berry trees, called chervoni kalyny in Ukrainian, near Bohdan’s grave

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Draft Notice from the DNR? – November 2, 2014


On November 2, 2014, Sende Rovich on Facebook shared this photo of what looks like draft notices issued by the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) to Donetsk city residents on October 31, 2014. Notice that these letters make references to laws of the Russian Federation. My translation from Russian follows.

Donetsk People’s Republic
Ministry of Defense

Dated 31 October 2014, Number: VK 1198 (person’s address in upper-right hand corner)

Draft Notice

Based on the laws of the Russian Federation Federal Laws 61 (“On Defense”) and 53 (“On Military Duties and Military Service”), you must appear at the Military Command Office in the City of Donetsk (64 Kobozeva Street, telephone: 062-36-06) on November 5 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. You should bring a passport and military ID with you.

Not carrying out military duties will result in prosecution under Russian Federation Law Number 195, enacted 31 December 2001, Chapter 21.

Military Command Center
(Stamp of the Donetsk People’s Republic)

Posted in DNR, Donbas, Donbass, Euromaidan, Russia, Ukraine, War

Photo Journalist, Soldier Killed in Luhansk Oblast Fighting – October 19, 2014

Viktor Hurniak (Photo Posted on Facebook by Yuri Butusov)

A photographer and soldier from Lviv died today while fighting in the Luhansk Oblast for Ukraine. Some of my friends on Facebook knew him, and they are greatly upset. I have decided to translate news about his death to honor his memory.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Viktor Hurniak, Photo Correspondent and Aidar Battalion Soldier, Killed in Luhansk Oblast
(Original link:–/)
(Translated by William Risch, Georgia College)


Viktor Hurniak, a soldier for Aidar Battalion, was killed today at 10.10 a.m. around Checkpoint 32. Viktor himself was trying to evacuate the wounded, but the car would not start. When he was starting it, a shell flew in, and a piece of shrapnel hit him in the side. The soldier lived for a while, but his wounds were fatal.



Viktor was born in the Ternopil Oblast in 1987. He worked as a photographer. He worked for the UNIAN, INSIDER, and Reuters Tompson agencies. He set up the photography agency LUFA with friends. Over the past half year, he supplied clothes and shoes for Aidar Battalion and got all the equipment for them. He joined the battalion as a soldier in September.



Viktor was also in the Plast Scouting organization. He managed to be filmed in a video for Tartak and Nichlavy’s “Don’t Tell Anyone” and in Taras Khymych’s movie, Golden September.
He was our colleague and friend. And a real hero.
Viktor Hurniak leaves behind a wife and a two-year-old daughter.

Olesia Yedynak, Viktor’s friend, is collecting donations to help the family: 5211537423129332 Yedynak O. I.

We have included here Tartak and Nichlavy’s video for the song, “Don’t Tell Anyone,” which Viktor appeared in:

Here, too, is the trailer to the movie, Golden September. A Chronicle of Galicia, 1939-1941.

By the way, as Viktor himself confessed, the most difficult part for him during these scenes was kissing a girl…


Yuri Butusov, editor of the online news portal, wrote this in memory of Viktor Hurniak:

Facebook Status Update of Yuri Butusov, October 19, 2014 (Translated by William Risch, Georgia College):

Viktor Hurniak, a man who inspired the brave, suffered death while helping the wounded in the battle for Checkpoint 32 and while trying to break through the Russian mercenaries’ post. Viktor Hurniak was a resident of Lviv. Viktor was a professional journalist and a photographer with Tompson Reuters. As a freelancer, he worked with many media outlets and news agencies, like INSIDER and UNIAN…

On December 1, 2013, Viktor filmed the fight on Bankova Street (in front of the Presidential Administration building – translator) as a photographer. He went through the whole Maidan. And when the war started, Viktor became a soldier – a volunteer for one of the most fearless strike units, Aidar Battalion. With a weapon in his hand, Viktor Hurniak defended each one of us, our Fatherland, his family, his wife Ira Hurniak, a little daughter… Viktor Hurniak’s life was a true example of a patriot of Ukraine, an ideal journalist and citizen. A journalist of the year. A journalist of the century. A true Plast Scout in word and deed. He had many talents, and he considered it impossible to be an observer or a photographer. He chose the path of a true soldier.

