Donbass: who are the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and how are they financed?

The region where tensions are concentrated in Ukraine is located in the east of the country. The regular army has been at war with pro-Russian separatists since 2014. Who are these rebels who rule the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk? Journalists met members of these rebels.

In Lugansk, they are suspected of being behind the recent bombardments on the front line. Pro-Russian separatists, filmed exceptionally in a trench, confirm that tensions are growing. “For two or three days, it has actually tended to increase. More shots, more moves. From here you can’t see much, but elsewhere you can see that the forces of the Ukrainian army are more and more present and their equipment more numerous.“, he confides from his hiding place.

Pro-Russian separatists rule the two self-proclaimed Donbass republics: Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.

40 to 45 thousand fighters according to Ukrainian intelligence

But how many fighters are there within the pro-Russian forces in this region? Unable to verify it. “The figures that have been communicated in recent years by Ukrainian intelligence speak of 40 to 45 thousand men, including several thousand Russian fighters“, explains Nicolas Gosset, researcher at the Royal Higher Institute for Defense.

Militias that are organized in a mafia mode

Russia supports the region financially and militarily. Officially, the leaders are Ukrainians, such as Denis Pushilin, for example.

In a video released recently, it is he who calls for general mobilization. He is 40 years old and presides over the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk. It is therefore one of the visible faces of an embryonic administration made up of mafia organizations.

What you also need to understand is that we are dealing with militias which are organized in a mafia fashion, which are also largely infiltrated by organized crime. They are not financing diesel traffic, traffic in various commodities which are essential to the survival of the populations in the self-proclaimed territories.“, says Nicolas Gosset.

four million people

It is estimated that nearly four million people live in these self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donbass. Several tens of thousands of inhabitants continue to be evacuated to Russia, in view of a future conflict.

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