Because for him, Ukraine and the Fatherland were not just a place of work or a place of residence – it was the main thing in his life, it was even life itself…

On October 12, Viktor wrote his last status update on Facebook:

“I’ve been moved to tears… Most of all, I want to believe that we will remember the deeds of those who gave their lives for you and I. I’ve gotten to know guys from Donbas for several days already, them, and many others, and their deaths are like those of a close friend. Maybe that’s hard to understand, but it’s impossible to forget. They are without a doubt heroes, like all those who are still alive. Their smiles and their jokes dance before my eyes. It hurts, but I can’t stop it. Ask yourselves: what did you do for victory? The enemy isn’t only outside, it’s within us. Kill it in you, and that will avenge their deaths. Rest in peace friends…”

Viktor once appeared in a movie. It was a video for the group Tartak, “Don’t Tell Anyone.” In the video, Viktor plays a character in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army who dies for Ukraine in battle. The video turned out to be prophetic, and Viktor led his life just as valiantly as his character:

Thank you, Viktor. There are no words to express our grief. We will not forget you, we will not forget your deed, we will not forget your family… Rest in peace, we will carry out your wish, hero…

Taras Hryvul, a history instructor and a graduate of Lviv National University, is my friend on Facebook. This is how he remembered Viktor Hurniak, who served with him in Aidar Battalion:

Facebook Status Update from Taras Hryvul, October 19, 2014 (translated by William Risch, Georgia College):

Viktor Hurniak, a Plast Scout, a comrade from my platoon, an Aidar soldier, has been killed. Rest in peace! P.S., I will miss hanging out with you.

A video of Tartak’s “My Knight’s Cross,” which Viktor was co-producer of.

The cost has been high in this undeclared war between Russia and Ukraine, and it becomes more noticeable with each passing week as friends online report someone they know being killed or announce their plans to get ready for war. I fear there will be more stories like these in the coming months.

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Gosha Tykhyi’s Phone Call – September 21, 2014


Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy (Gosha) Tykhyi was involved in producing a story for the German TV station ARD on Ukrainian forces fighting in Ilovaisk, encircled by pro-Russian forces. At the end of August, these forces evacuated Ilovaisk after pro-Russian forces promised them a “humanitarian corridor” that would allow them safe passage. These forces ambushed the Ukrainians, leading to over 100 dead; some accounts claim hundreds of lives were lost. Here, in a caption to an album of photos he shared on Facebook (“Ilovaisk Encirclement 3 Weeks Later”), Tykhyi relates one story about a soldier who did not make it out of the encirclement alive. The translation from Russian is by William Risch, Georgia College.

It’s a sad album and a sad message. My day started with a phone call. “Heorhiy?” I wake up. “Yes, that’s me.” “If found a note by you here. It’s not a provocation. It’s one written with red ink, on a piece of paper, your name and telephone number…” The dream goes away in an instant, and I understand what this is about. Back in the depot, I had given some soldiers ‘business cards’ written by hand on small pieces of paper from checker-patterned notebook paper so that they could find out later about the film we were doing. “A small piece of paper, checker-patterned?” “Yes… There’s a soldier here. We found him in a field… He’s a policeman, given his uniform… That note was with him. You’re the only one we could call…” I carefully ask whom I’m speaking with – what if they’re DNR (Donetsk People’s Republic) people? An entire special operation. Later it turned out that it was a Ukrainian search team.

Today they buried Maksym Sukhenko at St. Michael’s. Rest in peace. I remember the words his father uttered to me: “They say he’s a hero. That doesn’t make it any easier for me…”

And there’s yet another field. The photos were done yesterday. Here, 5 kilometers from Starobeshevo, a column of Ukrainian troops was breaking through.

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Pro-Russian Militants Harrass Donetsk National University Faculty – September 19, 2014

DoNUTwo incidents were reported today about pro-Russian forces in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) harassing faculty members and breaking up an entire department.

The Ukrainian newspaper The Day (Den’) ran a photo on Facebook on September 19, 2014, of the following tweet on Twitter (the name withheld apparently for security reasons), translation by William Risch, Georgia College:

Today, the DNR’s Minister of Education, responding to a question by an instructor from the physics faculty, “Who will recognize DNR diplomas?,” said, “If you keep asking questions like that, bitch, you’ll be sitting in a basement.” My colleagues in Donetsk are simply in tears, and I’m definitely not coming back! My poor Ukrainian Donetsk, my poor Ukrainian DonNU (Donetsk National University).

The online Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainska Pravda reported a story about armed men from the DNR breaking up the Department of the History of Ukraine because its faculty and staff refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the DNR. Translation by William Risch, Georgia College:

Militants Drive Out Department of the History of Ukraine at Donetsk National University
Ukrainska Pravda, 19 September 2014, 17:38

“Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) militants dispersed Donetsk National University’s Department of the History of Ukraine and claimed that the university was going to become a branch of Moscow State University (MGU).

According to the online news source Novosti Donbassa, this information comes from one of the instructors who was present at the department then.

He said that the university “chancellor” Serhiy Baryshnikov, appointed by the terrorists, and the so-called Minister of Education of the DNR, Ihor Kostenok, and also Kyrylo Cherkashyn, one of the instructors at the Department of Political Science of Donetsk National University, who also was armed with an automatic rifle, came with armed men to the History Faculty of Donetsk National University.

They drove out all the instructors, and they sealed off the department’s office.

In addition, Kostenok claimed that Donetsk National University will become a branch of MGU.

All instructors were told that they needed to take a loyalty oath to the self-proclaimed “DNR.” According to sources from Novosti Donbassa, all of the department’s personnel refused to swear an oath to the DNR.

Original link:

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Kharkiv Journalists’ Appeal: Luhansk Journalist Oleksandr Belokobylskyi Missing – September 19, 2014


Appeal by the Board of the Kharkiv Oblast Organization of the Journalists’ Union of Ukraine (Translated by William Risch, Georgia College)

Kharkiv journalists are concerned about the disappearance of Luhansk journalist Oleksandr Belokobylskyi. On September 13, Oleksandr left Kharkiv for Luhansk. He made it to Starobelsk. He then went by bus to Luhansk to deliver medicine to several friends and family. Relatives of the journalist say they were able to call all the locations Oleksandr had planned to visit, but he did not make it to any of them. The latest known is that Oleksandr last called relatives on September 13, around 3 p.m., in Novoaidar, when the bus driver stopped to fill up on gas. According to insider information, Oleksandr is being held hostage.

Oleksandr Belokobylskyi worked for a number of local and Ukrainian publications. He and his wife and child had to leave Luhansk for safe territory in Kharkiv when the city came under artillery fire.
We ask the Security Services of Ukraine and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to do everything in their power to find our colleague.

The Board of the Kharkiv Oblast Organization of the Journalists’ Union of Ukraine

September 19, 2014

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Latvian Journalist Surprised By What He Saw in Ukraine – September 15, 2014


Photo: Reuters/Scanpix

Latvian Journalist Surprised by What He Saw in Ukraine
Monday, 15 September 2014, 07:23
(Translation from Latvian by William Risch, Georgia College)

War correspondent Atis Klimovičs, who spent over two weeks near the front lines in eastern Ukraine, reveals that there is a growing desire among Ukrainians to join military forces and that patriotism is rapidly rising in Russified cities.

In an interview for the Latvian Television program, “De Facto,” Klimovičs said that Ukrainians are skeptical about Western states’ sanctions against Russia, claiming that there have been no results from them. “There is no anger toward Western states, but they are baffled by them,” he said. “Many (Ukrainians) say, “We don’t need soldiers, we have a lot of soldiers, but we need arms.”

Klimovičs indicated that he was very close to the Anti-Terrorist Operation front lines in eastern Ukraine when he met soldiers there. “They said that they are very poorly equipped,” he said. “And that’s their government’s fault. There is a popular view in the Ukrainian press that President Petro Poroshenko did not tell the truth (to Western states during the NATO summit). The government’s position isn’t clear.”
Right now a lot of people have expressed a desire to join volunteer battalions and help Ukraine’s army. “Defending their own state is a very serious choice,” says Klimovičs, who also added that no one in Ukraine imagined that a large-scale war could happen.

The journalist also claimed that he was amazed by the mood in many of the Ukrainian cities he visited. “I was very surprised by the mood in Odesa, which is a bright, open city. They (Odesa residents), where many of them (are Russian speakers), they have become great patriots of Ukraine. In the Odesa battalion (which is fighting the separatists), most of the soldiers are Russian by nationality.”

Klimovičs mentioned yet one more interesting detail that the governor of Kharkiv Oblast told: if half a year ago you could see cars with Russian flags and St. George ribbons on them, now, you wouldn’t think anything like that would be possible.

Original link:

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